3 min

What about the gaybourhood?

Bank St plans exclude Ottawa's gay community & businesses

Gay residents and businesses of the downtown “gaybourhood” have been overlooked as city hall makes official new plans to revamp Bank Street.

City hall failed to advertise directly to the gay community to seek their input for the redevelopment, and has not put any gay-identified business owners or community leaders on the public advisory committee for the construction. While individuals have been invited to comment on the initial draft report, there was no attempt to reach out to gays and lesbians as an identifiable community with its own interests in how their surrounding geography evolves.

The report proposes a renewal of sewer and water systems, as well as less parking, more emphasis on pedestrians, more greenery and less traffic congestion. The report is expected to go before city council by Dec 7.

But even though Ottawa’s gay village is located right on Bank St, the city won’t approach gay-identified business owners and gay community leaders, explains Richard Holder, project manager for the proposed construction.

“We might be accused of being selective in selecting the gay community as a group to be involved in the project,” Holder says.

Participants on the committee include the Bank Street Promenade Business Improvement Area (BIA), Centretown Community Organization, the Glebe business group and “a couple of residents who had expressed an interest early on, and we had a representative from Tommy And Lefebvre,” says Holder.

To make sure the Bank St community was aware of open meetings, the city advertised in the Glebe Report, the Ottawa Citizen and Centretown News, along with distributing 60,000 flyers throughout the area. But what the city didn’t do, Holder says, was inform the gay community through Capital Xtra.

Excluding the gay community from redevelopment of its village is a mistake, says former city councillor Alex Munter, now a visiting professor at the University Of Ottawa.

“The [queer] community has many residents and many businesses around Bank St. Our community needs to be part of that discussion,” Munter says.

Robert Giacobbe, owner of Wilde’s, says he is aware the cityis proposing to give Bank St a facelift, but that he was never consulted or asked to sit on the public advisory committee.

“I know they had (advertised) open house meetings, but that was just through the [daily] paper,” Giacobbe says. “I don’t read the paper every day, so it’s easy to miss these things sometimes.”

Giacobbe says that as part of the Bank St renovations, he’d like to see some streetscaping similar to Vancouver’s gay neighbourhood, where benches are painted pink. He also says Bank St should have more rainbow flags, and that the community and businesses should continue “to push and maybe raise money for it.”

Somerset ward councillor Diane Holmes says she assumes that gay businesses are being represented by the Bank Street Promenade BIA.

“I have to receive something in writing,” Holmes says. “If gay groups feel they are not being represented by Bank Street, and they want to be represented, now is the time. I will talk to Gerry LePage of the Bank Street BIA and ask him if he made any representation to the gay businesses and to see if they also wanted to be included in the discussion.”

LePage, the executive director of the BIA, says he isn’t surprised that the gay business community on Bank St is uninformed about the proposed changes to the street.

“The actual funding for this capital project hasn’t been approved,” LePage says. After funding is secured, LePage says, “We would ask for a representative or two from [the gay business district] to come down [to stakeholder meetings] and give us their input and ideas with respect to that particular quadrant of the street.”

The first draft of the redevelopment proposal won’t “specifically say that we’re going to reflect the gay characteristics of that area,” says Holder. “We don’t get into what light fittings and what type of street benches.”

David Rimmer, owner of After Stonewall bookstore, says it’s not the city’s responsibility to turn Bank St’s gay commercial strip into a distinct cultural neighbourhood, but the gay community itself.

“It either becomes it (a distinct neighbourhood), or it doesn’t,” Rimmer says. “The city has nothing to do with it. It’s whether gay businesses wish to relocate here or not.”

In other Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, the gay community’s business owners and customers laid claim to a neighbourhood, and city planners began recognizing the gay district as a cultural entity that deserved preserving and enhancing.

“It’s really been the gay community in Montreal that has proved with its spending power that that area is important enough for the city to take notice,” says University Of Ottawa geography professor Brian Ray. “I don’t know if Ottawa has done the same thing.”