Trek Park update, and related topics.

Trek Park, the space “liberated” from the old bus loop as a protest for the U-boulevard re-development project, is looking a little worse for wear. The park, consisting of some grassy areas, a large checkerboard, and some benches and furniture, was set up to create a student-friendly, free public space, and raise awareness and opposition to the underground bus-loop that the UBC Board of Governors is planning to give final approval to this year.

The ‘park’ was set up by a group of students loosely affiliated with The Knoll newspaper and AMS resource groups on the first day of school this September. It has since become somewhat of a fixture in the campus centre: but lately, a bit of a decrepit one. Moldy furniture sponges up the rain, bits of wood and metal collect in rickety piles, and the once-emerald grass is drowning in a little lagoon. “Trek park is in shambles,” admits park originator Nathan Crompton, “but we still love it!” he adds. “People keep trashing the park…more than once a week” he explains. It seems like some students are sick of the protest park, and willing to show it. When Trek Park volunteers tried to throw out some of the weather-damaged furniture, taking it to the dumpster on the north side of the SUB, it was placed back by the next day. The dome, some artwork, and other areas of the park have been vandalized too. Park signs have been removed and one showed up near the fraternity houses. Someone put a foot through the “free speech” park notice board a few weeks ago.

“I think they’ve made their point” said one student from my genetics class, as we were walking by. “A few weeks was fine, but I think everyone has seen it by now,” said another, “and who had the idea to put grass on an impermeable surface?” Some students view the park as vaguely “too hippy,” or for the slightly more political, a rag-tag protest effort that won’t make a difference. Others simply think it’s a scar on the landscape.

Stephanie Ratjen, another trek park volunteer, said that while students may have seen the message already, the university administration still hasn’t taken the action they’re demanding. The things that the park is there to protest are still unresolved, she said, adding that the consultation now going on about the above-ground portion of the U-boulevard has been “a failure,” despite student representation on the consultation planning committee. The process she refers to is the result of a turnabout in the U-boulevard planning process that occurred in May. At that time, a student petition opposing the plans for the area, and pressure from the AMS and GSS, persuaded the BoG to scrap the above-ground plans, and create a new consultation process. This process is being conducted now (remember the free burgers and booths in the SUB this month?) to find out what land-use options were best for the area. It’s being led by a committee that includes student representatives from the AMS and GSS. The BoG remains steadfastly committed (or so they say) to the underground bus loop, though it has yet to gain final approval. “They just want it to go away, ” says student BoG rep Darren Peets, “they’ll approve it to get rid of it.”

Whether or not it’s worth fighting the bus loop, and whether or not this renewed consultation is failing or not or not, is up for debate. Perhaps the park protest is a case of the vocal few making a fuss while the rest of us just want get on with life. Maybe some of their rhetoric makes park volunteers look like clowns, not serious players. Maybe they are alienating people that should be worked with. But the thing I like about this protest is it’s pro-activeness, it’s creativity, and the ideas coming out of it. No it’s not a picture of urban design, but at least the park is trying to lead by example. At lest the people doing it are bringing up the real problem issues behind campus development and planning: the democratic deficit in UBC’s governing structure, the skewed balance of power in committee processes, and an administrative culture that is only lately waking up to the real stake the student community wants in its physical surroundings.

To me, the protest also brings up a conversation that’s really important: strategies for activism. Where’s the effective balance between defying the status quo and working within its structure to have an inside voice?

This Thursday from noon to 8, Trek Park is hosting Knoll Aid, a jam session and general jamboree. Lots of music is lined up, should be fun.


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