UBC is a world-leading research centre for environmental sustainability, but a decision by its real estate arm, UBC Properties Trust, sparked outrage last year: the decision to remove a bald eagle’s nest in Wesbrook Village to make way for luxury townhouses.
The move, made despite widespread community objections and a petition with over 18,500 signatures, represents a troubling disregard for both the environment and the needs of the community.
Adding to the complexity of this situation is the ongoing housing crisis in Vancouver, which continues to affect UBC students, faculty, staff, and residents. The climate change emergency also demands immediate action.
It is against this backdrop that UBC Communities for Sustainable Development (UCSD) has emerged—a coalition of UBC staff, faculty, students, and residents determined to hold UBC accountable for its commitment to social and environmentally sustainable building in the university neighbourhoods.
UCSD believes that UBC’s Campus Vision 2050 falls short in prioritizing environmental protection and the creation of affordable, community-centric housing. But importantly, we also believe that UBC can fix it.
As it stands, Campus Vision 2050 is flawed in several ways:
- Lack of Commitment to Affordable Housing: In the midst of a housing crisis, it is essential that UBC’s future development prioritize affordable housing for students, faculty, staff, and the general public.
UCSD calls for a commitment of at least 50 per cent affordable housing in UBC’s land use plan, with language that holds developers accountable. The 3,000 “new” student beds proposed by 2030 do not even keep pace with UBC’s projections for increased student numbers in that period. It also includes refurbished beds, which do not add any new capacity.
As UBC campus already has a climate action plan in place, there is no environmental barrier to building the necessary student housing on campus (where most of the student housing is planned) without delay.
We reject UBC’s claim that the sale of private leaseholds is the only, or even best, way to finance student housing, and support UBC professor Chris Rea’s alternative set out in his letter to the board of June 2022. The UBC endowment stands at $2.8 billion—they can afford to do better.
- Environmental Neglect: UBC has the potential to become a global leader in sustainable development and environmental restoration. However, Campus Vision 2050 currently lacks any climate action plan covering the university neighbourhoods, where most development will occur.
It is crucial that the land use plan proceed only under the direction of a neighbourhood climate action plan (NCAP) based on publicly accessible expert research to effectively mitigate environmental impacts. UCSD want the NCAP to protect UBC’s unique environment and biodiversity and set standards for a net-zero operational and embodied carbon neighbourhood (in line with the City of Vancouver) and for UBC to extend the UBC climate action plan to cover UBC neighbourhoods now to ensure interim environmental protection.
- Representation and Governance: Due to the absence of municipal governance with decision-making power, over 15,000 UBC and UNA residents lack meaningful representation for land use plans around our homes, despite the tireless efforts of the UNA board and Electoral Area A director.
As we have seen in the past, community voices and even elected representatives such as the UNA board are often ignored by the UBC Board of Governors. UCSD proposes the creation of three voting seats on the Board of Governors for elected representatives from the UBC and UNA neighbourhoods to rectify this issue, and demands that residents are afforded with meaningful representation within UBC decision-making processes before Campus Vision 2050 is finalized.
The UBC Board of Governors is set to vote on the 2050 Land Use Plan this month. Time is running out to ensure that these plans, which will shape the next 27 years, prioritize the needs of the community over UBC’s profits.
UCSD is taking action, having written an open letter to the Board of Governors, organized meetings with residents and campus and community planning, and organized a well-supported rally at UBC campus on Sept. 15 in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike. But we need your support to make a difference:
- Sign the Open Letter: Join over 890 verified signatures from UBC residents, staff, students and faculty in urging the UBC Board of Governors to address UCSD’s concerns here.
- Stay Informed: Join UCSD’s mailing list for updates on events and initiatives at www.ubccanfixit.ca.
- Contact UCSD: Reach out to UBCCommunity4SustainableDev@gmail.com for more information on how you can get involved.
- Contact your MLA and MP: Premier David Eby at david.eby.MLA@leg.bc.ca and The Honourable Joyce Murray at Joyce.Murray@parl.gc.ca.
- Contact the UBC Board of Governors: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The time has come for UBC to prioritize sustainable development, affordable housing, and environmental protection. Campus Vision 2050 and the land use plan can be amended to reflect these values and ensure a thriving future for the UBC community and the planet. It’s time for UBC to listen to its community, take action, and lead by example in the pursuit of a more sustainable and equitable future.
CLAIRE ENGLAND IS A UNA RESIDENT AND CO-FOUNDER OF UBC COMMUNITIES FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT.