Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Illiad over The Odyssey

An open letter to the Vancouver Mayor and Council,

RE: The Odyssey Night Club

I expect that City Council generally fields more complaints than commendations about their collective actions. This will be the latter.
For starters, in the spirit of full-disclosure; I am a former West End resident. I have not lived there for nearly five years; I am straight; my girlfriend, whose apartment I stay at regularly, lives within 100 meters of the former proposed future site of the Odyssey Night Club on Denman street; and you'll have to take my word for it that I'm not homophobic, though any thorough search of my past would certainly find the heavy balance of by actions to support that claim. I should also mention that while my girlfriend is my direct connection to this issue, what follows does not speak for her - it is my own frustration with a segment of an otherwise well self-representing community and their need to rely upon unsound argument and false premises that fuels this message, combined with a desire to commend council for seeing through the childish and unproductive politicizing being done by the side which feel wronged.
Thank you and congratulations for your recent decision disallowing the Odessey to re-open on Denman street.I have over the past five days heard an awful lot of outrage from within the gay community I am in touch with, and it disgusts me. What I am witnessing is a demographic who rightfully and genuinely feels persecuted, but that feeling of victimization is being irrationally applied in this case.
I've posted a few comments politely explaining the 'other' side of the argument in various locations - including blogs, forums and gay friend's outraged Facebook comments - and in all cases (most unfortunate in the latter case) they have been deleted, and if responded to at all, done so in a persistently hysterical manner. Hence I figured I should respond directly to you via email and publically on my own blog.
Apologies to council for much of what follows is information that you will already know as you are in the thick of it, I include it for the casual reader reading this as an open letter.
I will begin by stating that I fully support the effort to find a new home for the Odessey, but I stress the need to find a solution that will balance the impact as best as possible. I am convinced that the location on Denman was absolutely not the answer that would provide balance.
There is a common assumption in the pro-Odessey-on-Denman-camp, (I may regret this, but for Brevity I'll henceforth use the term "Prodcamp".) that being a vital part of the gay community - a gay-neighbourhood - that Denman street is an ideal place for the night club. I have lived a block off Davie street - behind a relatively quiet night club, but I'll get back to that - and spent plenty of time at my previously mentioned girlfriend's apartment, roughly the same distance from Denman. There is a world of difference in the neighborhoods. While both are rich examples of the gay community, comparing them to one another is not unlike comparing the entertainment district of Granville Street to Shaugnessy. One is where the younger crowd lives and goes to for their night-life, the other is where the married and older citizens settle. Do not be fooled by the propinquity of Davie and Denman compared to the other example. It's a smaller and more densely populated demographic thus the distance is less spread out.
Despite being a major street, Denman is not a 'party street.'
As mentioned above, I have lived behind a relatively quiet nightclub - a gay night club, so the comparison does bear a layer of correlation. Closing time was NEVER quiet, and occasionally I was compelled to call the police due to unreasonable noise from the patrons afterhours in the alley... yes, I am avoiding the gory details.For the most part though we did not complain about the noise - it was merely the few outrageous exceptions - but it needs to be stressed that we moved into that neighbourhood fully aware of both the general night-life along Davie and the specific from said club. It bears saying that this was in the days before smoking was pushed out into the street. That is not a judgement on smoking by-laws, simply relevant framing, as smokers would by necessity spread out along Denman street and ajoining side streets and alleys.Another aspect that the Prodcamp seems to have a tin-ear about is that if the neighbourhood is against the club in the first place that the number of complaints to the owners, council and the police are going to be magnitudes greater than would be experienced in a neighbourhood where the club is established. It's unwelcome nature (not for being gay, just for being loud) would NOT serve it's longterm health as a club - an for the most part, THAT is the crux of the problem, and where Michael Levy is actually being the short-sighted one, contrary to his claims about City Council. COuncil has recognized that noise pollution in the neighbourhood is the primary concern, and that is bang on. It's necessary to acknowledge with out predjudice the existence of largely anonymous, but more specifically spontaneous sexual activity that is ignited within a club. This can happen at straight or gay clubs, thus is not specific to the Odyssey. But when correlated to the proximity of the proposed 911 Denman location to Stanley Park - a known cruising location - it is unreasonable to suggest that couples and individuals would not leave the club heading west through a quiet residential neighbourhood - possibly making it to Stanley Park, possibly not waiting that long - and then have to make a return trip through the same neighbourhood. This is in addition to the expected and accepted diaspora along major thoroughfares at the end or even during a given night's entertainment.
Additionally, putting the club in a location better accessible to other clubs (gay or not) is to the advantage of both patrons out for the evening and to police patrolling. This latter point has little to do with responses to complaints or incidents and is primarily with regards to standard patrolling of night-life. The further the police have to travel, the more their resources are unnecessarily stretched. In the rare event that there is a need to respond to an incident the distance only exacerbates the problem.
There are a few more fallacies and mis-understandings I wish to address as they regularly come up as part of the argument:
Odyssey supporters claim that the noise can be controlled. This is a totally unsupportable claim. For starters the club cannot be actively responsible for revellers who have left the club, they can opnly take flack for it post-facto. Additionally, it is ridiculous to speak for future patrons five and ten years down the road, no matter how many current patrons swear that they themselves will be quiet as they gather and depart.
Council passed a motion to support the Odyssey in finding a new location, as motioned by Councillor George Chow. There seems to be great propensity for the Prodcamp to ignore this. This sadly strikes me as further evidence of an internal need to wield political weight by the demonstrating the false appearance of persecution.The Odyssey IS a cultural icon. Every resonable effor to preserve it should be made in a location where the impact will be less severe, possibly even predominantly welcome. Somewhere along the Davie corridor - not far from it's current location - is the obvious solution, if at all possible. Though if the gay community is prepared to venture out to other neighbourhoods, not specifically percieved as gay, it may be a good thing to break out into either the Granville entertainment district or Gastown. There is an acknowledgeable argument that this might not be as safe; but this should be explored as a counter to the equal an opposite argument that gay activity might be "ghettoized" in the West End, a circumstance that would be reprehensible in either an active or passive form. I believe this latter circumstance would be the opposite of councillor Woodsworth's intentions in her excellent public statements on the subject, and she should stand proud behind her comments and not listen to the ludicrous public attacks of the likes of Joan-E.
Contrary to many attacks, the Odyssey is NOT being forced to close. It is being forced to move by having their lease cancelled - which must happen in order for an AIDS hospice to be built on City land. To quote another public letter from the Prodcamp "Maybe you should leave the Odyssey where it is and try and find a new place for the Hospice." Ouch. This is from a letter within the gay community. I am certain it's not representative of the whole, but it does demonstrate the headspace of some of the Prodcamp, who are willing to throw some of the worst-off segment of their community under the bus for a place to party. It makes me sad. Though... if it is possible to extend the Odyssey's lease for a time longer as they search for a more reasonable location - without impacting upon the building of the hospice, I heartily support and recommend it. Today, April 14th council is to be meeting on exactly this matter, and as I write this I do not know the result.
Another mis-characterization by the Prodcamp is that the opposition is from the elderly. This is fundamentally not true. I happen to know a number of people in the neighbourhood who are not among the elderly who are not in favour of the club moving into the neighbourhood - and at this point, what is the point of name-calling?
I have thus far only managed to uncover one side's versiopn of the alleged "Chinese Restaurant" comment by councillor Chow. I suspect it is being mischaracterized. As it comes across - without ever a direct quote - from the Prodcamp is that Councillor Chow said that when his grandfather's favourite Chinese Restaurant was closed, he was disappointed but eventually he found another.As it appears - and quite possibly in actuality - it's an unfortunate statement. But what was the intention and context? When Councillor Chow's Grandfather was a young man the Chinese population of Vancouver was marginalized - nothing like the enormous and healthy community of today, quite possibly even more marginalized than today's gay community. That's the context. The point is that if the Odyssey closes it's doors forever there will be a void. It will fill. It will fill fast. That's a reality. Hopefully it won't come to that, but if it does, it won't take long before in all practical circumstances there is no difference between what exists today and what exists in the future.
Many of the Prodcamp are prone to making claims about the Odyssey's singular position on the gay community. To hear some, you might think it's the only gay-club in town. Others make the assertion that it's the only gay-club with dancing. Well, I think it's time that we turn to Joan-E for facts rather than hysteria: "Vancouver has Numbers, 1181, Pumpjack, Pulse, Celebrities, The Fountainhead, Oasis and Score. Of those, three have dancing for a combined capacity of around 1500 - all this for Western Canada’s largest gay population."
For those in the gay community who are taking up the stances that this is not a gay issue (or at least isn't until the currently fictional time council approves for a straight-club to open in the same premises); and those who are residents who would have been affected in their comfortable homes with their long-time companions off Denman street, I want to thank you too for being the reasonable people you are.
For those straights who opposed the club, and ever made any sort of assertion of evil in the gay community... please, we are not on the same side - or to the degree we are, you aren't helping.
Once again, congratulations to council for making a well reasoned and forward thinking decision, I'm sure you don't hear that often enough.

Sincerely, Kennedy Goodkey

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