Archipelago Vancouver - Sea Rise as Solution


Instead of merely attempting to maintain the status quo, why not define our response to sea level rise as an opportunity to reinvent our flawed social, economic and ecologic urban environment, using it as a catalyst for positive socio-economic and environmental change? Our solution defines the city and its inhabitants as part of, rather than in opposition to, nature.

overview of the idea

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” - Albert Einstein

Our team's approach is based on principles of working with, rather than against nature. Conventional methods of flooding controls such as dikes or sea walls and land reclamation are indicative of the same thinking that contributed to global climate change - man's dominion over nature. At the same time, “retreat” or “avoidance” carries with it the environmental consequences of taking even more land for human activities and the abandoning, and subsequent need for replacement, of vast amounts of natural resources and embodied energy in the form of infrastructure and building materials.

Adaptation is costly and hard to justify if the result is only maintaining a degraded version of the “status quo”.  However if our adaptation allows us to address our current failings with respect to social equity and environmental stewardship; provides an economic return on investment; and creates spaces of beauty then that cost provides real value to society.

To create that value we need to “embrace” sea level change in terms of new sustainable industries, new modes of transportation, re-imagined housing and public space that takes advantage of the water, and new district energy, water and waste systems. Life thrives at the edges of different environments, and the shores are the interface of all three – earth, air and water. We need to redefine our relationship with both water and our shores to create more equitable, self-sufficient and resilient communities.

how it works

Existing infrastructure which becomes inaccessible or damaged can be replaced with district scale systems for energy (tidal due to its reliability, proximity and reduced transmission losses) and water (re-use).  Sewer treatment can be localized with neighbourhood “living machines”, biologically decomposing the waste, prior to re-use of the water.

In urban centres recommissioned freighters, already equipped with desalination and sewer treatment systems, can replace lost infrastructure.  The ships can also be used for energy, food, manufacturing, and even entertainment.  All will serve as wave breakers. Lower floors of buildings will be protected from sea-water ingress and erosion.

In suburban areas, the City could provide  sustainable and adapted infrastructure, such as raised and floating walkways, energy services, water and public transportation, while the home owners would have to adapt their private property by raising their homes. Additional low-cost floating homes (manufactured sustainably in a factory) could now be 'erected' adjacent to the existing residential and served with the new infrastructure.  “Floating islands” could serve the multipurpose of protecting the raised and floating homes from severe storm events, and providing parks, ecosystems and urban agriculture.  The outer islands would be partially submerged capable of “dissipating the energy of storm surges and wave action”.

Waterways offer opportunities for more sustainable water-based transportation, requiring one third of the energy of land transport.  Some parallel to the shore can be dedicated to electric-cable ferries, with connections to land transport.  Bridges and docks provide paths for walking and cycling, and human-powered water-craft can use the waterways.



Read more information about Archipelago Vancouver in a high resolution poster. Download.

How communities will adapt and thrive

Modification of the shore-line, with an increased interface with the water through the streets/channels will allow the proliferation of life and new ecological niches. The enriched urban ecology of the city can be accessed from the water's surface, to the superior levels of the buildings and also from below, with immersed sidewalks. The population, with better access to water, will adapt to an “amphibious” state. There will be new opportunities in creative domains and enterprises – a new domain of thought encouraging new avenues in education and research – the aquatic city.

Agriculture will adapt to water-loving and maritime cultures. We will witness a diversification of occupations, including privately operated “mini-harbours”, and a more direct use of food resources from the ocean - maritime urban-gardens. 

Redistributing waterfront access.
One consequences of our conventional response to sea-level rise (seawalls, dikes) is that the cost of protecting residential waterfront property, often occupied by the most privileged, is paid for by all.  As with the economic recession, this effectively protects the assets of the wealthy at a cost to society.  However, if our adaption measures also reclaim the waterfront as a public space; provide low cost housing and services; and  provide additional food-security, then our public money is well spent.

Opening up the city to the waters will re-organize our understanding of nature, will re-orient our emphasis towards social equality and free access to resources, and will regenerate our economy on principles of inclusion following the new avenues opened by the aquatic city.

Community Summit Premier Sponsor

SFU Public Square Founding Council Member

Stephen A. Jarislowsky

Community Summit Media Sponsor

Community Summit Supporting Sponsors


Join Our Mailing List!

Sign up for great updates and news.