Posts Tagged ‘Wesbrook Place’

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.


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


Frankish, Jim
2009    UBC Plans for the Affluent? In The Ubyssey, online, Oct. 15 2009.
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.
2008b Vancouver Campus Plan. October 17th 2008. Facebook note.

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Another interesting feature of the UBC Farm Mission Statement text is how recruitment and industrial application are important ideological directives.  The Farm is good because it ‘promotes’ UBC’s commitment to sustainability. There are well-funded programs that are on the other side of the spectrum, and that are left alone to flourish, such as mining engineering and wood materials processing. The Farm could become the type of laboratory that comes out with new patents, products and techniques that can be marketed by industries and thus help to change the world, at home and abroad.

The UBC Farm is given the general utopian task of ‘regenerating’ individuals, communities, forests and ecosystems, healthy soils and foods. Maybe the idea here is that the UBC Farm could become mobile, moving throughout the land and transforming landscapes according to sustainability principles as it goes, regenerating everything along the way. The wording here is, at the very least quite awkward, unless we can figure out how a place could be able to ‘regenerate healthy individuals and communities’. It sounds like the Farm is like a hospital where people go to be cured – metaphorically, it is already working. The UBC Farm has made a life changing effect in the lives of many individual students and community members along the years, precisely because it allows them to experience a place that is removed from the most common constrictions or urbanized areas. The only issue now is that Wesbrook village was erected right at the entrance of the Farm, to the disgust of pretty much every student who has ever worked at the UBC Farm.

We should also take issue with the idea that the Farm “advances sustainability literature in students, leaders, and decision makers”. Not only does this statement make an unnecessary distinction between students, leaders, and decision-makers, but it is also signals the existence of a highly hierarchical system that must be served by the UBC Farm. The statement leaves future student generations, local children, and the Musqueam out of the picture.  We also see no mention of how the UBC Farm will engage with biotechnology, whether it will help in the production of transgenics or not. Will this live laboratory be promoting the type of sustainability that conforms to “agricultural neoliberalism” and free-trade agreements (Otero and Pechlaner 2008:1)? UBC’s new branding strategy does not mention that students came together in 1997 to oppose the APEC meeting that happened at the Museum of Anthropology, where heads of state met to set up neoliberal policies in Asia. The statement should also clarify whether the Farm will be used for the creation of new organisms for the sake of selling patents, and how much selling patents relates theory of sustainability they are promoting?

If the process of consultations continues as it has in the past, there will be a small window of opportunity available for public consultations. Whatever people say on those occasions is not automatically taken into consideration, but becomes bulk feedback that is later selected. One should wonder how much are they trying to promote consultations into this plan. All information should be made available to the UBC community, including working drafts. Transparency and accountability should be the most important directives of any consultation that leads to development on campus.

“The South Campus Academic Planning Committee will prepare an Academic Plan for South Campus focused upon the 24-ha area currently under the stewardship of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems”

How are students involved in such a project and how much of the data gathered through the UBC Farm Vision, attended by students, community members, administrators and politicians, is being used as input on the plan being prepared? How transparent are the proceedings of this committee and what is its composition? It is important to note that the Farm, through this wording, does not deserve its own plan, but it is an internal issue of a larger and more important plan, focusing on South campus. It seems like campus is divided into zones simply for development purposes. They make it clear that the ‘area’ in question is “currently under the stewardship of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems”. This is a key distinction. The wording makes the place an “area” that is currently managed by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, and not the Centre itself, also known as the UBC Farm. So, the 24 ha area is not the “UBC Farm”, it is just being managed by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, currently. Currently means this is certainly up for change.  It would not be surprising if the administration found a large donor and named the place after that person once they develop a bunch of expensive structures in the area. Everyone would be in favor of infrastructural changes, and the UBC Farm Design Workshops were the perfect example of just that. We will see in the future how much of that vision will be realized in the future developments that will be falling over the UBC Farm.

South Campus Academic Plan . Last accessed, October 1st 2009.

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