3 min

We’ve got character

Davie Village charette finds fresh ideas

Credit: Xtra West files

It’s pretty clear to anyone who visits Davie Village that it’s a “character neighbourhood.” It’s clearly got its own identity, an identity that differs from any other strip you can name in our fine city.

Name another place where gays come from all over to meet each other, dine, dance and pick up dates. Name another street with so many gay bars. Think of another business area where a 24-hour supermarket is just a block away from a 24-hour pharmacy-and where surrounding neighbours can buy pretty much everything they need in life without using a car. Show me another neighbourhood where the three largest groups of residents-gays, seniors and recent immigrants-live in almost complete harmony. And where else would dare to paint its bus shelters a vivid shade of pink. (You don’t have to like the pink; the point is it identifies the Village as something unique and gets people talking, and in that sense it’s a brilliant success.)

Hard as it is to believe, city hall doesn’t officially see it this way.

Though Gastown, Chinatown and Yaletown are officially recognized by both provincial and municipal law as Character Neighbourhoods, Davie Village is not. And city hall dared to do a long-range plan for the neighbourhood in 1997 that not only omitted the ambitions of the gay community for our streets, but even failed to mention our existence except to note that an annual Gay Pride Parade wends its way through the area.

Unbelievable, you say?

You bet it is. And outrageous.

Because without an official recognition that this is the Capital City of Gay Vancouver-that is, most gays don’t live here but we all recognize it as our central gathering space (the role that Chinatown has for Chinese-Canadians in Greater Vancouver)-we will suffer unfortunate consequences. Such as when former NPA city councillor Lynne Kennedy objected to the Fountainhead Pub daring to call itself a gay bar on a licence application form. (Granted, city hall seems to have finally got its head around this. Larry Beasley, co-director of planning for the city, is preparing to update the current West End plan, as Xtra West reported Sep 2.)

Without recognition of the distinct character of Davie Village, it could easily devolve into the heartless and gutless international style that characterizes Robson St. This alone sends shivers down the spines of Davie merchants (most of whom are independent operations, rather than chain stores) and has been the subject of numerous letters from readers of this paper.

Recognition of this neighbourhoods gay character has been contentious even within the Davie Village BIA, which was founded by gay merchants. There was a major internal struggle to get the rainbow flag flying over our Oz.

That’s all died down now, and gay and straight business owners alike recognize that the gay community is the single most important customer base they have-and they want to grow it. At the same time, the gay community has come to understand that the West End belongs to many people and identifiable groups, including seniors and former Yugoslavians. Recognizing this genuine rainbow mix makes us all stronger.

So, the seeds of a future Village fell on fertile soil on Sep 11, when the Davie Village BIA held a charette visioning session as part of Davie Day. The tent was packed for each of three public sessions anchored by former city councillor Alan Herbert (who is a planner by training), BIA president and PumpJack co-owner Randy Atkinson, and gay tourism promoter Angus Praught.

The BIA has spent dozens of hours pondering the same question in the intervening years, and felt ready to go to the public to help choose directions and fill in the blanks.

The public talked of transforming Bute on both sides of the Davie intersection into a green space. And about Davie St as an entertainment district and enhancing the aesthetics of the street. About preserving heritage buildings. About mid-block crosswalks and outdoor patios. And enhanced public transit service. And about finding long-term solutions to help get children off the street while clamping down on the drug pushers and other criminals. And, most of all, about recognizing Davie Village as the Capital City of Gay Vancouver.

Of course, the process isn’t over yet. But we’ve come a long way in four years. The day is in sight when our community, our neighbourhood, our village gets the recognition and respect it deserves from city hall and the provincial government.