Can Davie Street be improved yet still retain its queerness?
That's what a select group of some members of the City of Vancouver LGBTQ Advisory Committee, which works with Vancouver City Council, sought to find out.
Since November 2012, the Davie Street Revitalization subcommittee, consisting of Barb Snelgrove, Dean Malone, and Ron Stipp, consulted numerous individuals, including community leaders and members; civic, provincial, and federal elected officials; organizations, such as the West End Business Improvement Association, Qmunity, and the Vancouver Pride Society; and businesses, including restaurants and bars.
The results were summarized in a seven-page report with 33 recommendations for the City of Vancouver's West End Community Planning process. Some of the key issues will be included in the West End Plan to be presented to Vancouver City Council in the fall.
Snelgrove told the Georgia Straight by phone that the report has already been submitted to Tim Stevenson, who passed it on to all the councillors and it was also sent to city planning, the West End planning committee, and the West End Business Improvement Association.
"Davie Village has always been a very vibrant, people- and community-oriented area of town," she said. "It wouldn't be speaking out of turn to say the place is looking a little rundown, a little tired, as any neighbourhood can get."
Both Snelgrove and Malone said the subcommittee wants to ensure that the concerns of LGBT communities are heard and that they retain presence in the Davie Village.
"We wanted at the very least to see them retain the queerness of it as it moves forward and grows," Snelgrove said.
In spite of demographic shifts, she noted that the historical legacy of the location (with a concentrated gay population over the past 50 years) has continued to resonate in the present.
"The Davie Village, of course, again has been the heart and soul and as the LGBTQ community finds success in the greater community, of course there's going to be less people living there, as people buy homes and create families," she said. "The 1970s generations, where everyone was sort of cocooned into one area. That's not as necessary these days thankfully. But…it still is an area of town when out of town people and tourists or people that come from the Valley where they're not so accepted and move to the big city, they of course…it's usually the Davie Village where they end up coming down and looking for a space that they can feel safe in and can call their own…."
Malone said by phone that although technology has changed the way people connect and a decrease in the number of gay nightlife venues, many still continue to turn to the Davie Village as a community focal point.
Snelgrove explained that the recommendations are a combination of shorterm suggestions, such as beautification ideas, and longterm goals that are "more wishlist in nature".
For example, some identity suggestions include using or building queer-identifying markers and structures, such as one large pride flag in the Village's centre or an archway structure over Davie Street.
Concerns were raised about Davie Street becoming an arterial for drivers heading to Lions Gate Bridge by way of Denman Street. Some recommendations include permitting all-day parking on Davie Street, creating mid-block pedestrian crosswalks, widening sidewalks and reducing Davie Street's car lanes, and reversing the traffic direction on Thurlow Street from southbound to northbound.
In spite of several gaybashing cases in the West End, safety concerns remained limited to recommendations about improving access to the community policing centre, increasing police presence, and improving street lighting.
Some challenges that were identified included the real estate occupied by the Shoppers Drug Mart at 1125 Davie Street, which many felt could be redeveloped into a "much more community-minded way"; the development of the lot currently occupied by the Davie Village Community Garden; and the creation of a new queer community centre, as a possible new home for Qmunity.
Malone said that Qmunity's current space is inadequate and that a Village plaza could be built possibly at Bute and Davie.
Malone also said that others expressed the desire to see more diverse social spaces, particularly those that don't involve alcohol, and spaces oriented towards families, youth, and older adults.
The report concluded by stating that queer communities do not claim the Davie Village as exclusively their own but seek to create an inclusive one for queer and nonqueer members alike. Snelgrove added that the concerns expressed by queer communities are shared by many others. Nonetheless, the report emphasized that the historical queer cultural importance of the destination continues to need to be "validated, valued, and enhanced".