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Vancouver’s gay village need not ‘carry the weight’ of West End image

Branding plan aims to celebrate and connect differences

Back row, from left: Stephen Regan (WEBIA); Bill Pechet (Pechet Studio); Peter Hume (Hume Consulting Corp); Holly Sovdi (city planner). Front row: Gabe Daly (Pechet Studio); Lisa Schaffer (Creative B'stro); and Paul Nixey (Nixey Communications). Credit: Shauna Lewis

The gay village need not “carry the weight” of the West End image any longer, the West End Business Improvement Association’s (WEBIA) branding team told the 30 business owners and stakeholders who attended the organization’s town hall meeting March 12.

Branding partners Lisa Schaffer, of B’stro web design and marketing company, and Paul Nixey, of Nixey Communications, said WEBIA plans to market each of the commercial villages in the West End under a brand that will draw attention to all distinct high streets, not just the gay village.

“We heard a lot that Davie Village maybe got a lot of love previously and that the gay-community essence was kind of carrying the weight of everyone in the West End,” Schaffer said. “While that’s important, and we want to give a tip of the hat and recognize it, it doesn’t need to do the heavy lifting anymore.

“What we are really trying to do is give identifiers of equal weight for Davie Street, Denman and Robson; each of these three streets have amazing stories to tell,” she explained. “We want to make sure that each individual mini-village within the bigger [West End] village is represented.”

It’s not about “lessening the rainbows at all,” Nixey added. “We’re talking about not treating the ‘gay thing’ like it’s separate.”

Nixey referred to Davie Village as “the epicentre of queer life in Vancouver” but said it can still be celebrated as a distinct community within the larger BIA vision for the West End. “Our approach has been not to look at the Davie Village as a thing you need to put a rainbow on, but instead to incorporate the queerness and celebrate throughout everything that we do in an organic way.”

“Let’s build something beautiful within the gay community, not necessarily build a beautiful thing for the gay community,” Schaffer said.

Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, who says he’s been in contact with Nixey about the process, feels confident that the gay village’s distinctiveness won’t get lost within the branding plan.

“It would be a mistake to forget about the gay village, and I don’t think they are,” he says but points out that the BIA “answers to business in the West End, which include Denman and Robson.”

WEBIA executive director Stephen Regan says that the new brand will draw attention to Denman and Robson commercial districts, but he says it won’t take away from recognizing and marketing Davie Village. 

“We’re not looking to minimize the differences; we are looking to celebrate them but connect them,” he says. “We are more powerful together, and as a team we can get a lot done.”

Regan says also that in upholding the organizations’ mission statement — “to brand, promote and revitalize the West End” —  a more holistic approach involving economic and area-use partnership with other BIAs will generate more business in the area.

WEBIA has been working closely with the city planning department to incorporate some of their ideas into the West End Community Plan scheduled to go before city council at the end of the year.

The business advisory group is also engaged in talks with the Vancouver Trolley company and city staff about the possibility of linking the West End commercial hubs by streetcar.

The streetcar route would link Davie, Denman and Robson streets. The “West Loop,” as city planners and the WEBIA call it, would provide an alternative mode of transportation for locals and visitors to the area, Regan says.

“There are a lot of things that are likely to emerge as we dip our toe in the process,” he adds. “We want the street signs to change; we want the banners to change.”

Asked about the future of the Davie Village rainbow banners, Regan says he suspects they will stay.

The West End BIA branding process will be completed in June.