Refuge Urbanism


Metro Vancouver, as a global city and global citizen, has the means and opportunity to help address climate change as it affects people worldwide. By coupling the region’s response to sea level rise with a program of welcoming and integrating climate refugees, we can help confront a global humanitarian concern and in the process build a more robust, resilient, and vibrant city.

overview of the idea

Climate change is a global phenomenon, a human challenge of the highest order. Global actors, especially those among the wealthy nations, must respond in ways that account for the disproportionate consequences faced by many people living around the world, particularly those in developing countries most at risk of displacement due to rising seas, extreme weather, environmental degradation, and violent conflict.

As such, this project looks more broadly at consequences of climate change, and considers Metro Vancouver’s response to sea level rise in that context by asking: Can adapting to sea level rise become a mechanism to address some of the far-away effects of the climate crisis? Can Metro Vancouver thrive while doing so?

Cities like Metro Vancouver have much greater means to adapt adequately to a changing climate, and Vancouver in particular is an good destination for environmental migrants, for several reasons: Abundant and stable supply fresh water and clean energy, Globally interconnected population, Climate change should not diminish viability of arable land, and Connected to British Columbia’s resource base.

This project proposes a broad sea level rise response that deliberately integrates the settlement of climate refugees. This project describes a set of political, social, economic, and physical strategies that would help us create smarter, more robust, more vibrant communities. It is an urban program that hopes to: welcome and integrate climate refugees, build community resilience, mitigate environmental risk, protect vulnerable ecosystems, expand and diversify our economy, reduce our carbon footprint, and densify our urban centres.

how it works

This urban-scale project adopts two-fold approach: Strategic retreat: Concede some of the lowest unprotected areas of the city to create a new intertidal space where ecosystems can be preserved and a new type of urban living can evolve. A second line of defense becomes an opportunity for new amenities and possibilities. Infrastructural opportunism: Look for opportunities in combining and incentivizing the infrastructures — both social and physical — that underpin our urban fabric.

The result is a number of projective adaptations that show some possible near-future Metro areas. The speculations intersect with and intermix a range of fields and disciplines, including, among others, urban planning, public policy making, economics, architecture, public works, international politics, civil engineering, climate science, and social planning.

Some of the strategies proposed are:

  • A new model of nigh water living
  • Revised food, transportation, and infrastructures
  • Special protections for wetlands and other sensitive ecosystems


Refuge Urbanism Visual

To view the full Refuge Urbanism, download here

How communities will adapt and thrive

The adaptations proposed have been categorized by the type of urban needs that they address, and assessed against the most important factors in accommodating refugees and a set of goals a community can pursue in order to “thrive” in the face of rising seas.

To accommodate:

  • Social support 
  • Physical support 
  • Sense of place 
  • Economic opportunity 
  • Education + training 
  • Access to cultural and recreational amenity

To thrive:

  • Mitigate damage and be able to respond quickly + appropriately to disasters 
  • Protection of ecosystems at-risk 
  • Social and cultural diversity 
  • Economic vitality 
  • Infrastructural resilience 
  • Open, pluralistic, and democratic society

Community Summit Premier Sponsor

SFU Public Square Founding Council Member

Stephen A. Jarislowsky

Community Summit Media Sponsor

Community Summit Supporting Sponsors


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