UBC Farm Saved?

Posted by: | December 3, 2008 | 2 Comments

UBC Board of Governors Chair Brad Bennett caught developing the UBC Farm.

After a number of secret meetings, it looks like the UBC Board of Governors may have decided to protect the full 24 hectares of the UBC Farm and surrounding forest. Here’s the press release they issued on Monday:

UBC Board of Governors Requests New Academic Plan for Sustainable South Campus

The University of British Columbia Board of Governors has directed UBC administration to develop academic plans for a 24 ha parcel of South Campus land for teaching and research purposes that are “academically rigourous and globally significant” around issues of sustainability.

The Board directed that the new plans enhance UBC’s position as Canada’s most sustainable university and a recognized world leader in campus sustainability.

At the same time, the Board stipulated that no market housing will be pursued on the 24 ha parcel, which contains the UBC Farm, as long as the university’s housing, community development and endowment goals can be met through transferring density to other parts of campus. The 24 ha parcel is designated as “Future Housing Reserve” in the current UBC Official Community Plan, a bylaw of the Greater Vancouver Regional District created in 1997.

The Board also committed to the continuation of current land uses until academic plans are completed and a decision has been reached on density transfer.

The Friends of the Farm club, which has been one of the primary pro-Farm advocates, welcomed the release and recognized it as a huge step forward for their cause. Their strategy now is to encourage the Board to continue down this path and ensure that their voices continue to be heard.

While this is all great news, it should still be taken with a certain degree of caution. There is no guarantee that the Farm will remain at 24 ha. The Board could decide to build classroom space or non-market housing and justify it as “academically rigourous”. We have seen UBC propose before that building housing on the Farm’s arable land in partnership with the architecture school would be considered sustainability research. It’s also important to remember that the Board’s promise to keep market housing off the Farm is contingent on the creation of a plan to relocate market housing to other areas of campus. This could cause some real problems, especially if the plan is to move market housing to University Square.

It’s hard to know what’s really going on here. The situation would perhaps be a bit more clear if the (partially) elected Board of Governors stopped restricting their discussions on the UBC Farm to closed session meetings. Even if their decisions are positive ones, they need to be deliberated and decided out in the open. But maybe accountability and transparency are too much to ask from a public institution.


2 Comments so far

  1. Sunshine on December 4, 2008 9:05 am

    “Maybe accountability and transparency are too much to ask for in a public institution”

    Oh my gosh… you hit the nail right on the head there Blake ;)

    Sometimes it seems to me that Public Affairs hires calculus experts to calculate the maximum possible number of words they could use in a press release to convey the lowest amount of information. I’d put this into a derivative of some sort, but I’m far too tired.


  2. Durgan on December 5, 2008 6:02 pm

    I sat through the entire BoG meeting the other day, at least the parts that were not held in secret. They actually had three secret meetings that day: one in the morning from 8:30-9:30; one at mid-day that they call “reflection time”; and one at the end of the day for over an hour. They did not say a single word about the Farm during open session, while they did discuss briefly their plans for the underground bus shelter openly.

    Meanwhile Friends of the Farm say they are now being pressured to advocate for “densification,” in other parts of campus – something they have advocated for before, but without really thinking of the consequences of that position. Basically the BoG wants FotF to use the considerable political clout they have garnered in the course of this campaign to help line the pockets of local developers, provide high-end housing for the ultra rich, and pad the endowment. Since the leadership of FotF seems to be willing, ultimately, to play ball with the BoG I predict that they will give over this clout to the will of Brad Bennett and others rather than use it themselves.

    It remains to be seen what effect the Great Farm Trek will have in the scheme of things. As we have seen in the past year; direct action can definitely influences the direction and momentum of this institution, but it is being framed by the organizers as a ‘celebration demonstration’ as opposed to a ‘protest demonstration.’ One thing the BoG does is constantly sing its own praises, its sickening really. If we don’t come with a protest, they will only see it as fitting into their delusional conception of themselves and it will not change anything.

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