Tuesday, June 26, 2007

July 3-6 Consultation Events

Tues, July 3:
4-7pm: FREE Barbeque Party! Come on out and get a free burger. Just outside the SUB, on the patio between the SUB and the knoll.

Wed, July 4:
11-12: Mini-workshop on the Vision: SUB rm U42 (basement)
1-2: Mini-workshop on "mapping the square": SUB rm U42
3-4: Mini-workshop on connecting to the SUB: SUB rm U42

Thurs, July 5:
11-1, and 4-6pm: Open house drop in: SUB main floor concourse

Fri, July 6:
11-12: Mini-workshop on the Vision: SUB rm V42 (basement)
1-2: Mini-workshop on "mapping the square": SUB rm V42
3-4: Mini-workshop on connecting to the SUB: SUB rm V42

Although the Board of Governors (BoG) approved to build a $15.5 million tunnel under U-blvd, they also promised we'd be consulted before any decisions were made about what goes on top. So what's happening is there's a working group chaired by Nancy Knight (associate VP, Campus and Community Planning [CCP]), with the members: Joe Stott (director of planning, CCP), Paul Young (UBC Properties Trust), Barney Ellis-Perry (Alumni Affairs), David Woodson (Land and Building Services), Wesley Pue (Vice Provost and AVP Academic Resources), Anne DeWolfe (Executive coordinator, VP Students), Margaret Orlowski (student: at large), Brendon Goodmurphy (student: AMS VP academic), and Matt Filipiak (student: GSS president).

This working group is deciding how to do consultation, is carrying it out, and will report to the Board of Governors in November. We meet every monday from 10:30 to 12:00 in the Gardenia Room of CCP, 2210 West Mall at UBC, and the meetings are open so you can come if you want.

There will be 2 parts to the consultation: July 3-6 will be about "vision" for U-blvd, and in early September options for what to build will be presented.

So come out and have your say, and say it strongly! This is what the petition has gotten us, so let's make the most of it.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Good news and bad news

The Board of Governors (BoG) met on May 22 to decide what to do about U-Blvd. About 20 students were there to witness it. So what do you want first, the good news or the bad news?

The Bad news: phase 1 has been approved. This means $15 million has been released for spending. And what will they do on their $15million shopping spree? Build an underground tunnel! They've approved construction to start this summer to build a tunnel under U-Blvd, to move the underground utilities over because they're in the way of the tunnel, and to re-do the road over-top of it. At this point it's a $15 million-tunnel-to-nowhere, because the bus loop hasn't been approved.

And that leads us to the good news! BoG was originally planning on approving the whole thing on May 22: the tunnel, the bus loop, the shopping mall, the apartments, pretty much the whole shebang, but they didn't! They've pushed it off to November at the earliest. This is a direct result of the petition, so give yourselves a Huge pat on the back for a job well done! The 2700 signatures, the AMS council and GSS council policies and letters supporting the petition have had their intended effect: to go back and consult students on what we want in this space! (The petition did say not to approve anything until the consultation is done, but their mistake has been made now). How can they start building part of the U-blvd development when they have no idea what the finished picture is going to look like? Anyways, President Toope said he was committed to go back and do meaningful consultation with students, giving us a blank slate to work with, so we can create something that we will want and will use and will feel owenership over.

So the next step will be consultation! You'll be having your say in what you want, not just signing a petition against what you don't want. Check back here for updates on where and when consultation events will take place. And start thinking about it: if you could have anything, what would you want the heart of your campus to look like? This campus will be created by students, for students! May 22 shows you that students have a very powerful voice, when we choose to speak.

(Photos from Hampton Journal and Vanvcouver Courier. See Press Articles links.)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Board of Governors meeting

The Board of Governors committees are meeting on May 17, and the full Board meets on May 22. The petition (signed thus far by 2700 people) will be presented, as will endorsement letters and policies from the AMS and GSS. If you want to attend the meetings, call 604-822-2127 at least 24hrs in advance. The meeting of the Property and Planning Committee is at 9:45, May 17, Arbutus room, Ponderosa Center (at West mall and University blvd on UBC vancouver campus). The May 22 meeting starts at 9am in the same location.

Meeting outcomes will be updated here, as well as on the facebook group (U-blvd petition).

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Return the Petition!

If you have any signed petitions, or see any laying around (like on the back of "The Knoll" magazine, even if they only have one signature on them!), please return them to the SUB, resource center, room 245. On the bottom of the petitions it says to return them by April 30, 2007, but it's ok if they're late; we'll be collecting all summer!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Download the petition

Click on the petition to see the large version. Print directly from your web browser. Or, right-click and "save image as" onto your computer. Print it, sign it, share it, and return it to the Resource Center, SUB rm 245 by autumn '07.

Or, download the PDF version here.

To make your own suggestions for U-Blvd, go to www.globalcitizens.ca/page_1.html.

A Brief History Of U-Blvd

by Margaret Orlowski
Biology Masters student

“What’s the plan?” is a by now familiar phrase on campus. Campus and Community Planning are using this 6-phase campaign, spanning October 2005 to spring 2008, to let you “voice your opinion on the future of your campus”. So you think you’re getting a say, right? Wrong. “What’s the plan?” applies only to academic development of campus (http://campusplan.ubc.ca/about/). “University Town” (U-Town) is a profit-driven enterprise that aims to increase the university’s endowment by building profitable market housing at 7 locations (“neighbourhoods”) on UBC land. “University Boulevard” is one of these neighbourhoods.


University Boulevard (U-Blvd) is the area on campus from Wesbrook to East mall, including the area outside the SUB, the knoll, and the trolley bus loop. The current plan is to build an underground bus loop there, topped with a ground-level shopping mall, in turn topped with “student” housing. The knoll will be flattened, and traffic will flow like a polluted river into campus. It’s projected to cost roughly $150-million, but the profits from the mall and the “student” housing will pay for most of it over the next 30 years. If you think the heart of a university campus should not be mall, should not be about cost recovery, read on!

The Hierarchy

In order to better understand the convoluted bureaucracy behind development project, I've summarized the main bodies here. The Board of Governors (BoG) approves all decisions; it includes President Toope, appointed members, and elected staff and students. UBC Properties Trust is a private corporation, founded in 1988 and owned by UBC, which makes decisions about all building endeavors on campus, including academic buildings, residences, and market housing. Dennis Pavlich, VP of External and Legal Affairs, sits on the corporation’s board of directors. The U-Town Office was in charge of the student consultation that took place in 2003, and does all public relations (fantastic job they’re doing keeping us up to date on U-Blvd project progression; really great). The U-Town Office also has a Committee, made up of BoG members, students, staff, UBC Properties Trust, and is chaired by none other than Dennis Pavlich. Campus and Community Planning is pretty much a zoning office in charge of regulations, but last year they also started a consultation campaign called “what’s the plan”. Please note that there is complete estrangement between U-Town and “what’s the plan”.

The History

In July 1997, the Official Community Plan (OCP) was adopted by the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD). This plan identified 7 local areas for future non-institutional development, and basically put limits on retail floor space (4500 square meters) and building height (5 stories) for U-Blvd. If it wasn’t for these limitations imposed by the GVRD, which are being maximized, you can be sure UBC Properties Trust would fit as much development as physically possible into the space. In fact, the original plan had three 18-story towers of market housing beside the War Memorial Gym and outdoor pool.

In 2002, UBC Properties Trust designed a neighbourhood plan for University Boulevard, making optimal usage of the retail and building sizes allotted. But it was not clear where the bus loop would go. A comprehensive project explored all possible bus station plans for UBC campus, including multiple loops widely distributed, one central loop, having buses drive around campus, having buses stay off campus, etc. What they concluded was that the current bus loop (now the “old bus loop” near the trolley bus loop, which has transformed into a parking lot) was ideal. But they couldn’t have busses on the surface, on the most prime real estate in UBC, and possibly in Vancouver! So they decided to leave the bus loop almost where it is, just move it underground (leaving room for profitable buildings on top). So, diesel busses were moved to the new North bus loop, which was meant to be temporary and to last only 18 months until U-Blvd construction had been completed. Thanks to delays in the project, the North bus loop has been in operation for over 2 years.

In October of 2004 an international design competition was launched to bring in the world’s best architects and their visions for U-Blvd. They were free to design whatever they liked, on the qualification that they include: traffic flowing from Westbrook mall to the bookstore and along East mall, the already-designed underground bus loop, and four 5-storey maximum buildings with one floor of retail and 4 floors of housing. The competition results were narrowed down to 3 fairly similar designs, which students were given the chance to vote on in a non-binding poll in March, 2005. Darren Peets, currently holding a BoG student seat, was actively against the project at the time and narrates that “team A won with 79%; B got 6%, C got 11%, and 4% of respondents figured out how to spoil an electronic ballot. A couple days before the poll opened, a student-initiated ‘none of the above’ option was canned. Teams B and C had atrocious and uninspiring designs respectively, and were both very poorly presented, while A was fairly well presented, had a number of good ideas, and clearly put some effort into understanding what students wanted there in order to mislead us and sway the poll. Hence, parking looked like forest and road looked like plaza.” Meanwhile, a jury independently voted on one of the three, and their decision would be the final one. It happened that they also chose team A, coinciding with the students’ “popular vote”.

In 2006, the team A architects, Moore Ruble Yudell of Santa Monica, walked out on the project for unknown reasons. They had been paired with the local firm Hughes Condon Marler, which remains involved. The project has been behind schedule because of opposition from students, the U-Town committee, and the AMS, and it’s speculated that the architects were fed up with the delays, were dismayed by the lack of student consultation, and also had won as many awards for their design as possible. Quit while you’re ahead. A new architectural team, Kuwabara Paine from Toronto, joined the project in the summer of 2006.

Last month, on March 13, there was an open house in the SUB featuring a foam model of the latest plans. This was a “present and defend” event, and student comments and feedback were not noted. This open house happened to take place on the very same day that the Property and Planning Committee was approving the design, so student feedback wouldn’t have mattered either way.

U-Town gives two objectives for developing U-Blvd: to return money to the endowment, and to build an increased sense of community. The proceeds from U-Town development are estimated to potentially reach $700-800 million. (For a fantastically insightful and witty article on building the endowment, see Nathan Crompton’s article in The Knoll, 2006, vol 1, issue 5, pg. 14). “Community-building concerns of this project are secondary”, says AMS President Jeff Friedrich. While profit was the original motivation for the project, it now seems rather unattainable. The bus loop was supposed to cost $15M, but will now cost $40 million. $5M will come from Translink, $4M from the general municipal services levy, and $31M paid for by UBC through infrastructure impact charges (IIC’s). IIC’s normally go toward things like road reconstruction, filling potholes, improving drainage, and subsidizing the campus daycare facilities (all of which are in dire straits right now, particularly the daycare with a wait list of 1300 children). The stuff on top of the bus loop (buildings A1 and A2 in figure 2), utilities and landscaping will now cost roughly $100M, to say nothing of buildings B and C1. This will be paid for by a ~25-year loan taken out by UBC Properties Trust, and paid off by rent from the housing (~320 units) and retail outlets.

When it comes to examining the rationale for U-Blvd, Darren Peets puts it best: “We really do need to ask why we're doing this. Profit's no longer possible, so if we're building something students don't want, who does want it and why? Are we actually trying to accomplish something here, or is it just being driven by inertia?”

The Plan and The Problems

The Underground Bus Loop

At present, the plan for U-Blvd is to move the main diesel bus loop underground, roughly under the current knoll. The north bus loop will ostensibly become the site of student residences, but plans are very unclear and there are absolutely no guarantees. The bus entrance to the underground bus loop would be on University Boulevard, just west of Wesbrook mall. This underground loop, however, would only accommodate the diesel buses; the trolley busses would have to be kept at ground level because they require additional headroom for the overhead wires, and excavating to the required depth is just too expensive (as if $40-million isn’t). While the underground loop would accommodate all current diesel busses, it would not fit 80-ft rapid transit busses or light rail transit cars that are expected to be required in the future. An underground bus terminal is concrete, and concrete won’t expand 15 or 20 years down the road as the UBC population and bus ridership will expand.

It had been noted that the old bus loop couldn’t handle the bus capacity, and that in 20 years it would have nearly tripled in size. When you compare the land area covered by this projected need with the size of the proposed underground loop (part of the current U-Blvd plan), you can see a noticeable discrepancy in the land areas. On the one hand, they say this large area (3x the old bus loop in size) is required to accommodate ridership in 20 years, and on the other hand the public relations spokespersons for the U-Blvd project say that the underground loop (which is smaller than that area), would be of sufficient size. See the contradictions inherent in the system? The underground loop likely won’t be able to handle transit needs two decades from now, but there’s some evidence it won’t be sufficient even now: the implementation of the student U-pass was expected to increase ridership 30% the first year, and 10% the second year; in fact, transit usage increased 63% the first year and 10% the next year. How will ridership grow if/when a faculty/staff U-pass becomes available? You would think that UBC had extensive consultation with Translink to address these issues, but then you’d be wrong. (How can something have gone through over 5 years of “planning” and still be so poorly planned?!).

Air quality is another major concern that has not been properly addressed; how will the gas fumes, carbon dioxide, and lethal carbon monoxide from the subterranean buses be ventilated? The latest plan had a tower rising from the ground, open to the bus terminal at the bottom and the open air at the top. The sun would heat the glass at the top of the tower, and since hot air rises, it would supposedly suck the stale air out from underground with the help of fans. But then again, concrete is cheaper and uglier than glass, and the tower’s pipe should be 16-ft across for adequate ventilation, so this idea is being revisited. At present, there is no set plan on how the bus loop will be ventilated. Apparently, removal of sooty exhaust from our breathing space is less important than cost optimization.

The shortsightedness of the bus loop planners doesn’t end there. How will solitary students, women, and youths waiting alone for the bus at night feel safe from attack and assault? “Adequate lighting” and an emergency button won’t allow people to see down stairwells or around corners. A promise for a 24-hr guard to be present would be nice. Most cell phones won’t get reception under that much cement, so no calling for help. In an enclosed underground bunker there is nowhere to run.

The Retail

The plan calls for retail space on the ground floor of the two buildings atop the bus loop and the two buildings along U-Blvd itself. The University has a commitment to consult students on the retail built on campus. In summer 2006, the Strangway building was built ahead of schedule without the promised student consultation, and we’re left with the University of Shoppers Drugmart as a result. Thus, students’ apprehension that we won’t have a say in the sorts of businesses built outside the SUB are extremely well-founded, no matter what “commitments” the planners make to us. In particular, students wish to support local and ethical businesses. We don’t want chain stores, fast food restaurants, or goods created by forced child labour. We also don’t want replicas of student-run and funded businesses in the SUB. We already have a movie theater, hair salon, copy center, corner store/Outpost, bicycle shop, food vendors, and pubs. Furthermore, nearby in the Village we have more restaurants, a bakery, dollar store, Business Depot, flower shop, etc. A grocery store is being built on south campus. It’s true that we could use some more services, especially food services, but the results of the “what’s the plan?” phase 2 report state that students clearly want these services evenly distributed throughout campus, so that they don’t need to walk all the way from Forestry to the SUB to get lunch, for example. The SUB itself is currently undergoing a renewal process, which could incorporate some of the student needs that may be lacking, but U-Town is not working with the AMS to achieve this. Another interesting question: would students have priority in working for these new businesses? Would their pay be matched to the cost of the housing? Or would the businesses themselves be left to make those sorts of decisions? This seems most likely, and students will be out of luck.

The Housing

Above the retail level of the buildings would be housing units. (Buildings B and C1 would also have floors for the administration and BoG, but no study rooms). The plan calls for roughly 320 housing units, termed “University Rental Housing”. Unlike residences, there would be no restrictions on who could live there, so the only way that it’s really “University Housing” is that it’s located in the heart of our University. Students would have as much of a chance to live there as anyone else, provided they could afford the rent - on which no official numbers have been presented, so it’s safe to assume it’ll be unaffordable for most students. There is talk that the planners expect more well-to-do grad students (with sufficient grant funding) to fill the spots. This indicates an exclusionary approach, not a community-building one. With housing prices on this side of town rising, what students need is on-campus housing they can afford. But would anyone even want to live atop a busy transit terminal (hopefully) venting its fumes, next to the Pit Pub venting vomiting first years, next to the chemistry building loudly venting toxic chemicals from researchers’ fume hoods? UBC Properties Trust assumes so, but there hasn’t actually been any survey or feedback research asking this question.

The Land Uses – A Summary

Let me paint you a picture of this project, because team A’s winning architectural design has been drastically modified. The plan calls for making the entrance to campus urban, when it's clear students dislike that and rather prefer green space. Cars would drive into campus from Wesbrook mall, along U-Blvd, and either park underground, park aboveground in front of the aquatic center or in the current parking lot between chemistry and the bookstore, or they could turn left onto East Mall, where there will be ample parking. The social and pedestrian heart of campus is not an appropriate place for all this car traffic, and backups due to people crossing in front of cars could jam up the trolley busses, which would remain on the surface of U-Blvd. Diesel busses will magically become British and start driving on the left-hand side of the street (so they’ll be able to drive around the bus loop properly) before proceeding underground. Emerging busses will also be driving on the left. The underground bus loop will not have a glass roof as rendered in the architectural drawings, but rather a concrete slab.

According to the "plan", there will be one central platform in the underground bus loop, with a 40 foot-wide stairwell and an elevator leading people up into the shopping mall. You will be funneled through narrow spaces between buildings lined with store fronts tempting you to be a good consumer each and every time you go to the bus loop. The two apartment buildings/malls will face each other (see the schematic diagram on the U-town website) and have an open plaza between them. In team A’s vision, this plaza, called the “Day-Night Atrium”, would be covered by a glass roof, sloping down from the 4th floor of one building to the 2nd floor of the other, keeping everyone warm and dry from the rain year-round. This roof will be invisible in order to cut costs – so bring your umbrellas. The plaza and walkways will be made of paving stone if they can afford it, or more likely, concrete and tarmac. (Apparently grass is too expensive too). The buildings themselves will be 5 and 3 stories tall. There are currently no firm details for the third and fourth buildings along U-Blvd; however, they will probably be 4 stories, including ground floor retail, an administration floor, and housing.

The swimming pool will be moved into the shade behind the aquatic center (where there is currently a parking lot). The parking lot between the chemistry building and the bookstore will have some trees and lawn planted on it, however the eco-friendly water-filtering stream that helped team A win so many votes will also be invisible, to help cut costs. On the surface streets there will be a bike lane and sidewalks, but no bike lockers, change rooms or showers for bikers. Our beloved grassy knoll will maybe be replaced by a smaller grassy hill in front of the Wesbrook building, overlooking the traffic and the parking lots.

What we're doing with this project is divesting ourselves of core academic land, and turning it into a profit-driven highly commercialized shopping mall completely unsuited for a university, a place of higher learning. This land could be used for classrooms, research labs, offices, 24-hour study spaces, multicultural spaces, resource areas, computer labs, an outdoor stage/theater or, heaven forbid, grass, trees, and rhododendrons.

The Solution

Listen to what students want! The “what’s the plan” campaign produced a really excellent review that reports the following, based on student comments:
• There needs to be more formal and informal indoor and outdoor meeting spaces with ample seating.
• Outdoor spaces need to have more seating and should be reflective of the natural surroundings of the UBC-Vancouver campus.
• More multi-use spaces that include computer access are required on campus, e.g., for studying, socializing and eating.
• Many participants noted the Forestry Building Atrium and the Grassy Knoll as types of public spaces that work on campus
• Maintain greenspace and viewscapes.
The U-Town plan specifically undermines every single one of these comments; each is either ignored or the opposite idea is being implemented. The biggest problem with the U-Blvd plan is the lack of consultation with students, and even now when student feedback about our public spaces is available, it is blatantly disregarded.

What is the solution to the 5-year fiasco that is the U-Blvd development project? People need to speak out, loud and clear, that what is planned (if this poorly thought out project can even be described by such a word) must be reconsidered. The land use options for the heart of our campus need to be revisited. We need to go back to square one and ask, “What do students want to do with this space? What does the heart of campus look like in the ivy-league schools we try to emulate the most? What are all of our possible options?" In order to achieve this awakening of our university’s leaders who are running blindly like mad horses over the edge of a cliff, a petition is circulating, calling on the Board of Governors to stop what they’re doing, consult students first, and implement our visions.

Print a copy of the petition (or pick one up from the SUB Rescource Center), sign it, get your friends/roommates/peers/profs/students to sign it, and return it to the Resource Center, SUB rm 245, by April 30, so it can be presented at the next BoG meeting in May 2007, when U-Blvd construction is slated to be approved (to begin this June). We need to stop these disastrous plans before they become a reality. It’s in our power to stop this with nothing more than our signatures and our optimism.