Gage South: Condos on the Bus Loop

The Gage South neighbourhood sits on the site of the current bus loop. It’s also where UBC wants to build more non-student housing. It’s more than just a vague idea: they’ve done detailed planning for the area and still feel it’s a good idea.

It’s not.

An outline of the Gage South neighbourhood. Uncomfortably close to everything else on the map.

Does this really require an in depth analysis to demonstrate that it’s a bad idea? It’s right beside MacInnes Field for goodness’ sake! The Welcome Back BBQ, Frosh Events, Block Party and a number of other large student events occur there every year. Instinctively, it’s one of the last places someone would consider building non-student housing.

For those of you too young to know about Arts County Fair (that would be many of you – the last ACF was in 2007), it was a massive last-day-of-classes party held at Thunderbird stadium. There were a few factors leading to its demise, but one of them was the construction of non-student housing in Hawthorne Place. In the later years of ACF, Hawthorne residents were openly hostile of the partygoers, and had the ear of the RCMP. Presumably neither side felt the situation was pleasant. Now that ACF is dead and Thunderbird stadium has field turf that makes it unsuitable for concerts, MacInnes Field is the new designated spot for large scale student events. So why not learn from past experiences? Find a more suitable use for the land, and a more suitable location for the housing. It’s so obvious, and will save friction on both sides.

If you are of the opinion that building the fraternity village in between the RCMP detachment and market housing was a stroke of brilliance, you’ll also be a fan of Gage South. However, if you think it putting those things adjacent to each other was a bad idea which set the area up for regular discord for decades to come, you might want to go bang your head against a wall right now.

Avoiding NIMBYism

It’s been suggested, by none other than President Toope himself, that opposition to Gage South like the one above is coming from a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) perspective, and that it’s important not to get sucked into the NIMBY mindset. On the latter point everyone agrees, but the former is missing the mark: the end goal of such objections is actually to avoid having NIMBY-type thinking develop.

Think about what currently surrounds MacInnes field: War Memorial, Aquatic Centre, SUB, Student Rec Centre, Bus Loop, and parking lot. The common thread between all of these things is that they are public amenities. In the case of the SUB, and the Bus Loop, literally thousands of people pass through them on a daily basis and if not thousands, at least many hundred use the Aquatic Centre and SRC every day. MacInnes field, and everything that surrounds it, is entirely public space. It’s no one’s backyard; it exists for everyone’s benefit. The area is also student-focused. While all of the buildings are public, the primary users of all (except the parking lot) are students.

By building non-academic buildings on Gage South, both the public and student-focused aspects of the entire area are immediately shattered. MacInnes field would become the backyard of hundreds of residents and raises the prospect that the demands of those residents could poison the current uses of a very public area. For example, non-student housing would become part of the University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA), which recently enacted a noise by-law for all land under their jurisdiction. Many UNA residents also oppose the new Totem residences that are being built. If we want to avoid the NIMBY mindset, building non-student housing in that area seems like the perfectly wrong thing to do.


The University Endowment Lands (UEL) is the area west of Blanca that falls outside of the borders of UBC’s campus. For example, the village isn’t on campus, it’s part of the UEL. Gage South sits on the border between UBC and the UEL.

The second most frustrating part of the whole affair is that the main reason UBC remains so intent on this area becoming housing seems to be in order to placate UEL residents who object to anything and everything that disturbs them, or has the potential to disturb them. In other words, the concerns of a handful of people (who aren’t even necessarily associated with UBC) are being prioritized over the interests of the UBC population at large. It’s the very definition of giving in to NIMBY pressure.

Gage South sits right at the border of the UBC campus and the University Endowment Lands (UEL).

The UEL would like a buffer between their residential neighbourhood and the campus in order to minimize possible disturbances. Assume for a moment that whatever goes on in and around MacInnes field does indeed create a disturbance for residents of UEL. Having people live at Gage South simply puts people even closer to the site. How is this supposed to alleviate the situation? There are other uses for the site that could create the desired buffer while at the same time not jeopardizing the public realm.

To UEL residents, the fact that the bus loop is currently there is certainly seen as a disturbance. For the longest time, “a promise to the UEL” that the current bus loop location would only be temporary was cited as one of the reasons the new underground terminal needed to be built on University Boulevard. However, after the cancellation of that project has brought bus loop planning back to square one, the first option proposed is to keep it in essentially the same spot, still adjacent to the UEL. It’s the right decision to keep that location as an option and when push comes to shove, shows that UBC isn’t, and shouldn’t be afraid to do something that might upset them for something that benefits a large portion of the university.

Let’s Not Talk About It

By far the most frustrating aspect of Gage South has been the university’s steadfast unwillingness to discuss the plans for the area as part of the LUP revision process. The excuses for not doing so are both numerous and creative. Ultimately, the only real reason is because they don’t want to discuss it. Which is why I brought it up at the town hall in September. Although an open discussion was promised, it isn’t currently happening and it doesn’t look likely. Again, the absolute control that UBC holds over the process is preventing open discussion of worthwhile issues that do not align with UBC’s priorities.

Gage South is an area that, because of its location, has so much potential to be great. I truly believe common ground between students, UBC, UEL and other stakeholders could be found to achieve this end. Avoiding the discussion and keeping the status quo dooms it to mediocrity.

UBC has indicated that their plans for the area may be subject to review of the neighbourhood plan (a more specific plan that goes into area’s planning in great detail). The indication is that the housing may be restricted to young faculty/staff and graduate student on the basis that this demographic will be less likely to object to large concerts or student events. Implicitly, this acknowledges that high potential for conflict involved in building non-student housing on the site and certainly doesn’t provide any real assurance that major problems won’t arise. Rather than perennially trying to deal with potential conflict for decades to come, let’s nip it in the bud now and save immeasurable amounts of grief on all sides.


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  1. All those tall, unfriendly hedges on the other side of the bus loop are there for a reason, all right.

    Posted by Maayan | October 14, 2010, 12:30 pm
  2. What an eye openning article.

    Not to take away from it, but why is the intersection of U Blvd and Wesbrook “University of Alberta?” Someone at google maps really dropped the ball there.

    Posted by Lionel | October 16, 2010, 8:42 pm
  3. hey what happened to the Bijan coverage

    Posted by Casey | November 12, 2010, 5:13 pm
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