Thursday, October 23, 2008

Save the UBC Farm and the UBC Campus Planning Process

It’s time to do something about the UBC Farm and the planning process.

The future of the UBC Farm is on the minds of many of the people attending the current series of planning workshop being hosted by UBC Campus Planning. Today’s workshop was no exception –about 80% of the people there were there because of the farm and many were affiliated with Friends of the UBC Farm.

The big picture goals and objectives of the planning process is concerned with thinking about and considering how to lay out the groundwork for the next two decades of building and design on UBC’s main campus. From this vantage point the underlying questions lead us to consider where and how to build student housing, how to integrate academic, residential, and services, how to organize transportation and movement through and around camps, and ways to build and enhance a strong sense of community. These are important questions. However, the combination of the planning process and a well-organized committed community organization is leading toward political gridlock.

The student organizations, the off-campus community supporters, the faculty support groups (of which I see myself a member of), have clearly brought the question of the farm front and center. Only the most myopic observer could say that there are no concerns about the way the farm is being dealt with in this planning process.

It’s very clear. As long as the farm is not dealt with we won’t be able to get to the big picture questions. We will have gridlock. It's time to find a way forward to solve this immediate problem so that we can move on to deal with the big questions.

If we, both community and off-campus participants, are honest in our intentions to collaboratively engage in the planning process we'll seek a realistic solution to the planning impasse. We need to find a way to facilitate an opening for the diversity of voices that make up the UBC community. If we fail in being inclussion in planning then the plan itself -whether or not the Farm is saved- will be a failure.

The way forward.
The first thing we must do is set the 24 hectares under question aside. Pull the farm and associated woodlands out of the discussion. Set up a multi-party stakeholder group to examine the issue and report back within a clearly defined timeframe. Once the farm issue is set aside for full discussion with all of the voices at the table we will be able to turn to the fundamental big picture questions that need to be address in the campus plan.

Once the multi-party stakeholder group on the farm and associated woodland area is in place we can then proceed to consider the big questions of the full campus plan and open the process to the full diversity of voices that in fact make up our community at UBC.

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Anonymous said...

I fully support this proposal. As a faculty member with an active research program at the farm (we study honey bees) I am very concerned that the consultation process is being slammed down our collective throats for the sake of appearances but with no tangible effort to incorporate the views and concerns that are voiced at the various stages of the process. Perhaps the least biased indicator of this force-feeding is the fact that the planners cannot or will not even provide the promised and essential summaries of previous rounds of consulting prior to subsequent rounds of meetings. To be sure there are justifiable development pressures on that land but we need to step back and have real input from all concerned parties, not just campus planning/developers.

tony pitcher said...

I agree with Charles Menzies. All this wonderful land was given to UBC for research, scholarship and teaching. Obviously housing students is also a legitimate concern. It is logical therefore that the academic function of the UBC farm and associated woodland has to be preserved intact. The next priority is to provide much needed student housing. After that, high end condos and other high profit commercial ventures can take their place in the queue. And havent we forgotten that this land was stolen from the Musqueam in the first place?

Unknown said...

I attended the meeting today and I am frustrated and very disappointed with what was presented. It did not seem to reflect the comments from all the workshops, consultations that came before. I am still not clear on why that is, or why they would bother holding so many meetings now to discuss plans that don't reflect the process so far, but I guess I am not a planner.

In the design workshop I attended in March, the group I worked with all agreed right from the start to leave the farm as it was and designate it as academic lands (not future housing reserve). All but one other group did the same from what I recall. Once we established this, our team was able to focus on the rest of the campus and - I must say - it was exciting to begin to design the campus in more detail - showing in detail where we could have more and better green spaces, improve the services and the community, have more community gardens etc. etc. It was fun, exciting and felt like change was possible. There are many issues and opportunities that UBC campus planning needs to focus on and I think that all this focus on the farm is actually letting UBC Planning 'get off the hook' of doing a proper job.

That said, the south campus area, from what I understand, was originally NOT supposed to be part of this process. HOWEVER, it was discovered that UBC (planning or administration?) had gone ahead and approached developers or designers to present plans for how the UBC farm could be downsized to 4 ha and moved. It was this completely non-transparent and non-participatory decision by UBC that gave great cause for concern. This action by UBC made farm supporters demand that any plans for the farm had to receive the same treatment as other areas of the academic lands on campus if they are to be redeveloped or redesigned. That being - they had to be part of the campus plan and be open to the public for consultation etc.

From what I can grasp, the whole reason the farm is now part of the process is because of a justifiable lack of trust that UBC planning/admin will hold the appropriate consultations with all members of the public BEFORE planning ANY changes to the farm.

I am a farm supporter, but I am also a supporter of building great communities for everyone. UBC is a unique community because it is on a campus, and therefore it has unique challenges. Unfortunately none of these are getting addressed.

I would be in support of this proposal, with a condition. That UBC commits in writing to stop any planning or development or design work anywhere on the 24 ha. If they refuse to remove the designation of FHR from the farm at this time, they should commit to begin new consultations with FotF and farm staff on designing a new planning process for the farm specifically – with a new paid farm staff member being actively involved in designing the process (with planning experience or education preferably). The reason I suggest this is because I think this is needed to begin to rebuild the trust that has been lost. I also think this is necessary because the farm is used by so many faculties and groups. It is not like a building that can be allocated to one faculty. It requires special consultations and attention because this area is used by so many. That said, I don’t think that any of the farm should be ‘developed’. I think that the planning process for the farm should be about how to ‘restructure’ the farm and share the benefits and costs of having this area equally distributed across all faculties. This was briefly mentioned at the meeting yesterday and I thought it was an excellent point.

Is any of this possible?