Friday, January 26, 2007

Issue of the Day: University Boulevard

Remember a couple years ago, when there was the Architectural Competition for University Boulevard? (Click here to see the documentary depicting the process.) For those who weren't here, University Boulevard is the area from the trolley bus loop to the bookstore, including the gym, the Aquatic Centre, and the plaza on the South side of the SUB. There were three designs, and the campus voted for the one they liked. The winning design is at left.

The idea was to create a "hub", a central area on campus. It would create a mixed-use plaza, housing new administration buildings, shops, a cinema (ha!), and the underground bus loop. Another notable feature - the market housing lining the boulevard. (This writer believes that the basic idea of creating more of a "hub" on campus is a fundamentally good idea, but this idea is seriously flawed... read on!)

Criticisms abounded. The plan destroyed all open green space, would create an automobile thoroughfare where there probably shouldn't be one, would hurt the SUB, place market housing right in the core of campus, and, most poignantly, destroy the grassy knoll.

Interestingly, the project has gone through no end of trouble. First, the jury approved a version different from that which people supported in the vote. Then there was the issue with the re-location of the outdoor pool. Next, the architects dropped out; rumour has it that they had difficulties working within the constraints of UBC Properties Trust. Add the cost over-runs, the division of the project into phases, the issues with the bus loop, and you've got a fiasco.

It came to a head in summer 2006 when the Board of Governors had a "fish or cut bait" meeting in Kelowna, where they had to make a final determination about the future of the project. It passed. But consider that the project was initially supposed to begin construction in late 2005; a year later the completion date was early 2008. Now, with no firm architects on board, the completion date is even fuzzier. At the last Board meeting, the discussion of the Boulevard was in closed session, reports Darren Peets, which indicates that the conversation is sensitive and probably weighty.

The implications, positive and negative, are weighty. Yes, it might create more community, a more vibrant "heart" to a campus that very dearly needs one. But at what cost? Of green space? Of the SUB's health? Of market housing right at the student core? As well, the University is going through a hard decision; what ought the AMS role to be? A complete re-design? Scrapping the project? Continuing it, with major changes?

Where the candidates stand:
Jeff Friedrich - Specific "zoning" regime for student housing.
Jerry Fan Fan - Lobby University to allow only non-competing businesses. Have to be practical, not idealistic.
Brendon Goodmurphy - Prioritize study space, student and local businesses, student housing options, green space, and student employment
Bruce Krayenhoff - Include affordable student housing.
Darren Peets - We need to re-consider the project - "why are we doing this?"
Tristan Markle - Set requirement for 25% of students living on campus.