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Our community is changing.

And as can be expected change can be a scary thing.


UniverCity has natural areas and second-growth forest built into it… well in fact those natural areas came before the community. As the concrete mid-rise and high-rise buildings and five and six-story wood frame buildings continue to rise up around us, those natural areas are becoming smaller. And while this is expected – we always knew of development through West Highlands and now the South Slopes

– it is worthwhile to note what the development means and the look at the changing face of our neighbourhood.

Community designed for Personal Safety

It used to be that walking home from the bus depot from upper campus we walked through a semi-lit road, the upper University Crescent amidst deep woods. It was rural-like. I likened it to 20 years ago in Tsawwassen, a suburb on the Fraser Delta.

Upper University Crescent

At one time quite a thick forest, the forest is becoming scarcer on upper University Crescent

Should I see some people or an animal that caused me concern I had enough distance to navigate a quick departure. I knew that the mid-rise buildings and my neighbours were a short 50 metres away – at most.

I never did run into any mishap on University Crescent. Though I recently witnessed a pack of very healthy and significant coyotes sliding through Richard Bolton Park as I walked my dog late one night, no more than 20 feet away.

The one time I felt physically threatened was during a bus trip home one night, when a man sitting on the bus, looking disheveled and dirty, locked eyes with me as I turned to look feeling his eyes boring into the back of my head close to our final point of arrival. He stayed in his seat as I waited for the last passengers to disembark. In this case, I walked to the front of the bus to ask the driver for help. The disheveled man stood at the door outside and looked at us. Yes. He was probably harmless. The bus driver was gracious to offer to walk me. We chatted as we walked until we arrived at the Cornerstone Building, having navigated the darker bus depot lot a distance of 10 metres.
I finished the walk home alone.

While there is lush forest, within the community there is never a lack of children finding some forest to explore, to leap over snags in Richard Bolton Park, to pick up a stick and play a sort of dungeons and dragons …the unending possibility of children.

There is a palpable pride at UniverCity. Pardon the syrupy promotion – we smile and even stop to talk with neighbours when we meet in the street.

kids play area and forest

Protected forested region of Richard Bolton Park

And in this way we can support a colourful community. We lead lives of great freedom. Our grace is an unnamed ‘BlockParent’ program.

I overheard concerns at a UniverCity Open House, from two parents looking out for their young adult kids, SFU students, living at UniverCity. They were quite distraught and adamant about unmonitored areas***. Those same kids living here I am sure would have brushed off the threats. Of course they would likely be less verbose!

There are different animals that we face in community. I think the greater threat is boredom, not the creatures in the forest, not to mention lurking pedophiles.

Outside Light Pollution

I have started to notice as I walk around the community at night, perhaps a year ago, Cornerstone vendors leaving their full lights on at night, creating a bright beacon in the night. Prior the vendors were satisfied to allow their storefronts to sink back with the evening darkness. Gentle evening lights from street lights allowed the scene of forests around the elementary and in West Highlands to be enjoyed by boulevard strollers.

With the latest concrete high-rise construction site comes powerful flood lights, brighter than any previous UniverCity development site. No doubt to protect costly items on a site from theft. Yet I venture the developers concerns underestimate the natural safety bonds of UniverCity.

The lights of the new construction site were struck up high on tall phone polls creating an eerie yellow cloud of light that swamped upper University Crescent. They dulled out the night sky of stars galaxies away, and the full moon on rarer nights. And thus there came a subtle change to our community fabric. A threatening suburban dullness.

Parcel 20, Aug 2011

If we are not careful the developers and vendors may bring some of that city that they were striving to leave behind when they chose to develop at UniverCity. We take for granted the mighty electric torch. Thank you! Benjamin Franklin.

The forest images bit by bit month to month disappears from the large billboards advertising the developers’ product.

Slowly the cedar and douglas fir marketing gives way. Instead we see nice font graphics and promises of great views. Not realizing in part that the pristine views become increasingly of monotonous communities being cut further and further into the natural and beautiful mountains that define the Lower Mainland.


We need to embrace change. Indeed change is the strength and meaning to the sustainability movement, to eco-density.

When oceans rise in temperature, and pollutants are increasingly found in our bodies, we can not afford to go further without measuring the impacts of our actions. Have we forgotten? Perhaps we need to re-member. We become accustomed to the solution of electric lights, and by doing so dispel forces that can combine to provide a well-navigated community with less lights.

The community of SFU and UniverCity was planned to retain and respect the natural surrounding. It is a good plan need I say?

I noticed the implications of over-designing our community one sunny day earlier this summer. I was walking to the Applied Science buildings, lower South-East of campus and west of UniverCity, when I found myself veering away, towards the paved road rather than walking in a narrower path of cedar trees, hemlocks, and salmon berry bushes. Wait a moment! I thought. This is exactly wrong. I stopped. I directed myself into and through the darker path. Immediately I felt the cooler air, and then the beautiful variety of nature around me.

That is the scariest thought: We may become accustomed to designed community and so we bypass the natural forested areas! On a bright summer day with thousands of students walking nearby?

You and I have a roll. Ask yourself “What do we lose?” before you appeal to city planners for street lighting; for paved paths to accommodate your expensive stiletto heels, for taller buildings and unobstructed views, or before you ask the developer of your home or your strata council to remove trees or to top trees. These changes slowly rub out the forest, and the conditions that nurture night darkness and forest quiet. Take note of the changes and speak up to your city councilor when you notice something that could possibly threaten the peace of our sustainable community. You would be surprised at how many notice the extra traffic, the lack of night darkness, the increasing noise of man-made vehicles and machinery. Your voice matters.

SFU right of way between Serenity and Harmony

Right of way between Serenity and Harmony

Vivian Sorensen was born in North Vancouver and lived in many suburbs and environs of the Lower Mainland. She has lived at UniverCity with her husband and now dog since 2006. She is a Streamkeeper helping restore the bounty of salmon in Stoney Creek. She has a certificate in Urban Design and a BA from Simon Fraser University.

For excellent information, stats and exciting ways you can help, see the article “Nighttime Light Pollution” by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss of Earthtalk(copyright) http://www.Emagazine.com

***There are emergency phone stations and everyone is encouraged to become accustomed to their locations throughout the campus. Check out excellent resources on the SFU Safety and Risk Services web portal.