Vancouver
4 min

Gays shut out of Davie plan

City hall plan for Village ignores community needs

NO RECOGNITION AT CITY HALL: Official plans for the West End do not recognize the gay community of Davie Village and the West End." Credit: Robin Perelle

City Hall has a plan for Davie St-and it bears little resemblance to
the gay community’s vision for its Village.

The city’s plans date back to 1986-87 and cover the entire West End,
from Davie to Denman to the western part of Robson, and all the
residential side streets in between. They talk about who lives in the
area, what kinds of commercial developments to encourage, and how to
ensure that those developments are compatible with the area’s
residential needs.

What they don’t do is mention the gay community. Not once.

The commercial plan says the Davie Village “lacks a strong identity.”
It makes no mention of the gay community.

The residential plan talks about seniors, families with children and
low-income households in its discussion of the area’s demographics. It
doesn’t mention the West End’s sizeable gay community, either.

And that’s a problem, says the head of the Davie Village Business
Improvement Association (BIA).

In fact, it’s more than a problem: it means those old plans are invalid
and need to be re-done, Randy Atkinson says.

“You can’t ignore the biggest group in a geographic area and then say
you’ve consulted,” he explains.

If the city didn’t consult the gay community before formulating its
plans for the West End, then it “didn’t consult [at all] as far as I’m
concerned.”

The Davie Village is “the heart of the gay community,” he continues.
“The Village is seen as an identity for the gay community. It’s more
than just a shopping district. It’s an area of identification.

“This is ours. This is where we hang out, where we play. It’s the focal
point for the community in terms of social gathering places.” It
provides venues and services designed specifically for the gay
community, and many of the pubs, bars and shops exist to serve their
gay clientele.

In short, Davie St is the gay community’s Main Street in Vancouver,
Atkinson says.

And any West End plan that fails to mention the presence of the gay
community, and its connection to Davie St, is invalid, he adds.

Granted, the city drafted its West End plans more than 15 years ago,
but the gay community was already living in, and identifying with, the
Davie Village by the late 1980s. After all, the community hosted the
Gay Games in 1990, Atkinson points out.

Besides, the fact that the plans date back to the 1980s is only more
reason to re-do them today, he continues. Their age alone makes them of
“questionable validity.”

The city doesn’t seem to think so. It still bases all its development
decisions for the Davie Village and the surrounding area on the
policies outlined in those old plans.

That’s why these development questions are so important, Atkinson says.
They may seem like “bureaucratic babble” but they have a huge impact on
the community and its Village. They decide, over the long run, what the
Village looks like and what facilities, housing and businesses exist.

And that’s why the gay community needs a say in any development
questions pertaining to the Village, he continues. It needs to help set
the template for all future development decisions concerning this area.
It needs a new West End plan.

The timing is especially crucial right now, Atkinson continues,
pointing to the Parkhill Hotel’s anticipated transformation into a
residential tower smack in the middle of Davie St.

A residential tower would “absolutely conflict” with the Davie BIA’s
plan to turn the Village into a vibrant, 24-hour entertainment centre
catering to both the local gay community and gay and lesbian tourists
from around the world, he explains. Putting a tower full of residents
in the middle of that centre would be a “recipe for disaster.”

It won’t take long before the new residents start calling the city with
noise complaints, Atkinson predicts, noting that the city is very
sympathetic to residents in general, and their noise complaints in
particular. “Pretty soon you’ve got a street which is no longer vibrant
after 10 o’clock at night.”

Gay city councillor Tim Stevenson says he too is concerned about plans
for the Parkhill Hotel. He’s seen a prospectus from Collier’s that
proposes changing the hotel into apartments. The prospectus mentions
some local businesses, such as Starbucks, but not any of the gay
businesses or bars, says Stevenson.

As Xtra West went to press, Stevenson was planning to ask city staff
for reports on the Parkhill Hotel and on the larger plans for Davie St
and the West End.

“I’m very concerned,” he says. And he promises that the “benign
neglect” the gay community suffered from previous city councils is
changing.

So far, city staff are not ruling out a residential conversion for the
Parkhill. One of the city’s overall goals is to bring more residents
into the downtown core, explains city hall’s West End planner, Michael
Gordon. And the Davie Village is zoned as a mixed
residential-commercial neighbourhood, he points out.

Just look at its 16-year-old planning reports.

That’s why the gay community needs to help re-write those reports now,
Atkinson reiterates. “Before there are any major changes or
developments that go on here.”

The city has to sit down with the community and build a new plan for
the West End-one that reflects what the gay community wants its
neighbourhood to look like.

The city already invited other communities around Vancouver to do just
that. Dunbar residents met with city officials in 1997 to formulate
their own plans their neighbourhood’s development. Five other
communities have since done the same.

When will the Davie Village get its turn? Atkinson asks.

Some time in the next few years, Gordon replies-if the city has the
resources to work with another community and that community
demonstrates an interest.

The gay community is an “important part” of the West End, Gordon
acknowledges, and it has its own needs regarding the direction
development takes in the Village. The community wants a “vibrant local
shopping and entertainment area,” he notes, as well as comfortable
places to gather, including licensed pubs and bars.

Given the community’s needs and “the pace of change” in the area,
Gordon says he would be open to meeting with West Enders again someday.
“It comes down to the availability of resources and a very motivated
community,” he says. “When those get combined, you get the opportunity
to do a visioning process.”

The sooner the better, Atkinson replies. “It’s critical that we have
that template in place as soon as possible, because they do become the
guiding principles for all future developments.”