I just returned back to Vancouver from a week in Montreal for a journalism conference, and saw that inexplicably, my university was right in the middle of a national controversy over hospices, million dollar condos, “Chinese values,” and a whole lot of misinformed opinion.
Allow me to quickly summarize a debate that’s actually gone on for over two years, which a lot of people are johnny-come-lately to: In 2008, UBC agreed to hold a hospice on campus. It would house six to twelve people, other groups would pay for the construction, maintenance and operation of the building, and all the university would have to do is commit the space—provided that appropriate land be found.
And that’s where the problem comes in. Last year, after much deliberation, UBC thought that the best place for a hospice would be . . . right beside student residences. Not to mention a nude beach that was also quite close. Oh, and it was a first-year residence.
For whatever reason, planners did not appreciate that this spot would be less than ideal for all involved, but after students complained and campaigned, in public and behind the scenes, UBC changed their mind and decided to scrap the plans.
You can see where this is headed.
After another year of consultation, the university has found a new place, with which came new complainants, which resulted in UBC deferring a decision yet again.
Leaving aside my personal quibble that the national media raced to this story because it was laden with millionaires and allusions to ethnic values, yet didn’t give a hoot when students were involved, where should blame actually fall? You can say that the condo owners should just accept the hospice. It’s easy to complain about them. But a lot of this is due to UBC (or more accurately, the real estate agents who sell the property) being less then honest with what landowners are getting into. Yes, you get views of the mountains, Pacific Ocean, and amazing sunsets, but there’s a catch.
For example, this is a 12th floor two-bedroom suite overlooking the North Shore at UBC. It costs $1.6 million. The description makes no mention of the fact it is less than 50 metres away from a student residence of three 17-storey apartments, often filled with parties.
Or why don’t we look at a property for sale at Promontory, the site of the protests by residents. Again, $1.6 million. Does it even mention it’s on a university campus, and in fact right next to a football stadium? No. Should it?
There are many, many more examples of UBC selling land without explaining to landowners what they might be in for, who then inevitably complain, but I’ll stop there. The point is, they promise prospective condo owners world class views, a sustainable university town, and a certain amount of tranquility for their million-plus dollar apartments. They promise students a life in residence that will allow them to do the things one anticipates they will when they go off to university for the first time. And they’ve promised the Vancouver Hospice Society that they’ll build provide an area somewhere on this land that won’t interfere with either of these things and be “predictably peaceful.”
What this comes down to, more than anything else, is UBC trying to do too many things with a land too densified, too meant for the purpose of teaching young adults, and already too paralyzed by competing interests. It may well be that because of this the hospice will not be built, and the finger will be pointed at rich Chinese landowners or beer-chugging students. In actuality, the only finger to be pointed should be at the university itself.
Related: UBC shouldn’t cede to superstition
Photo: Aerial shot of UBC campus, courtesy of UBC public affairs.