There is an outdoor basketball court on thunderbird boulevard, just a bit east of East Mall. It’s a well used court that brings members of the university community together in ways that few social amenities do. This future of the court is, however up in the air. A private business/university partnership plans to build a hydrogen gas station on top of the community basketball court. They would have done this with out much trouble except for a happy coincidence of social media interventions where students and residence called out the planners and reminded them of the history behind this special basketball court.
The basketball court dates back before the UNA’s Old Barn Community Centre was built. The original plan for the community centre included a basketball court in front of it. Right where that court would have been is a popular children’s playground today.
I was one of the community members on the planning committee along with folks from UBC Recreation, UBC Planning, and UBC Properties Trust (UBCPT).
The head of UBCPT, along with other senior development and community folks, took issue with “ ghetto blasters and loitering youth” they thought a basketball court would bring. They strongly opposed any kind of ball court being built near the Old Barn Community Centre. For reference, the original ball court was not as ‘professional’ as the one we eventually got on Thunderbird, it was to be an undersized child friendly installation. Consequently no ball park was included in the final community centre design that was built. But we did eventually get a ball court.
A group of community youth, including my sons (who were in elementary school at the time), organized a children’s petition. They lobbied hard to have a ball park established. They attended public meetings, lobbied, and at the end of the day an arrangement was made to create a ball park across the street from the arena and Osborne were it is currently located. The use of the ball court was even included into the storied Neighbours Agreement that regulates the relationship between UBC and the UNA.
The years pass and by accident we found out the ball court was to be torn down. This all took place under cover of a pandemic. None of the planning documents made any significant reference to the hard work that went into establishing that ball court. Nor was there any recognition of how over the years that ball court has been a central gathering spot enhancing and contributing to community well being.
By accident, a confluence of UNA residents and students came together on social media to bring attention to the coming destruction of the ball court. Within a few days of the one and only public hearing on the issue a group of people were able to gather and argue for keeping the ball court. Sadly, the current court will still be destroyed by the hydrogen gas station. But, we actually did get a public commitment that a UNA acceptable replacement space will be found and that the old court will not be destroyed until the replacement court is up and running.