Some readers may fondly remember Robson Street of a decade ago:
charming village store-fronts, mom-and-pop stores and adorable ethnic
eateries. A place where neighbours could stroll and say hi to merchants
they knew by name. A commercial street that built a sense of
What happened to Robson? I often hear people ask. Why is it now dwarfed
by corporate stores whose shareholders live in places far and wide. Why
is it dominated by chain fashion stores with wares churned out by child
labour on distant continents. Why is the architecture so alienating?
Why has it died, in short, as a neighbourhood centre?
The answer is as difficult as it is simple: city planning.
Robson Street had zoning that allowed it to happen. Every time there
was a proposed development, a proposal to tear down a building or erect
something new and awful, city hall would point to the plan for Robson,
drawn up years earlier, and say that the new proposal fits the plan.
Next time you walk on Davie Street, look around you. What’s there
didn’t just happen: city hall okayed it. We walk along streets that
follow plans, plans set by bureaucrats, supposedly in consultation with
the surrounding community, and then okayed by city council. Once the
rubber is stamped, the surrounding community has little opportunity for
further influence. If a future developer’s proposal more or less meets
the plan’s goals, it’s almost always okayed by city staff and council.
So, what’s that got to do with us?
Simply this: the plan for Davie Street and surrounding neighbourhood
does not include us, the gay community. Not at all. No reference
whatsoever in a series of documents, except in one small part, in an
on-line reference, noting that the Pride Parade “follows a route
through the West End.”
Follows a route through? It doesn’t get more insulting than that. Don’t
they mean that the Pride Parade is the year’s biggest celebration for
the largest community within the West End? That the West End is known
around the world as the capital of Gay Vancouver? That Davie Village is
one of two major gay neighbourhoods in Vancouver and the second largest
one in Canada? That thousands of gays and lesbians make the West End
their home? That the gay community proudly shops on Davie Street, a
strip that boasts the largest concentration of gay-owned and
gay-friendly businesses in BC? That the West End has the potential to
become one of the world’s great gay tourism destinations?
Randy Atkinson, who chairs the Davie Village BIA and is vice-president
of the Vancouver Pride Society, rightly points out that our community
absolutely must get a reworking of the plan for Davie Street, one that
allows us to pursue our vision of the West End as the capital city of
I’d add one thing: every development in the West End should be
evaluated for its impact on the gay community. If it will benefit the
gay community, or is neutral in its impact, it should be considered for
approval. If it’s going to in any way harm the community’s vision for
the West End, it should be rejected.
Councillor Tim Stevenson seems to get it. As we were going to press, he
was asking for a staff report on the matter. “I’m very concerned,” he
says. “Our community has suffered from benign neglect from the previous
council and that’s changing.”
Our community has been excluded from the current plan for our own
space. It’s hard to imagine, given that gays have been a major presence
here since after the Second World War, that this was not intentional.
We should demand to be written into our own geography, and right now.
If you want to get involved in this, contact Randy Atkinson through the
Davie BIA at 604.605.0001.
It’s just a few days now until the Heroes of 2002 Community Achievement
Awards on May 25. This year we’re stroking our community’s best at a
historical venue, the home of the legendary former gay bar, the Gandy
Dancer. It’s a chance for Gandy fans to bring the gay ghosts out of the
brickwork. And talking about history, the event also kicks off
celebrations of Xtra West’s first decade in Vancouver. Tix at Little
Sister’s and Kokopelli’s on the Drive. Come prepared for a truly
feel-good evening. See you there.
Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.