Bar Fight: Are unruly nightclub patrons threatening downtown communities?

Post by Mike Klassen in

2 comments

Bar Fight

Sean Orr has a fat lip. The Beyond Robson blogger and social warrior is a few notches more angry than normal thanks to a late night scrap outside his downtown apartment. Sean and photographer Kris Krug apparently came to the rescue of harmonica man, a Gastown denizen and one of the many homeless in that neighbourhood.

Yeah sure you split my lip when I tried to stop you from stomping on the man's skull, but at least I distracted one of you for a few seconds. And yes when you're [sic] friend had finished pummeling the victim you both would've probably seriously injured me, had not a second Gastown Blogger arrived. What is the state of our civilization when two -admittedly incredibly talented and handsome- bloggers are out there in the rain defending the downtrodden from thugs?

Orr's BR post is a colourful and justifiably angry rant. You expect nothing less from someone who has just been in fisticuffs with some suburban glamor boys. He describes their presence like it's blitzkrieg on Vancouver's core:

Coked-up, suburban, small-dicks, invading Downtown in all their popped-collar glory, pissing in our alleyways; overcome by the stimuli of the big city and drenched in pheromones they feel they must prove themselves to each other by thumping their chests.

Vancouver's bars have been the subject of ongoing controversies for over a decade. How did we get here, and how can we improve the situation? What are the politics, and how can we possibly make dense downtown living compatible with a vibrant social scene?

The brilliant urban design guru Jan Gehl stated in a lecture I attended that cities require places for young men and women to mix in order to survive. That's how we get babies. No babies, and your city won't survive.

Whether it is meant as a survival measure or not, Vancouver politicians of all stripes have by and large prioritized the demands of bar and nightclub owners downtown over the concerns of nearby residents. During the 2002 civic election the "No Fun City" label was used effectively by bar owners and young voters as a campaign issue. Despite years of increasing the concentration of nightlife into "entertainment districts," all politicians had to vow that they would extend bar hours and liberalize liquor licenses in order to get elected.

Vancouver revised its approach to nightlife beginning in the 1990s by concentrating bars in the Granville Entertainment District. The then NPA City Council provided a series of bar licenses, and subsequent councils continued to accommodate requests from the bar owners for additional seats.

In Gastown, a once exciting night scene featuring legendary live music venues such as The Town Pump, The Savoy, and blues bar The Lamplighter now provides more mainstream nightlife, including restaurants and some good bars. However, today the area is still trying to resurrect itself from the tragic shootings and murder of a club-goer by some of the hoodlums Orr describes.

Back over at Granville Street, the violence on or near the entertainment district reached a peak during 2007. Threats by the City to restrict bar hours and force bar owners with direct costs for extra cops were matched with ramped up PR and lobbying. A compromise was reached with extraordindary policing and street closures were used to defuse the problems of continuous public drunkeness and assaults.

When that strategy seemed to be working, along came the egregious gay bashing of Jordan Smith last summer. The same cries came from locals who accused Surrey of delivering all their bad guys here.

The new City Council is unlikely to affect the status quo if political donations are any indication. Back in the 2005 election bar owners favoured Vision Vancouver with their financial help (see Vision's donor disclosures here and here), although cheques went to the NPA, too (NPA's 2005 donors). Former Vision mayoralty candidate Jim Green and COPE/Vision Mayor Larry Campbell were noted bar-goers, and Green ran on a bar-friendly campaign platform.

Bar Watch chair John Teti says the new red decal declares a bar or club as a member of Bar Watch, a place that supports public safety.

In fact, the NPA were seen as antagonistic to bar owner interests, leaving them "frustrated with what seemed to them to be a the NPA's greater interest in regulation." To what extent Vancouver bar owners supported either of Vision Vancouver or the NPA will not be known until the March declaration of donors required by all candidates and political organizations.

It is unlikely the landscape for downtown bars is going to change much during this term of Council. Patrons seem to be putting up with security restrictions put in place by Barwatch (including ID scanning), and Council financial support for continuing the Granville Street closures will be seen as an adequate defense, at least until the next major outbreak of social disorder.

In my bar-going days the best venues were a little harder to get to, not clustered in one spot. It makes sense, given the hostilities downtown, that good nightlife is breaking out just off Main Street at The Biltmore Hotel and other small venues.

Perhaps it is time for Vancouver to rethink the heavy concentration of entertainment on one or two streets of the downtown core? What are the experiences of other cities in dealing with bar and entertainment districts, like Calgary's Electric Avenue? We'd like to hear from our readers, so leave a comment or drop us a line.

2 Comments

Michael,

Great post. I'll have to link to it.

Unless I'm missing something obvious, the bars in gastown (my 'hood) don't contribute a bloody thing to the neighbourhood. Nothing. Nada. They don't add to any kind of community building. They don't add any kind of vibrancy (unless puking and pissing against our buildings is vibrant??). And fun? I guess so ... for the patrons who actually live elsewhere, and the owners who make their money.

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