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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 10 | Oct. 2, 2003

University Town Continues to Grow

The dream becomes reality

By Erica Smishek

UBC computer science professor Raymond Ng likes to joke that if he has a class at 8:30 a.m., he doesn’t have to get up until eight. As a resident of the town homes in Hawthorn Lane, a neighbourhood located in the middle of the UBC campus and named for anthropology professor emeritus Harry Hawthorn, he’s not far from the truth.

Ng is one of 9,000 faculty members, staff and students who choose to live on campus. That number is expected to reach 18,000 by 2021, when the collection of university neighbourhoods known as University Town reaches completion or “build-out.”

“The UBC campus is a very unique sub-community in a geographical sense,” says Ng, a faculty member since 1992 who lived for many years in Hampton Place before moving to Hawthorn Lane. “Compared to anywhere else in the city, it has low density, the air is fresh, the whole setting is beautiful and rather unique.

“UBC has good potential to develop a university town that is vibrant, that offers academic training, culture and social interaction. That’s what students will remember when they leave UBC and that’s why they will donate money back to UBC. They will remember the good times and the sense of community.”

University architects first envisioned “a university city in an idyllic setting” for UBC in 1914. Ninety years, much consultation and various strategic and community plans later, development continues on Mid-Campus and Theological Neighbourhoods, two of eight local areas that will mix housing with shops, parks and other amenities to support the academic and cultural fabric of campus life. Consultation is currently being conducted on an updated plan for University Boulevard and the East Campus Draft Neighbourhood Plan.

“Our foremothers and forefathers cited this place as a wonderful university city,” says Dennis Pavlich, VP External and Legal Affairs. “We’re trying to play catch-up with that original vision.”

Pavlich explains that the idea of a university town is not new. The urban vitality found in such American campus communities as Ann Arbor and Berkley or in more historic universities such as Oxford and Cambridge verifies the success of this concept.

“To create a university town that is exciting and enriching to the student, to the faculty and staff -- it acquaints everyone to the ideas of civic responsibility, of civic enjoyment, of cultural enjoyment,” he says. “We’re trying to make it a pleasant, interesting and instructive place in the very formative years of a student’s life. A lot of adults get a vicarious charge from it.”

UBC has essentially been a commuter campus with up to 50,000 students, faculty and staff flooding in to Point Grey in the morning and out at the end of the day.

“This is an attempt to make the campus alive,” says Pavlich. “We want to give people a reason to stay here.”

As outlined in Trek 2000, UBC’s vision for the future, University Town will help attract and retain faculty, students and staff through a mix of new housing and services that will reduce the number of vehicles coming and going from campus.

The University Town vision calls for 50 per cent of new market and non-market housing to be targeted to households where one or more members attend university or work at the UBC campus. At least 25 per cent of the full-time student enrollment will be housed within the institutional lands. Non-university community members will also form part of the future residential mix.

Market housing will be sold on a lease basis, with UBC retaining title to the land. Money generated by these leases will significantly increase the size of UBC’s endowment, which is used for teaching and research purposes as well as student financial assistance.

While many share Pavlich’s enthusiasm, the development has also had its share of detractors. Some question the sustainability of both the plan and some of the actual buildings; others say not enough of the housing is affordable for people who work or study on campus.

Ng, who has been involved with a campus community planning committee through the University Neighbourhoods Association and whose partner also works on campus, supports University Town but has concerns nonetheless.

“If all the houses are going to cost more than half a million dollars, few faculty members can afford them,” says Ng. “We need more balance. We need a certain percentage dedicated to affordable faculty housing, staff housing and student housing. We want the majority to benefit from what is happening.”

Given the expensive housing market around UBC, Ng says affordable housing is vital for faculty retention and recruitment.

He sees some irony in the fact that a housing plan originally motivated to keep people who work or study on campus here and reduce traffic is now attracting people who will commute to work downtown and elsewhere.

Pavlich asks, “What’s wrong with including people from other parts of the community? Why shouldn’t students mix with people who live on campus but work elsewhere? We’re not creating a monastery here.

“People are coming here to learn about life, about science, about the cultural and social aspects that make up life. They need a variety of people and experiences.”

Ng, meanwhile, likens a more vibrant campus to an architectural concept from Italy, one of his favourite travel destinations.

“I think one of the reasons people find Italy so attractive is the piazza, the town square. It’s a unique meeting place for people, somewhere where they can share time and ideas and enjoy life.

“To develop University Town so there is a real community here for people to get involved with each other is a great idea.”
More information about University Town is available online at www.universitytown.ubc.ca.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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