Campus Plan Report

Posted by: | June 5, 2007 | 6 Comments

You’ve all seen the signs carpeting our pavements and draping our buildings at UBC, asking you “what’s the plan?”. This fancy publicity campaign is promoting the process of coming up with a ten-year strategic plan for the academic campus of UBC. The Plan addresses the holistic, and specific vision for all of the university’s institutional buildings and spaces ; these include residences, research facilities, classrooms, administration buildings, gardens, etc. Basically, the consultation and publicity campaign regard the academic core of the campus – as distinct from the various outlying areas owned by UBC where private development has taken place: these are not considered academic buildings. Important to note, is that the University Boulevard area is not included in the academic Campus Plan process, though it is located in the centre of the campus; it is designated as a “neighborhood,” like the outlying private developments. This means that, first, it’s farther along in the development process (time-wise) than the main Campus Plan, and that second, its development process has not been tied to that of the rest of campus, and has been fraught with conflict. Refer to earlier posts on this topic.

Anyhow, this month the report summarizing Phase Three (titled “talking about the future”) of the ten-year Campus Plan process came out. This phase comprised of various consultations, as well as a speaker series. The report, which can be found here (click), details the feedback from focus groups, presentations (including to AMS council), and an extensive on-line survey form which was open to students faculty, staff, and community members. The structure of this planning process involves the University’s Campus and Community Planning office, who conduct the consultations and public relations, and three committees that actually carry out the analysis and planning work. These are the Steering Committee, Technical Advisory Committee, and Project Team. They all report to the Board of Governors and each committee comprises of people from the University Neighborhood Association, students, staff, faculty, alumni, etc.

It strikes me as strange that the UNA has a stake in the main Campus Plan development process while students faculty and staff have historically had very little to do with the vision and design behind the various neighborhood developments (starting with Hampton Place, the first, which, under former President Strangway had basically no consultation). The relationship should arguably be the opposite. While the university seems to have taken a slightly more consultative approach to its profit-driven neighborhood developments in recent years with the creation of the University Town committee, it is odd that the UNA should be interested in the University’s academic buildings. Extreme deference for the Neighborhoods‘ interests in the campus’s academic core seems to be thematic, in fact: at the recent BoG meeting at least three governors repeated commitments to the neighborhoods regarding the stalled underground transit station, though such a station would hardly serve their locations at all, having nearer transit stops on the way. Could all this concern and all these committee posts be because Premier Gordon Campbell himself (a former developer and buddy of David Strangway) has taken up residence in Hawthorne Place, across from Totem Field?

In any event, the feedback was fairly predictable. Services near work and living spaces, green spaces, focus on sustainability, cycling and pedestrian focus, social spaces, density in the academic core, flexible collaborative research/work environments like the UBC Farm, and a sense of ‘place’ (whatever that means).

The UBC Farm came up repeatedly in the reported feedback, and seemed to be the single most addressed topic. It figured in the contexts of sustainability, integrative research, community outreach, and green spaces. Well done to the farm supporters for getting such a strong message across through this official consultation. It’s on paper now!!

Some of the questions in the online survey, I found very easy to either support or be concerned with. A few though were vague, hard to understand, and nearly meaningless. For example, key policy direction 3, reads thus:

New buildings should maximize the flexibility in the design of the learning
spaces to enable students and faculty to incorporate innovative teaching and
learning methods.

Now, I truly have no idea how buildings, however “flexible,” can contribute in any way to having “innovative teaching methods”. It is my impression that with appropriate AV equipment, which UBC already possesses, it is up to each instructor to teach. Key policy direction 2 is also strange. It postulates that

Building locations should enhance the opportunity for interdisciplinary research and study and collaboration between allied disciplines, and provide opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in faculty research projects.

Again, how a building’s location will create collaborative relationships and internship opportunities is a mystery to me. The campus as it is, is not vast or labyrinthine. I have never walked into an office or a lab and decided to volunteer there because it was handy to my English class. Nor have I heard of someone declining a summer NSERC because it was located more than 100 meters from their favorite lunch spot. I fear that collaborations and undergrad research opportunities still depend on people creating them. Anyhow, other than said incoherencies, the survey was fairly satisfactory. Some of the “key policy direction” statements were a little hard to disagree with because of the positive-spin phrasing, but there was plenty of space to provide written comments, and these seem to be faithfully reported (excepting my specific complaints, which I included at the time and make no appearance) in the document.

Sadly, for all the publicity, and visibility, only 277 people total and 170 students mustered the personal resources necessary to go and answer the survey. An additional number of people (amount not noted) participated in the focus groups and presentation sessions. Considering the enormous publicity effort, and the fact that farm-affiliated students alo
ne probably comprised at least a third of student respondents, I’m disappointed with the response to the online survey. 170 students is just enough to cover AMS involvees, farm people, interested parties from the school of architecture and urban planning, and a few other scattered keeners. If banners, fancy websites, and broadcast emails aren’t enough to get the general student population interested enough in their physical academic surroundings to answer a half-hour survey, I do not know what is.


6 Comments so far

  1. Fire Hydrant on June 5, 2007 7:00 am

    The policy survey had a comparatively low profile, as it’s generally considered more difficult for the average citizen to see the implications of said policy points (several of them gave me trouble). People are in more of a position to respond where they can actually visualize something like a building or a familiar green space.

    Flexible learning spaces: An example here would be someone “lecturing” from the middle of the classroom, in a room with no “front”, and blackboards all around for students to work on themselves. This is difficult to accomplish in a room with theatre-style bolted-down seating. It may not turn out to be a good way to teach, but it probably shouldn’t be precluded by the design of the available rooms.

    The collaboration point figures that people in proximity will mix. If four buildings were surrounded by a source of coffee, the inhabitants would, in principle, mix whilst seeking caffeine. If the people in those four buildings studied the human genome, chemistry, ethics, and computer science, they might find overlap with each other’s fields and occasionally form collaborations.

    The fact that I’ve never seen this happen and that it goes against the nature of most researchers I know does not imply that it would never happen. The alternative would be to have all Science people in one precinct, all Arts people in another, etc. Campus was started that way, and definitely has themes like that, but there’s some blurring. My building contains groups mainly from Chem, Physics, Electrical Engineering, and Metals and Materials Engineering. The physicists mix with some of the chemists and occasionally with isolated MMAT people. To a good approximation, Electrical mixes with nobody.

    Locating things to encourage undergrad interest in research would likely mean having research across the hall from seminar rooms, so that undergrads can see real research happening. I’m not sold on this.

  2. Maayan Kreitzman on June 5, 2007 7:43 am

    That happens already: example, the biology building. Large lectures and teaching labs take place a couple steps away from research labs. Result: I didn’t notice the existence of labs in the building until I started working in one.

    Also, these directions seem to contradict the reality of new building like the Life Science Centre, where security passes needed to get to the upper floors make it downright impossible for undergrads or random potential collaborators to chance upon opportunities.

    Also, I suspect that while coffee dates are fantastic, actual productive collaborations are more likely to be arranged via email after actually reading or hearing a talk. I just got the impression from the survey questions that planners think buildings can accomplish a whole lot more than they can. Not only will they be functional and beautifully designed, they will also make people hire undergrads! be sociable! collaborative! intedisciplinary! and revolutionize teaching! All with a little help from bricks and mortar.

  3. Alfie on June 6, 2007 1:37 am

    Yeah, Maayan, I agree with your point that the plan is expecting too much from inanimate buildings.

    However, Darren does have a point. Coffee dates are just one advantage for proximity of buildings. However, the proximity can also translate to other things, such as facilitating the sharing of resources between two closely related fields of research.
    In addition, if proximity does not count, then we would not need to set up libraries close to the faculties they are serving for. And also, the Faculty of Land and Food System and the Faculty of Forestry won’t have so much agony over the closure of MacMillan Library. If one has all the graduate essays, which are valuable sources of information, next to where they have classes and where they can consult their professors, one is likely to get the job done than running back and forth from one corner of the campus to Woodward. It both saves time and foster efficiency.

    As for the “What’s the Plan” campaign, it is relatively narrow scoped as it only includes academic area planning. Others are divided into 7 areas of “neighbourhood”.

  4. Fire Hydrant on June 6, 2007 4:53 am

    Would you have known about research if the walls had been made of glass? (I’d hate to be in such a lab, as half of grad school is procrastination)

    There are a lot of things buildings may not be able to do (people lining up for their caffeine fix then hurrying back to the lab aren’t going to mix well), but there are also a lot of things that buildings can actively hinder if not designed properly.

  5. Anonymous on June 7, 2007 8:42 pm

    The idea of graduate students as rodents in glass prisons, experimenting on rodents in metal prisons is metadelight.

  6. Bowinn on June 18, 2007 1:13 am


Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind

Spam prevention powered by Akismet