University of British Columbia: a place of the mind, a place to live

University of British Columbia photo courtesy UBC

UBC: A Place of Mind; a Place to Live.

When Ingrid Dueck and her husband started looking for a new neighbourhood to raise their child, there were plenty of Lower Mainland choices. But the move to the University of British Columbia was an easy decision.

“My husband works for UBC. We were living in East Vancouver but when we started looking and the opportunity to get a place here came up, we took it.”

Today her family is renting in UBC’s new Wesbrook Village; the latest developed neighbourhood at UBC. 

“I love it here. It’s great for kids, lots of playgrounds. It’s like a little village. When we lived in East Van we didn’t know as many people. But now with so many children here, we get to know parents. It’s more vibrant, a great spot.”

Medical student Jason Cassidy from BC’s interior also had a choice. Find a place off campus for his wife and two boys, or move everyone into family housing on campus for his years of study. Like the Dueck’s, the Cassidy family moved to UBC.

“It’s like a little village inside a city,” says Cassidy. “You have all the advantages of a city but it has its own culture. We live in family housing so there are lots of children around. You don’t have to go into Vancouver for groceries. You have everything here; it’s by the ocean, the forest. It’s great.”

Changes are happening rapidly at UBC these days. Less than five years ago, it was hard to find a litre of milk on campus after-hours. The few commercial and retail outlets ebbed and flowed with the university academic calendar. Some stores simply shut down at Christmas and during the summer. The commuter campus became a ghost town, awaiting students return.

And geography wasn’t helping the university. UBC’s spectacular location has also been its limitation. The campus is perched on the western edge of the Vancouver peninsula, bordered by an ocean, ringed by steep cliffs and surrounded to the east by the university endowment lands and the Pacific Spirit Regional Park. When babies need diapers or a family needed milk after hours, it was a hike; to the grocery stores of West Point Grey or Dunbar, the closest neighbourhoods. 

Today some locals complain they still need to travel for decent restaurants and pubs, but most of the basics are finally within reach. The UBC campus has evolved into a year round city onto itself.  

Coffee shops, bike and running stores, a big bank, a government liquor store and a large grocery chain have recently opened their doors in Wesbrook Village - one of the newest residential developments on campus. It’s one of five neighbourhoods that together is creating a new UBC community, run by UBC Properties Trust Ltd., a private entity created by the UBC Board of Governors in 1988.

UBC Properties Trust mission is “to acquire, develop and manage real estate assets for the benefit of the university”. The company has its own board of governors made up of real estate experts and developers. There is no student representation on the board.  For the past two decades it has been developing UBC real estate and now the pace of that development is picking up with more market housing opening up, under construction or in the planning stage.

“The Wesbrook Place neighbourhood is the neighbourhood we are currently developing and it will be built-out over the next five-to-10 years,” says Joe Stott. “That residential growth will help support the commercial space which is now occupied by retail pioneers and the village will evolve into the hub of a model community for the region.”

Model community may not be the words Julia Ostertag would use to describe the UBC community plan.

Ostertag is a UBC Ph.D. student and mother who has lived in Acadia Park for the past five years. Acadia Park was an ambitious but now vintage planned on-campus community that supported student families for 50 years. Today, the buildings are old and many are being torn down. In their place, new market housing, mostly high rises, will be built while a section of Acadia Park will be reserved for non-market housing for students and lower income families.

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