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In this article, I examine the failure of the underground bus-loop development project at UBC. This project was going to cost UBC around 40 million CAD, at a time that the university is being deeply affected by funding cuts to Arts students, the lack of childcare, and impending threats to the spatial integrity of the UBC Farm. According to the TREK 2010 principles, UBC should be striving to preserve green spaces, build childcare facilities and affordable housing. The current UBC administration, however, has been set on building high rise luxury market housing condos (see Frankish 2009), housing that caters strictly and exclusively for Master of Business Administration students in Sauder, parking lots, and hoping to get going with the underground bus-loop project, considered ‘wasteful and unnecessary’ by students, including the AMS council.

Resistance

TransLink, which was UBC’s partner on the underground bus loop project, has recently announced that they cannot help UBC fund it. Jung (2009b), writing for the Ubyssey, quotes a TransLink media-relations representative, Ken Hardie, who stated that TransLink “will not be in a position to fund a share of that project”. The university blames TransLink and the Mayors council for this failure, not the mistake of carrying forward a project that was rejected by students as a terrible waste of money.

WasteThere are a range of opinions expressed on whether the student resistance has had any effect in the failure of the underground bus loop project. This article examines two opposite opinions expressed in this public debate – 1. ‘The student resistance has nothing to do with the failure of the underground bus loop’ (e.g., McElroy 2009, and Knight 2009); and 2. ‘If it were not for the student resistance, the underground bus loop would be under construction” (e.g., Morgan and Frederick). I present you an analysis of both sides in order to generate more discussion on this issue.

Anyone who researched the published opinions regarding the underground bus loop project would realize that it has been marked by sustained student resistance from its inception. In my experience, for instance, students were already resisting the underground bus loop project during the Spring of 2007, when I became involved in student politics as an Anthropology rep at the Graduate Student Society (GSS) council, as GSS rep at AMS Council, and later as a member of the Vancouver Campus Plan Steering Committee (chaired by Nancy Knight). At that time, students were circulating a petition that eventually brought to an end the shopping mall project that the Board of Governors and CCP had ‘envisioned’ for the University boulevard.

According to the Alma Mater Society president, Blake Frederick, UBC has “turned down [his] request for information so far” regarding the actual detailed expenses the project entailed (Jung 2008b). The lack of transparency and accountability, especially in the context of ‘shady’ consultation and development projects (e.g., the underground bus-loop and the Wesbrook place), is a trademark of the current UBC administration. Blake Frederick’s position is that “a single dollar spent on the proposed underground bus loop was too much” because the whole thing had been “flawed from the beginning” (Jung 2008b). Nancy Knight, Campus and Community Planning (CCP) Vice-President, claims that UBC spent ‘only’ 400,000 CAD with this project. I wonder how many students per year we can fund with this kind of money.

Justin McElroy, writing for the Ubyssey (Oct., 29 2009), argues that student resistance to meaningless development has nothing to do with the extinction of the project, even though he is glad that it is not happening. For him, students are powerless, their resistance is futile, and the victory over the bus loop is simply ‘symbolic’. McElroy (2009) argued, for instance, that

“before we pat ourselves too much on the back for [the failure of the bus loop project], let’s keep in mind that the project has been scrapped because TransLink doesn’t have the $10 million needed after a recession, and that changed governance and funding structures have made life difficult for them—not because anyone really cared what students thought” (McElroy 2009).

This opinion basically mirrors and legitimizes the administration’s position (i.e., Knight 2009), and is aimed at making sure students ‘realize’ they are powerless. Nancy Knight traces the cause for the failure of the bus loop project strictly to a decision made by the city Mayors Council “not to provide funding for capital projects”, and to their inability to “meet their side of the partnership” (Jung 2009b). This argument assumes that there is nothing particularly wrong with the underground bus loop. The bus loop, according to this view, just got sucked into the constrictions of a funding cut. Now, Nancy Knight explained “[w]e’ll have to go back and take a look at our options for completely [surface level] facilities” (Jung 2008b). In Knight’s view, there seems to be no reason to believe anything students ever said made a difference, which is the same as McElroy (2009) argued.

Others, like Andrea Morgan, Friends of the UBC Farm President, argue that if it were not for students, the project would still be moving along. For her, students were able to delay the project just enough to contribute for its failure (personal interview, Nov., 4 2009).

One factor that has been overlooked by those who believe that the student resistance made no difference is UBC’s reputation at the Metro Vancouver Council – a “developer” that causes “consternation” – to quote the words used by the councilor Cadman in 2008 (personal video). He referred to UBC as a ‘developer’ when supporters of the UBC Farm approached the Metro Vancouver Council to ask for a letter of support to preserve the UBC Farm in its “current size and location”. The Friends of the UBC Farm delegation received the city’s unanimous support. CCP director Joe Stott, present in the occasion, was invited to address the Metro Vancouver Council, and chose to remain silent.

Picture 6

It would be also reasonable to suggest that the failure of the underground bus loop is also connected to the consciousness raising effect of the Great Farm Trek (April 7th 2009), and to the amount of media coverage of the struggle to save the UBC Farm from a developer-dominated administration. It would have been indeed surprising if the Metro Vancouver city council, pressured by food security and climate change concerns, would fund a construction intensive project that sought to bring carbon-emitting diesel buses into an underground facility at the heart of campus. UBC’s sustainability strategy commits to reducing carbon emissions, not concentrating them.

President Toope, on a Board of Governors meeting I attended in the Spring of 2007, in order to justify his support for the underground bus loop project, referred to students as a “transient non-expert population”, and told the Board and those present that we should be relying in ‘experts’ instead, referring to the consultants favoring the project. Toope made this comment after the Board had been faced with the detailed objections brought to their attention by student representative Darren Peets (PhD). Peets has been one of the most prolific writers on issues like the underground bus loop development and the consultation process for the campus plan (e.g., Peets 2008a, Peets 2008b, Peets 2009). One factor was overlooked by the UBC president – still then telling the same story of how he got lost when he first arrived in his car and could not find the entrance of campus – it was simply that students are experts in being students! There were people on campus who had been around for much longer than Toope (e.g., Darren Peets, Frankish), and who perceived the contradictions between the Trek 2010 doctrine and UBC’s development practices through their first-hand experience, critical participation in public debate, and knowledge of community and development needs, campus life, being on campus, being a commuter, and on how the Trek 2010 ideology translates or not into practice. In addition, students would have been the main users of a facility they disapproved of and did not want to see. It is time to give students more credit for their ideas, so they can become catalysts for positive change, with more decision-making power on development issues.

Our Streets, Our Choice

REFERENCES

Frankish, Jim
2009    UBC Plans for the Affluent? In The Ubyssey, online, Oct. 15 2009.
http://ubyssey.ca/ideas/?p=8874
Jung, Samantha
2009 No underground bus loop? Flailing TransLink can’t meet financial                 requirements of partnership with UBC. In The Ubyssey, online, Oct. 29 2009             http://ubyssey.ca/news/?p=10705
Knight, Nancy
2009    Open Letter to the UBC Vancouver Community, Oct. 27.
McElroy, Justin
2009 Bus loop: a symbolic victory for students. In The Ubyssey, online, Oct. 29             2009. http://ubyssey.ca/news/?p=10710
Peets, Darren
2009    Planning the Unplannable. Alex Lougheed, ed.  In UBC Insiders, online,            Oct. 14, 2009. http://blogs.ubc.ca/ubcinsiders/2009/10/14/planning-the-unplannable/
2008a UBC Bus Terminal: Unresolved Problems. Aug. 1st 2008. Facebook note.
http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=21270402898
2008b Vancouver Campus Plan. October 17th 2008. Facebook note.
http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/note.php?note_id=31157542898

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