Street life versus sterility: the battle
Unless your idea of street life is an outdoor version of a suburban shopping mall, you won't find much of it in Toronto. In an effort to tempt suburban tax dollars back downtown, the city has launched several "clean-up" campaigns over the last six years. Police and city government actions against body-rub parlours, bathhouses, gay bars, adult bookstores, entertainment palaces, street prostitutes and other street people have been clearing the way for the genteel folk to move back in.
for St Joseph St.
Continuing the trend, city hall has responded to the complaints of thirty St Joseph Street residents -- mostly about noise, garbage and "human garbage" by ordering the closure of four after-hours clubs: Club Mystique, Voodoo Club, Le Tube and Scruples. A "thorough inspection" of all six clubs in the area -- specifically ordered by city officials to find an excuse to shut them down -- found that the aforementioned clubs either did not provide enough parking, or were "unsafe." The Manatee and Katrina's, which have been given the run-around in the past (see TBP, October 1981), both passed the inspection.
"Obviously these clubs have been gone over much more closely because of the situation," says Lee Zaslovsky, assistant to Alderman Jack Layton, who represents Ward Six, which includes St Joseph Street. Zaslovsky explained that there are "no doubt many other buildings in the city that wouldn't pass the inspection" if they were checked out.
Alderman Layton has been helping the complaining residents to try to get the clubs shut down, but the clubs refuse to leave. "Now the Buildings and Inspection Department is initiating legal action to force the landlords to clear the premises," he says.
Before the department can actually take action, the city's Executive Committee must give its approval. "The clubs can appear before the executive and argue against the injunction or, failing that, they can argue their case in court," according to Zaslovsky. But he's certain the clubs will be forced to close.
Tony Ribeiro of Club Mystique is 5 St Joseph St.: Katrina's is safe for now; Voodoo (upstairs) is threatened for lack of parking. more optimistic. "We've rented some parking space and we've complied with the other regulations. The inspector told us if we did this we'd have no problem."
The Voodoo Club intends to fight the injunction as well, according to Monster, who works there. He says they also plan to rent parking space. It's likely that Scruples and Le Tube will do battle,too.
City hall's attack on the clubs is an over-reaction -- anything but a Leove Reaction." Not all the residents who complained were seeking the closing of the clubs as a solution. At a City Services Committee meeting on September 20, a community committee was struck to work out a compromise. But the same meeting also requested the inspections that led to the order to close the clubs. The commitment to compromise -- on the part of the officials, anyway -- ended even before it began. Beginning in 1970 with the opening of the Manatee, now the oldest after-hours gay disco in Canada, St Joseph Street has become a weekend mecca for gay people and new wavers. Gay people have a long tradition of late-night meetings because society denies safe, public space to people who dare to be different. While many gay bars operating during "regular" hours have opened in the past decade, there still remains a need for after-hours clubs.
With the growth in the number and variety of clubs on St Joseph Street since 1970, patrons began to carve out a gathering place for themselves on the street itself. On warm nights, many people stand around outside the clubs -- or sit on the lawn of the apartments across the way -- talking, smoking or getting high. This street scene has become an attraction in its own right. Gay people too young to get into the clubs have a place to meet friends. Others who can't afford to go inside can come to see what's happening. Tourists, and the occasional jerk, come to gawk at the drag queens or the "punks."
It is the use of the street as a gathering place that has brought the club-goers to the unfriendly attention of some residents. While most complain of noise from the clubs and the street, and trespassing, some also complain of harassment, violence, urinating, littering, sex, "weird" people, swearing and drug and alcohol use.
"The police have turned their backs on the situation," says Caroline Goldhawk, superintendent of one of two apartment buildings on the street and unofficial leader of the complaining residents. "Maybe they want all the sickies in one spot."
The owner of the other apartment building, which was renovated in 1980, and the owner of Diana Court (a townhouse named after Princess Di herself), have both complained that they are having a hard time making their investments pay off because of the street life. "Why would city hall give a permit for residential housing, then allow five after-hours clubs to open across the road?" asks a mystified Adam Kunst. Had Kunst bothered to check the neighbourhood before putting up his house, he would have discovered that three of the clubs were there long before Chuck and Di tied the knot.
Of the three residential buildings on the street, the unrenovated apartment is "providing affordable housing," according to Joan Campbell, a resident. "I do not think its residents should have to pay a premium of harassment, lack of sleep and embarrassment to live here." But if the trend to renovations continues, and if the street life is "cleaned up," then the street will be quieter and the rents will be higher and Campbell and company will be riding the transit to Scarberia.
St Joseph Street is noisy on summer weekends, although it is not as unbearable as the complainers say. The noise from the club that residents say is the loudest "is not a very high level of sound," according to the Commissioner of Public Works, who investigated the street on several early-morning occasions. Two of the clubs that have been ordered to close -- Club Mystique and Le Tube -- are in an uninhabited alley away from the sensitive eyes and ears of anyone but the people who use them. And the noise from cars and people on the street is well within reason for the Yonge Street area -- this isn't Don Mills, after aII.
The other problems are either not problems at all -- I have spent many evenings on St Joseph Street and I've never been fortunate enough to witness a single public sex act -- or are problems for which workable solutions can be found: garbage cans, public washrooms, fences, and so on.
Wherever people congregate there are bound to be problems, but this should never be an argument for denying the right to public space. St Joseph Street and Yonge Street are both public spaces that should be protected, not "cleaned up" to satisfy moralists, to profit landlords and developers who want to exploit real estate potential, or to benefit a greedy city government more concerned with collecting taxes than with fostering diverse city life. Residents of St Joseph Street who I suspect live dowtown because they perfer its variety to the sameness of the suburbs, should beprotecting the uniqueness of their neighbourhood -- of our neighbourhood -- rather than supporting "clean ups" that destroy diversity and suburbanize the city. the "weird" and "sick" people of the after-hours clubs are an important part of what makes Toronto an interesting place.