A Place of Mind Your Own Business

Yesterday’s article about the Land Use Plan revisions outlined the conflict of interest inherent in the revision process. To keep that piece readable, today’s installment, going into more detail about how this manifests itself in the “consultation” that they undertake, was chopped off the back end. If long diatribes about the poor consultation practices that UBC engages in is your thing, then read on. This is really just a long rant so please take it as such. However, please make sure to read tomorrow’s article about the Thunderbird Neighbourhood, it’s a must-read.


Let’s rewind back to the first round of LUP consultations that occurred in July. The two open houses that were held were supposed to be for C&CP to gather ideas from people. Rather than an open forum where anything could be discussed, the exact opposite occurred. All discussion was based around just four specific questions of C&CP’s choosing. People who brought ideas to the consultation couldn’t get them discussed. As mentioned yesterday, UBC is loathe to give up control over the process and is trying to control the consultation topics very tightly.

Despite the narrow scope of the July events, some people still made other points about the planning process. In their own words, here are some of the major themes that came from those events:

  • Strong support for transferring housing density and for increasing housing density and providing more, smaller units to improve housing affordability.

This is something that C&CP really wants people to agree with. However, as mentioned yesterday, many people don’t support the fact that the density exists at all, so it’s odd to see this supported. A closer look gives a hint why. Everyone knows that the deal with the farm: transferring the density comes part and parcel with saving the farm. Density transfers from other areas on campus were not discussed whatsoever in July but have now shown up in the newest plans. What was strongly supported in July was a specific transfer of density to achieve a specific result. However, the way this is phrased make it seem like the general concept of density transfer is supported, even though the topic hadn’t been brought up. It’s plainly misleading.

As for the second part, having more, smaller units is indeed a bit part of the LUP revision plans, a good idea, and actually widely supported.

  • Strong support for changing the farm’s current designation as a ‘Future Housing Reserve’ and desire to have the new designation fully recognize and enable the implementation of Cultivating Place.
  • Concern that the term ‘Green Academic’ is not specific enough for the farm area in particular.
  • Strong support for Cultivating Place as the academic plan for the farm area.
  • Request that Cultivating Place be referenced in the definition of Green Academic.

In subsequent discussions with C&CP staff, this has been interpreted as “strong support for Green Academic”. Strange, since none of the themes reflect support for the “Green Academic” zoning that is being proposed. Cultivating Place, for which there is “strong support”, contains a specific recommendation that the zoning of the farm be changed to “UBC Farm”. Friends of the Farm would still prefer “UBC Farm” over “Green Academic”. More on that below and in future posts.

  • Request that the UBC Board reconsider the University Boulevard and Gage South Neighbourhood Plans to ensure the type of housing in these plans is compatible with student life (e.g. smaller units, junior faculty and staff occupants only), and also with transit uses should the diesel bus facility be located near these areas.

I believe the word used by the AMS was “rescind”, not “reconsider” – very different meanings. The first implies that these areas should not be neighbourhoods at all, while the second assumes that housing is ok, it’s just a matter of determining what kind. At any rate, neither of these are being addressed, and are being rejected on “technical” grounds which are then not explained.

I even asked President Toope at his town hall whether the university is willing to even discuss it. The response was “The short answer is that there will be an open discussion about the Gage South neighbourhood.” I followed up to find out why we’re not talking about it yet and the reply once again assumed it would be dealt with in the neighbourhood planning stage. That’s a complete misrepresentation of the concerns people have about the area.

So far, they’re refusing to talk about it as part of the LUP process.

The end result is that ideas that other people came with have been twisted into something different, ignored, or discarded. Stephen Owen often champions the UBC Farm campaign as an example of successful governance at UBC. In fact, it’s the opposite: having to get 15,000 signatures on a petition reveals a failure in governance because no one took their concerns seriously before that point. Now is the time people’s concerns should be taken seriously, and they’re not doing it.

Online Workbook

As part of the consultation, C&CP has put together an online workbook to educate people about some of the issues and get feedback.

It was made clear in the previous post that UBC is in a major conflict of interest by holding this consultation and the materials certainly reflect that. The whole thing is nothing more than an affirmation quiz. It assumes certain things that should form the basis of the LUP consultation, asking “how much do you want this?”, rather than “do you want this?”. The background information provided with questions don’t just give information, they are worded in ways that support the ideas presented. The survey is deeply flawed.

Take this question for example: “Changing the maximum building height in the University Boulevard Neighbourhood commercial area from five storeys to six storeys. This change allows construction of more smaller affordable residential units for the university community above the lower level commercial businesses along University Boulevard, as well as taller institutional buildings where required.

Do you support this proposed change to the Land Use Plan?

Although the issue of whether or not housing should even be allowed on University Boulevard was identified in July as a topic of interest, this question assumes that housing there is a fait accompli. It simply asks: how tall should it be?

Or the next question: Allowing the maximum building height of 53 metres (18 storeys) to be exceeded in some locations, as determined in Neighbourhood Plans. This would be consistent with recent sustainable community plans (e.g. East Fraser Lands Plan in Vancouver). Siting taller buildings would take privacy and shadowing considerations into account.

Do you support this proposed change to the Land Use Plan?

How much taller would they go, and what general areas are being contemplated? It’s so vague, but they are asking for blanket approval to do it in any area that they deem appropriate later in the name of sustainability. Disagree with this, and you disagree with sustainability. Seriously?

On the topic of the UBC Farm, it eliminates “UBC Farm” as a possible designation, even though it’s the one that is mentioned specifically in Cultivating Place. The preferred option has been eliminated as a choice. The first question asks whether you support transferring the density away from the farm AND rezoning the area as “Green Academic”. It’s not possible to express support for one without the other. That’s by design.

On the topic of housing density transfer, the first question is: “In general, do you support transferring housing density from UBC Farm and other areas to support UBC’s sustainability, academic, community development and endowment goals?

The previous section already asked about the density transfer from the farm specifically. This question again mentions the farm specifically but lumps everything else into “other areas”. Again, it’s lumping things together that shouldn’t be. Given that I (1) Support transferring density from the Farm (2) Strongly oppose transferring density from Thunderbird (read why tomorrow), and (3) I strongly support transferring density from Gage South (which is not even considered) there is no possible way to answer this question. However, in the workbook, an answer is required and I’m anything but neutral on the subject. The other aspect is what the implication of being opposed to this is. The message it sends is that the housing density should remain where it currently is. There’s no way to express displeasure with both the status quo and the proposed changes; you have to choose one. But it gets worse.

The next question starts: “The housing density originally planned for the UBC Farm, University Square, Thunderbird Future Housing Area and Totem Field needs to be transferred to meet the goals in question 1…” In other words, the density transfer is presented as a fait accompli. Despite what you might have said above, they want to know if you agree with where they are transferring it to. Again, an answer is required and it’s an impossible choice if you disagree with the proposal. That’s not consultation at all.

Finally, on the regularizing of land use designation it asks simply if you support the idea. But it doesn’t ask you if you like where it’s located. It’s assumed that you like where they propose to put it as well.

All of this rant is to say once again that UBC is not engaging in a open, honest and good faith discussion with anyone about the Land Use Plan. They are in control of every aspect and are certain to make sure it goes their way. The worst part is that they are closed to new ideas: any attempts to suggest alternate ideas are brushed aside and not discussed with the public. A university closed to discussion, is that what UBC is ultimately all about?


Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. It’s important to note that UBC is conducting these revisions on behalf of the government of British Columbia, and as such is accountable to the Minister of Community and Rural Development.

    Should community stakeholders not feel the process is fair, or consultative, Minister Stewart is readily contacted.

    Posted by Alex Lougheed | October 11, 2010, 4:54 pm
  2. I could go on for pages on this, but I’ll restrict myself to a couple points:

    1) The Farm density was not density to which UBC was entitled. It was density which would become available only if that land were no longer needed for academic purposes. This condition has not been met. Over the years, there has consistently been no distinction made between what could conceivably be built and what absolutely must be built.

    2) There are a few motivations behind the strong push to maximize market housing: First, the planners want to enliven the campus, which is utterly dead at night and can’t support the variety of retail that some people would like to see. Second, there’s a strong feeling that leasing land and putting the money into the endowment will do incalculable good. Third, unless things have changed in the past two years, a lot of the proposed income has already been spent and has been borrowed against.

    The first one is, in some senses, a fine goal, which will be partially accomplished when there are enough student residence beds on campus. The problem is that there has been little to no recognition of the fact that a research university is essentially light industrial zoning, with the added bonus of obnoxious drunken youngsters running around noisily at all hours of the night six months of the year. The maximization of profit has created stakeholders who view a university as a tranquil park, and want to change it to match this view. It would have been good to think about what sort of stakeholders were being created before creating them.

    The second point appears at first blush to be solid long-term planning, trying to set up the best university possible for the distant future. Unfortunately, it’s breathtakingly short-sighted and self-defeating. The two basic problems are that students don’t want what’s built or planned, and that market housing that transparently has no connection to the university is being built while massive waitlists exist for student housing. This tells the students that they’re visiting a greedy, rich property development company that happens to run a university on the side. Students who view the university this way are not likely to grow up to be donors, and the vast majority of the endowment is donations. UBC is creating perhaps a billion dollars of discretionary endowment now, at the price of untold tens of billions of non-discretionary endowment over the coming decades. The reputational damage may be even worse than the cost to the endowment.

    The issues with the third one don’t require discussion.

    In an ideal world the AMS, as the closest thing UBC has to a representative governance system, would run its own consultations, come up with its own outline of a land use plan, and take it to Board. If some representative governance system were eventually created, an AMS version would be far less likely to be rescinded than the C&CP version.

    Posted by F. Hydrant | October 12, 2010, 8:59 am
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