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Plaza on Bute Street to add Jim Deva Soapbox, final plans show

City staff refine Jim Deva Plaza design, change overhead lighting plan

(West Enders check out city staff’s refined plans for the new Jim Deva Plaza on Bute Street, Oct 24, 2015, at an open house at the future site./Jeremy Hainsworth photo)

Hundreds of West End residents dropped by the intersection at Davie and Bute Streets Oct 22 and 24 to examine the proposed plans for the future site of Jim Deva Plaza, named by the City of Vancouver in July 2015 to honour a leader in Vancouver’s gay community.

The plaza, now in its final design stages, is intended not only to commemorate Deva, who died suddenly in September 2014, but to celebrate Vancouver’s LGBT community and its accomplishments, and to give the wider community a place to gather, play and debate, says city planner Kevin McNaney.

Deva’s partner of four decades, Bruce Smyth, is amazed that such a commemoration is happening. “Neither one of us would ever have expected anything like this,” he tells Daily Xtra.

To foster community discussion and to commemorate Deva, city planners intend to incorporate a Jim Deva Soapbox — a form of speakers’ corner — into the plaza’s design.

“I think Jim would get a chuckle out of that,” says Barb Snelgrove, who sits on the city’s LGBT advisory committee and was close to Deva.

“That is so Jim,” Smyth agrees. “As long as Jim gets the soapbox. He’d be very pleased with it.”

The plaza’s design falls within the framework of the West End Community Plan adopted by the City of Vancouver in 2013 to, in part, 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.”

(City staff image of the proposed final design for Jim Deva Plaza./City of Vancouver)

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.

Down the road, McNaney says, the idea is to create a living museum in the plaza to commemorate LGBT history and the community’s fight for its rights. The city is also considering strategies for ongoing community programming in the space.

(City staff image of the proposed final plaza design in the evening./City of Vancouver)

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

“It will be a nice, bright, warm and safe lighting,” McNaney says.

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

(A city staff image of the plaza design presented in June 2015 included a “Davie Village” lighting feature./City of Vancouver)

As for the overhead rainbow feature above the Davie and Bute intersection depicted in the West End Community Plan, McNaney says that will be considered in a future development phase. He says the city wants to ensure it is something “really special” and doesn’t want to rush that part of the project.

(An image of the Davie-Bute Street intersection featured in the West End Community Plan features an overhead feature./City of Vancouver)

“Based on the feedback from the June open houses and subsequent meetings with community stakeholders, we heard that more design work will be needed to create an overhead feature that represents the unique character of the Davie Village,” the city’s October open house presentation boards say.

TransLink would also need to be consulted on how to manage overhead wires for trolley buses through the intersection with such a feature in place, McNaney notes. “We didn’t want to hold up the plaza,” he says. “We’ll get back to that.”

Snelgrove says the plan for the plaza comes as a result of multiple consultations with both the community and with Deva’s family and friends.

“It needs to be celebratory,” she says. “It needs to be a gathering place.”

“This place needs to be a space inspired by Jim’s lifelong passion for freedom of sexuality and freedom from censorship,” Snelgrove says.”

The city is continuing to gather feedback on the plan before presenting it to city council later this year for approval and a funding designation, McNaney says. He hopes the completed plaza will be ready for next summer.

Snelgrove says she hopes in the future the phrase, “I’ll meet you at the plaza,” becomes part of the community’s language.

Smyth says Deva’s family is looking forward to attending the plaza’s opening ceremony, perhaps in time for Pride 2016.

(Read city staff’s open house presentation boards here. For more on the West End Community Plan click here.)

(For more on the legacy of Jim Deva, read our feature here.)