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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Toope’

Students of this year’s Student Directed Seminar in the Geography of Food Security have come together this year to work on a documentary movie that showcased the recent history of the UBC Farm (aka ‘the Farm’). Our intention was to provide a historical introduction for new and upcoming students who are not aware of the events that have led to the protection of the Farm. The movie focuses on student involvement from a student’s perspective. We intend to show how students have come together to protect the Farm from preset developing plans.

Guided by Andrea Morgan’s narrative, president of the Friends of the Farm AMS Club, the movie starts with a description of activities that take place at the UBC Farm. “When you walk around at the Farm, you are literally looking at hundreds of different projects without knowing”, says Andrea. “UBC students grow over 250 different varieties of fruits and vegetables”, and the research that takes at the Farm encompasses several faculties, including “Forestry, Land and Food Systems, Education, Medicine, Family Studies, The Institute for Aboriginal Health” among many others, and the “number of user groups and the number of projects just increases every year, and [the Farm] is becoming hugely important” regionally”.

Viewers are taken through a journey that starts at the genesis of the Friends of the Farm phenomenon into the infamous Fall of 2008 Campus and Community Planning (CCP) ‘consultations’, and the development and implementation of the Great Farm Trek plan, which raised awareness for the Farm at a whole new level. Andrea explains that “in 2000, students began to take special interest in the Farm because of its label in he Official Community Plan as ‘future housing reserve”.

Seeing the deep flaws inherent in the consultations set up by the UBC administration, UBC students, in collaboration with the Friends of the Farm, created the UBC Farm Design Workshops, which took place in late 2008 at the First Nations House of Learning.This workshop was incredibly successful, and its process, creative, participatory, and engaging, contrasted deeply with the deeply flawed ‘consultations’ set up by CCP – the differences were staggering – students were able to get more participation, feed people, and produce better materials, and get world renowned supporters to speak on their behalf (e.g., Michael Ableman) for under $3,000 whereas the CCP spent over 1 million dollars in a highly contested and problematic ‘consultation’ process that triggered a social movement on behalf of the UBC Farm.

Students organized, created the Great Farm Trek concept, and secured the support of the Alma Mater Society, the largest student union in the country with about 47,000 members. This alliance was strengthened by over 15,000 signatures collected by Farm supporters, and delivered to the UBC President, Prof. Stephen Toope, who pledged to support the Farm. Farm supporters did not hold back and approached the Metro Vancouver Council with  request for support to the 24 hectare UBC Farm. Metro Vancouver Council responded with their unanimous support, and wrote a letter to the UBC administration voicing their unwavering support to the 24 hectare Farm.

Over 2,000 Farm supporters participated at the Great Farm Trek, on April 7th 2009. Shane Point, speaking on behalf of the Musqueam Nation, on whose territory the UBC Farm rests, told the public that “they [the administration] should not take away from future generations”. “None of us have the right to take away anything of beauty from future generations”, he said “you good people are saying it needs to stop, here at UBC, on Musqueam territory, and I agree with you – I am humbled today by your presence and your commitment”. For Morgan, the Trek was really important, because “it demonstrated that despite there being this apathetic culture at UBC” students managed to make the Great Farm Trek a “really huge thing” and “people all over the city were willing to come out to UBC that day in support of the Farm”. For Morgan, “watching thousands of people walk through the newly constructed Wesbrook neighborhood, in the middle of cranes and a huge construction zone, and then just take that right turn down to the UBC Farm, where the atmosphere changes completely… it was magical, and emotional, and really a pivotal moment in this entire thing”.

World renowned Greenpeace founding member and activist Rex Weyler also spoke at the Great Farm Trek, asserting that “we don’t need huge mega projects, new highway, new bridges, new everything, new apartment houses – we need each other, we have to take care of each other, look after each other and build sustainable communities”. For Weyler, “we have to calm down and learn about the earth – to do this, we are going to protect this Farm, like Shane says, not just for ourselves, but for our children and their grandchildren”. Weyler cautioned, referring to the plans preset by Campus and Community Planning ‘consultation’ processes, that “wrecking half the Farm and saving a little corner of it, that is not saving the Farm”. This comment drew a very loud cheer from the crowd. Weyler finished his speech by making a point about food security, asserting that “when things really get bad we are going to be glad that we have that Farm and so are our children and our grandchildren”.

With their efforts, students and Farm supporters from the greater Vancouver area were able to secure, for the Friends of the Farm, their input and participation in the South Campus Academic Plan Committee, which will ultimately determine the future of the Farm. According to Morgan, “if planned and thought out properly, the Farm could become a seriously important and innovative space for research as it relates to sustainability, human, economic, social, and ecological – all based around food production and place”.

A preview of the movie will be presented at the “Ethical Eats – Chow down & Act up!” event, to take place at the Agro Café, on Granville Island, December 18th 2009, 8PM. This event is hosted by our Student Directed Seminar – GEOG 442, Environmental Communications: Improving our Food System by Increasing Awareness.

Link to the EVENT on Facebook:

<http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/event.php?eid=177814113231&ref=ts>

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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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