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.


4 Comments so far

  1. Peter on October 25, 2007 12:47 am

    When you say “the democratic deficit in UBC’s governing structure” it seems strangely vague.

    I mean, how can we introduce democracy in an organization that really isn’t meant to be democratic? Why should it be democratic at all?

    Sure, students pay tuition, but that’s about 20% of the actual degree cost. So you say, we should have 20% control of the BOG. Well, that’s interesting because when our main student organization has a voter turnout of 10%… how can it possibly control a 20% stake in the entire university’s operations? Maybe 2% is more justified?

    Ugh… I don’t know. It just seems to not make sense. Sure there’s a democratic deficit… but its not a democracy to begin with!

  2. maayan kreitzman on October 25, 2007 5:26 am

    No, it’s not a democarcy to begin with. But maybe it should become more democratic. It isn’t preposterous to entertain that idea! Why shouldn’t we think about fundamental structural issues? Politicizing the administrative style at UBC is probably a good thing: UBC’s governance isn’t openly political, but it isn’t free of ideology. This conversation is beyond just haggling for more student representation on the BoG.

    At least in development and palnning issues, I think it makes sense to have public accountability. Decisions made through a democratic process will ultimately be better – we have to live here. The problem at UBC is that we have no municipal government that residents and students can vote for. All we have is the BoG, which, like you say, is not democratic. With some things, it’s probably fine to trust the provincial apointees. But we’ve seen that the BoG has been off-track with some of its decisions. Most of the appointees aren’t academics, or planners but business people. Their tendancies are probably not the same as those of the people with the biggest stake in UBC – students, staff and faculty. Other governing stuctures would probably serve UBC better. That’s what the provincial governance review is all about.

  3. Anonymous on October 25, 2007 5:47 am

    Bravo, Mayan

    But really Peter did bring a point?
    What are we to say when only about 10% of us have voted in AMS election over the last decade?

  4. tristan on October 29, 2007 1:06 am

    i agree with the anti-democracy sentiment. i think there should be no student representation on BoG, or anywhere, that BoG itself should be replaced by an enormous robot-rubber stamp, that tuition should be 15 thousand per year (plus the fee for the new commerce building), that campus planners should decide what to build on campus by using a crystal ball, and that the knoll should be moved underground along with the bus loop – an underground grassy knoll! in fact, we should move the robot rubber stamp BoG under there, too. the AMS could pay the university to use the rubber stamp robot, too, so that AMS council could dissolve itself (there shall be no videotaping the robot unless 66% of itself stamps a motion of approval).

    please take my proposals seriously!
    i love you all!

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