When asked for an opinion, in The Province article below, as to what Kelowna should do, I suggested “focus on increasing transit and public infrastructure investment downtown.”

In fact, there is no shortage of municipal institutional development in downtown Kelowna: art gallery, civic theatre, library, stadium, law courts, City Hall.  But one big thing is missing: a university.

In fact, next to overbuilding motordom, that’s the single biggest error this Province has made in urban planning.  Ever since SFU, we’ve insisted in putting our new universities on tops of mountains:

Simon Fraser University, Burnaby:

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UBC Okanagan, Kelowna:

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University of Northern B.C., Prince George:

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Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops:

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Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo:

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Call it the ivory-tower syndrome.  Ever since Gordon Shrum in 1963 pointed to Burnaby Mountain from his top-floor office in the B.C. Electric building as the place he wanted to locate an ‘instant university’, we’ve wanted to make the big statement.  (Though, on reflection, locating UBC to the end of the Point Grey Peninsula in the 1920s is perhaps the precedent.) And no doubt a greenfield site with cheap land and the opportunity to master-plan overrode any consideration of an expensive, complex downtown campus.  Even UVIC rejected the opportunity to locate in the Old Town heritage buildings gifted to the university by Michael Williams.

But what a loss to the civic core.  The presence of so many students, and all the facilities that could serve them, not to mention the vitality they bring, can regenerate a decaying area of the city – a particular need in Prince George’s suffering downtown and the area south of Bernard Avenue in Kelowna.

And it’s no gift to the students to isolate them in a part of the region expensive to serve by transit, with insufficient housing, some distance from the places they want to be and the services they need, plus the interactions and serendipity that occurs in urban places which make up a part of a real education.

Few great cities are without centrally-located academic insitutions – Concordia and McGill in Montreal, the University of Toronto and Ryerson in our biggest city, not to mention the smaller colleges, public and private, that create a critical mass.  It’s beginning to happen in Vancouver, in the quadrant north of Dunsmuir and east of Granville, thanks to the multi-building presence of  SFU (Harbour Centre, Wosk, Segal, Woodward’s), BCIT, VCC, (even UBC in Robson Square), plus the Vancouver Film School and countless ESL ‘colleges’.

The Prince George and Kelowna campuses are basically variations on suburban office parks, and only reinforce the fragmented, single-use, car-dependent fabric that has and will weaken these communities in the long run.