Gay district left out of Bank St. plans

By Naëlle Le Moal and Yepoka Yeebo

Despite Bank Street being home to a large gay community, the city’s redevelopment plans will not designate the area as a distinct district.

The Bank Street redevelopment plans, which are slated to be completed in 2008, include renewing sewage and water systems, more trees and greenery, wider sidewalks and more emphasis on pedestrians.

Richard Holder, senior project manager with the city, recognizes the area north of the Queensway as a gay neighbourhood, but says there are no plans to develop its distinct features.

Gareth Kirkby, managing editor of gay newspaper Capital Xtra!, says the city’s failure was not consulting the community about the plans.

“In other cities, it is formally recognized. You’ll see rainbow flags and there will be protection in the city’s official plans of a distinct cultural neighborhood. City hall should come on board,” Kirkby says.

Forty-five per cent of Ottawa’s gay and lesbian community live downtown and in surrounding areas, according to a 2001 survey. Kirkby says that Ottawa Centre is one of the five largest gay electoral ridings in the country.

“It’s not like it’s a couple of gay bars,” Kirkby says. “These are key institutions within a few blocks of each other. It’s finally reached a critical mass, a sign of Ottawa coming of age.”

However, an informal poll of businesses by Centretown News revealed that it wasn’t just gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transsexual and queer identified business owners who were not consulted. Many did not participate in the consultations because they were not aware they were taking place.

Holder says that the city made several attempts to involve the community — with 60,000 leaflets sent to addresses on Bank Street, advertising in three local newspapers and public open houses, but the message must have slipped under the radars of local business owners.

“We didn’t seek to approach specific groups in the corridor, but several representative groups were present,” Holder says.

He says the consulations involved the Centretown Community Association, the Glebe Community Association, the Glebe Business Group, the Bank Street Business Improvement Area and other businesses such as sports store Tommy and Lefebvre.

“Once we get into the details — selecting street furniture and specific types of street lighting, we may consult people,” Holder says.

A meeting to present the redevelopment plans to city council has been postponed from Dec. 7 to Jan. 16, because it’s taking longer than anticipated to compile the report, Holder says. The total redevelopment will cost an estimated $25 to $30 million.

However, some feel that turning the area into a “gaybourhood” is the responsibility of the gay community.

Bank Street used to be an inhospitable no-man’s land of vacant stores. It began blooming as businesses, especially gay-identified ones, moved in and helped regenerate the area, says David Rimmer, owner of gay bookshop After Stonewall.

Robert Giacobbi, co-owner of Wilde’s sex shop, adds: “It’s a two way street. It’s the responsibility of gay businesses and the gay community to get together and push for this.”