2 min

Stop UBC towers at Wreck Beach

Development threatens world-famous nude beach

In the late 1960s when I was just a young gay lad coming out I heard about Wreck Beach from the pages of the Georgia Straight newspaper. The legality of nude sunbathing there was under threat and some brave nude hippies had been arrested. A “nude-in” was staged in protest.

Soon after, the beach became officially clothing-optional.

My first visit to Wreck Beach was eye-opening. Seeing people nude in such a spectacular natural setting was beautiful and surreal. In the years since, this enchanting place has been the setting for my favourite encounters, friendships and love affairs. Thirty-two Wreck Beach summers have inspired and nourished me, body and soul.

Last month Judy Williams, founder of the Wreck Beach Preservation Society, invited me to a blimp-raising demonstration. From the urgency in her voice, I knew something was serious, as had often been the case over the years with various attempts to tame, “cure” or develop Wreck Beach. Williams is at the forefront of every battle over the beach; somehow, she and a dedicated group have repeatedly managed to raise public outcry to defend Wreck Beach from harebrained schemes.

My heart sank as I watched the blimp being raised and contemplated what the protest represented. The University of British Columbia was planning to build four 20-storey high-rise towers on Marine Dr, directly across from the fragile forested cliffs of Wreck Beach.

The sickening feeling I felt contemplating a massive housing development in this gentle place was shared by others gathered to witness the height of the tower closest to the cliffs. Up went the blimp to the full height of the building, while from the beach below people viewed and photographed the blimp high above the trees.

The floors of the proposed tower had been carefully measured and marked off with balloons. Ten stories were visible from the beach. The blimp was moved back to the location of a rear tower; this one showed five stories above the tree line.

UBC’s plans for the towers were secret until Williams found out and blew the whistle in late February. Even the Greater Vancouver Regional District staff, who manage Pacific Spirit Park, including the foreshore which is Wreck Beach, did not know the details. Attempts to focus public attention on this environmentally degrading project have met with an array of patronizing and condescending responses from the university. They act arrogantly, as if they have no responsibility to the people of Vancouver and can destroy the last remaining local unspoiled seaside viewscape (as well as eagle habitat and world famous clothing-optional beach) without public input.

Recently, it was revealed that UBC’s stated reason for erecting the mammoth buildings-student housing-is inaccurate. The university is planning conference centres and hotel accommodation on the top floors, just in time for the Olympics. No wonder the mainstream media are avoiding or mocking this story.

The plan for towers violates the university’s own 1992 main campus plan. According to the plan, “In order to retain a sense of garden campus in the forest and in order to promote an efficient walk-up format, campus buildings should not rise much higher than the trees. They should be an average of about four storeys and be limited to a maximum of six storeys, except where special gateway or landmark buildings will help reinforce the spatial structure of campus.”

The Wreck Beach Preservation Society’s sees its mandate as maintaining “Wreck Beach in as nearly a natural state as possible.” We are prepared to do everything possible to see that these buildings do not exceed the height of the surrounding trees. We’ve collected more than 5,151 signatures supporting this ideal, and are seeking donations to secure legal counsel.

If you love this beach and the freedom it represents please add your name to those opposed to UBC’s environmentally damaging project. Consider giving the price of a movie ticket to maintain one of Vancouver’s most priceless natural treasures-a playground gloriously shared by both straights and gays.