They’re talking about us...
That former UBC president David Strangway has been considering a private university in Whistler has been an open secret for some time. There is no formal proposal for such a facility, at least not yet, just a concept that is being evaluated to see if it could be done, and Whistler is apparently one of several places Strangway’s group is looking at.
The issue finally garnered some public discussion this week with a letter to council from the Whistler Secondary Parent Advisory Council requesting the municipality review the issue, solicit public input and consider the benefits of a private university. But as Councillor Kristi Wells pointed out, there is no formal proposal yet so it’s difficult for the municipality to justify staff time and effort on something that doesn’t exist. Moreover, Wells suggested it will be easier to deal with this type of issue once the "visioning process," which includes the Whistler 2002 exercise, has been completed.
True enough, but in some respects the university non-proposal is already being considered. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly suggested the campus could be the athletes village for the 2010 Olympics, another unofficial proposal currently being considered. The campus would require about 80 acres — Appia Development’s Parkhurst property and BC Rail’s land holdings come to mind — and bed units beyond the current 52,500 cap.
Immediately the issue becomes a question of values for the community, weighing the benefits a university could bring against the costs. That’s the type of issue Whistler will face repeatedly as we approach buildout: benefits vs. costs.
For the last four years Whistlerites have consistently outlined their priorities at town hall meetings, suggesting what we’d like to see and what we don’t want to give up. It seems quite straight forward and clear, but then again everyone is in favour of employee housing until a proposal comes forward in their neighbourhood; everyone’s in favour of a cultural facility, but what will it cost?
The town hall meetings and the visioning process certainly have their faults — the same, limited cross section of the Whistler community participating every year being one of them. But is it better to attempt to deal with proposals as they are presented to us, or to have established some values before hand and evaluate proposals from the foundation of a common understanding?
So, even though there may not be many details available about the private university proposal or the Olympic bid — and it’s probably a wise move on the proponents’ part not to make too many details public before they have most of the answers — that doesn’t stop the people of Whistler from discussing and debating the issues and values at hand. And even if there is no formal public discussion, individually we can take stock of what we value and what we see for Whistler’s future.
Because while most communities have to pursue universities, Olympics and other opportunities, in Whistler they seem to come to us. The least we could do is be prepared.