In just seven years, the University of British Columbia has created a highly densified residential neighbourhood on its southern perimeter.
Not everyone loves the Wesbrook project. The University sits outside the City of Vancouver, and there is no local government to put the brakes on the University authority. The University Board develops its lands as it pleases, with some provincial government oversight.
It’s another example of convoluted governance in Fraseropolis. UBC is part of what’s called Electoral Area “A” within the Greater Vancouver Regional District. This entity is made up of a bunch of disconnected bits including Barnston Island in the Fraser River and a few residences on the highway to Whistler. Together, these voters send a single representative to the Regional District council, a part-time assembly made up mostly of municipal government leaders who gather to meet and greet and to set the budget for regional parks and sewer lines.
Anyway. Longtime residents of the UBC lands, some living in detached homes valued at $3 million or more, resisted the push for high-rise development when the Wesbrook plan was updated in 2016. To the extent that they could resist, that is — through writing critical comments at an open house, which took place just as the updated plan was being adopted by UBC. The map on the left shows the potential for a dozen highrises at in the Wesbrook precinct. At this date the streetscapes look okay to me, pedestrian friendly and nicely scaled; but we’ll see how it goes as more towers are added.
I walked the area recently with three co-tourists. The village core, a modest six storefront blocks or so, was bustling on a Saturday. We enjoyed our lunch at Biercraft. What we noticed in our walk was the size of the UBC campus — it’s a 10-minute walk from Wesbrook to cross the playing fields to the north, and another 10 to the historic campus centre.
Tens of thousands of people travel to UBC every day to study or work. This is creating traffic congestion across the west side of Vancouver and a big push for rapid transit. Wesbrook, if earlier projections were accurate, should have a population approaching 7,000 by now, almost all of them living in apartments. The target population at completion is 12,500. This will permit some fraction of the University community to live close to work or school, although there will competition for these residences from people working elsewhere.
[This is post #40 in our Urban Villages series.]