The Great Vancouver Sea-Saw! A compendium of temporary constructions will buy Vancouver time in adapting to sea level rise. Temporary, rapidly deployable transport linkages and levees, constructed using beetle-kill timber and old railway stock, will keep the city moving. Digital sensing and manufacturing will allow the use of low-grade timber, reducing the economic burden of maintaining the city’s transport infrastructure.

overview of the idea

The areas of Vancouver most susceptible to flooding and inundation by rising sea levels are agricultural, industrial and commercial. Maintaining the city’s economic functions, including its port operations, manufacturing industry, farming and transportation infrastructure will be the greatest challenge.

Vancouver will adapt to rising seas through a complex interaction of protection, adaptation and structured retreat, played out over time. At our disposal is the endless knowledge and capability of a connected world. The threats to success are time and money. We do not have enough of either.

Sea-saw imagines a scenario where economic constraints combine with a need to act rapidly in the face of political and bureaucratic inertia, forcing a level of improvisation in the response. It looks to the achievements of the past, where infrastructure was laid out across North America with a tiny fraction of the resources that we have at our disposal today.

Vancouver’s economy is defined by its railway. Maintained and decommissioned lines are engrained into the fabric of the city. The rail network will be at risk, but it may also be the solution. Sea-saw starts with the railway in setting up a resilient transport infrastructure.

Beetle-kill timber and old railway rolling stock are used in the construction of temporary, rapidly deployable raised transport linkages and levees in areas susceptible to flooding. Over time, as communities, businesses and infrastructure adapt, the linkages will become redundant, reclaimed as public promenades or left to decay.

how it works

Sea-saw operates on multiple time scales.

Immediate: Beetle-kill timber is stockpiled in weatherproof sheds distributed across Vancouver’s lowland areas and connected into the existing rail network. Research into the use of beetle-kill timber is increased.

50 Years: Deployable raised trainways using old rolling stock are used to raise the level of existing lines where they are at risk. These linkages form a base for the consolidation of the existing lines and the construction of new lines in at-risk areas. In some areas the new raised trainways are used as the structure for temporary levees. The levees are constructed from the same beetle-kill timber.

100 Years: Over time, as communities, businesses and infrastructure adapt, the trainways will become redundant. They might be reclaimed as walkways or cycle routes, or they might crumble into the lagoons or fade into a changed urban landscape.

In seeking an affordable solution, a free, local and readily available source of building material is found in the province’s surplus of beetle-kill timber. Unused, this resource is being wasted. The proposition unlocks the huge expertise in timber construction technologies in BC.

Sea-saw utilizes advanced technologies to unlock beetle-kill timber as a resource. Logs are scanned and catalogued before deposit in the stockpiles. Geometric data is used to command computer-controlled mills to allow accurate interlocking of elements where variations between individual logs are high.


Sea-Saw Poster

For a full sized, high resolution version of the Sea-saw poster as shown in the image gallery, click here.

How communities will adapt and thrive

The Great Sea Saw will protect Vancouver’s economy and infrastructure rapidly and affordably, allowing time for holistic adaptation achieved through varied means – from community migration to heavy construction.

The ad-hoc, temporal constructions that will arise through Sea-saw will be efficient and functional. They will keep Vancouver moving, but their presence throughout the city’s most venerable districts will be a powerful reminder of the immediacy of climate change. Their visual presence and our interactions with them will connect us to the past and future of our city in equal measure. Beyond their important function over time, they will encourage us to change the way that we live in response to the changes that we face.

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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