SFU Burnaby is doomed to always be a commuter campus

The views aren’t worth it.

A photo of one of the bus stops at SFU. A bus is pulled up beside it. It looks like a nice day.
Go to class, go home, and very little else. Photo: Sarah Kushneryk / The Peak

By: Craig Allan, Peak Associate

In 1963, after achieving formal assent in the BC Legislature, Dr. Gordon M. Shrum, first chancellor of SFU, decided that the best place for the new SFU would be atop Burnaby Mountain, ensuring two things: that we’d have beautiful views, and that that’s about all we’d ever get. Being built on a mountain guarantees no matter how hard student groups and administration try, SFU will always be a commuter campus.

A commuter campus is one in which the majority of students live elsewhere. Though SFU offers student housing, it can only accommodate 1,500 students; much less than the 30,000 that attend the school. This generally results in students heading home after their classes are done. SFU at 1:00 p.m. and SFU at 8:00 p.m. are vastly different places because of this. UniverCity, the mountain’s supposed commercial district, is most often characterized by people rushing to complete their errands in between classes, and the SUB seems more like a place to burn time in between classes than to actually hang out.

This is in part due to how SFU’s expansion is limited by its location. Not only is it at the top of a mountain where construction is forced to contend with uneven land and higher material shipping costs, but Burnaby Mountain in particular is a conservation area. This means that development is restricted to what space at the top has already been deforested. Moreso than other universities, SFU is limited in the ways it can expand, often requiring decisions between one amenity and another: we can build more housing, food options, or social spaces — but all three might not be feasible.

Under a traditional university infrastructure model, SFU’s Burnaby campus has been described as an acquired taste. But by opening spaces for students to use as needed, we might be able to move past this label. By using the resources available, and by adapting to the current climate, we could make Burnaby campus a place the people actually want to stay at. Maybe then, we’d be able to make our first strides away from being a commuter campus.