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Jim Deva Plaza gets final nod from Vancouver city council

Approval comes with up to $2.3-million budget for phase one

Gay activist Jim Deva was honoured at Vancouver city council Dec 16, 2015, as a driving force for freedom of sexuality and expression, an unrepentant rabble-rouser, a friend and a mentor.

“He had a knack for making you instantaneously part of the family,” says Drew Dennis, chair of the city’s LGBT advisory committee.

“I know I’m not alone in saying he was a friend and mentor to many of us,” Dennis says.

The reminiscences of community members and councillors were heartfelt and at times teary-eyed.

And, when the speeches ended, council voted unanimously to fund a community plaza in Deva’s name in the Davie Street community where he lived, worked and played.

That vote means approval of the detailed design for Jim Deva Plaza on Bute Street at Davie Street.

It comes with a multi-year capital project budget of up to $2.3 million for the completion of phase one of the Davie Village Public Space Improvements.

(For more on the legacy of Jim Deva, above, read Daily Xtra’s feature here./David Ellingsen)

The plaza is intended not only to commemorate Deva, who died suddenly in September 2014, but also to celebrate Vancouver’s LGBT community and its accomplishments and to give the wider community a place to gather, play and debate.

To foster community discussion and to commemorate the outspoken Deva, plans for the plaza include a Jim Deva Soapbox — a form of speakers’ corner.

The plaza’s design falls within the framework of the West End Community Plan adopted by the City of Vancouver in 2013 in part to recognize the importance of the Davie Village and “enhance the area’s distinct character as a hub for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community.”

The proposed plan would permanently close the block of Bute Street south of Davie Street to vehicles.

Parking would be removed, seating spaces added, the rainbow crosswalks at the intersection renewed and the existing trees retained.

“He is a hero in the community and was a role model and was a good friend,” says Councillor Tim Stevenson. “He would never have expected anything named about him, let alone in the middle of the Davie Village.”

The plan is “more than I have dreamed of,” he says.

(Gay city councillor Tim Stevenson, seen here addressing council in July 2015 during an earlier vote to move forward with Jim Deva Plaza, fully endorses the plan./Jamees Goldie)

Mayor Gregor Robertson called Deva a “catalyst.”

“It’s not really about Jim,” Robertson told council. “It acknowledges his incredible contributions, but it’s really about the community.”

Future plans include creating a living museum in the plaza to commemorate LGBT history and the community’s fight for its rights.

Resident Jill Weiss told council the museum would be a reminder to the greater community of how much the queer community has done to eradicate hatred and discrimination and fight for inclusivity.

City planner Kevin McNaney says the museum needs a “group of champions” to steward it, a group which can help the city decide what stories need to be told. “Unless we have those champions, it would be much more difficult for us to succeed,” he says.

The city is also considering strategies for ongoing community programming in the space. That might be fostered through the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA), council heard.

The plaza will feature “a ceiling of lights” suspended by cables, and include options for projection lighting for special events, such as Pride.

(City staff images of the design for Jim Deva Plaza, as presented in October 2015, show the plaza during the day, above, and in the evening, below./City of Vancouver)

An earlier version of the proposed design featured a round, overhead lighting feature with the words “Davie Village” and rainbow colours. 

Jonn Olldym grew up in the West End and comforted people with AIDS in the early years of the plague. “Thanks be to god some of those people are still alive today and some of those people are going to be partying in the plaza,” he told council, his voice breaking. “The community is going to use this plaza.”

A decorative feature above the Davie and Bute intersection adjacent to the plaza was depicted in the 2013 West End Community Plan, but McNaney told council it remains in the development phase as TransLink needs to be consulted due to bus wires in the vicinity. He says the city wants further consultation on that component of the project and wants to make sure it’s done right.

(An overhead feature envisioned in the West End Community Plan for the Davie-Bute Street intersection next to the plaza is still being considered, but won’t be launched with the plaza./City of Vancouver)

The approved plan for the plaza includes installation of an accessible, automated public toilet, transportation improvements and monitoring.

City staff will also work with stakeholders to prepare, implement, monitor and refine the Jim Deva Plaza Stewardship Strategy and report back by 2018.

The strategy is part of the broader Stewardship Strategy for City-owned Plazas. It comes with a grant of up to $100,000 from the city’s Innovation Fund to prepare the strategy, initially in partnership with non-profit organizations such as WEBIA and the Vancouver Foundation, which will receive $40,000 and $18,500 grants respectively.

“The Jim Deva Plaza is the icing on the cake but the cake is Davie Street,” says WEBIA executive director Stephen Regan. “We need to get that street right.”

Further grant funds will be allocated when matching funds are secured from additional community partners.

Key concerns of speakers who addressed the council meeting included police discretion in handling people using the plaza after 11pm and disabled accessibility to the toilet.

Council heard bylaws will be amended to give police discretion to allow people to use the plaza at night.

Dennis says it’s important for queer youth to have places such as the plaza to gather, and hopes police will use their discretion not to “push young queer people out of the area.”

Disability advocates threw their support behind the plan on hearing the new toilet will be fully accessible. They say a plaza in Deva’s name should be welcoming and accessible to all.