Charles Menzies: Parking is driving UBC's underground agenda

UBC is trying to move forward with a 200-car underground parking garage tucked into the space between the Nest, BirdCoop, War Memorial Gym and the Alumni Centre.

The underground parking garage is being brought to this week's (September 20/21) Board of Governors meeting for Board 2 & 3 approval — the decision that makes the building of the garage a fait accompli.

There is a certain irony involved here. UBC has been very loudly touting its "innovative" sustainability agenda, part of which includes constraining individual car trips off and on campus. Yet here we have a project with a stated mandate to facilitate and encourage car trips into the ceremonial centre of campus. Somewhere, somehow, some time in the recent past someone came up with the brilliant idea to build an underground garage to encourage cars into campus. The current sell on this presents it as fulfilling UBC's engagement mandate — engagement with off-campus communities.

Who are these off-campus communities that require a concrete underground parking garage? If we consider the facilities nearby one very prominent "engagement" space comes to mind: the Alumni Centre. All kinds of high-level "engagement" activities take place here — Board of Governors meetings, president's advisory meetings, alumni executive and relate meetings, and donor gatherings. Is it possible that this multi-million dollar concrete car storage and attractor facility is simply to further this kind of elite level engagement?

How does attracting and facilitating car transport of special off-campus elites really serve the best interests of our public university? How does encouraging cars advance UBC's sustainability agenda? Realistically this does not advance the overarching best interests of our university nor does it contribute to UBC's sustainability agenda.

UBC's management needs to carefully rethink this project. How can the asserted needs of "engagement" be met through other means? Where is the modelling to see what the impact on engagement might be in the absence of the underground parkade?

Before this project can be properly considered, UBC's management team needs to do a more complete job reviewing their options and the implications of their planning. We expect a lot from our management team, but aren't they the leaders of a top 50 global institution? Shouldn't we expect more than good, shouldn't we expect beyond excellence in planning and design?

Charles Menzies is a professor of anthropology and an elected member of the UBC Board. The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of UBC or the Board of Governors.