Aug 22, 2018


Description: A panel of experts in environmental and urban planning leveraged the publication of State of the Waterfront by the Georgia Strait Alliance to initiate a public discussion on a comprehensive waterfront plan for Vancouver. The three presenters were Christianne Wilhelmson, Executive Director of the Georgia Strait Alliance, Duncan Wlodarczak, Vice-Chair of the Urban Land Institute, and Andrew Pask, founder of the Vancouver Public Space Network.

Background: SFU Public Square is a signature initiative of the downtown university campus to promote and facilitate inclusive, intelligent, and inspiring dialogue on issues of public interest. SFU City Conversations is a series of free lunchtime meet-ups organized by SFU Public Square on the third Thursday of every month.

Host: SFU Public Square, Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.

VSIR Thinking Points:

  • Metropolitan Vancouver is surrounded by water – the Burrard Inlet, False Creek, and the Fraser River – which informs its physical design and validates its long-standing reputation as one of the world’s most livable cities. Vancouver residents connect to the waterfront almost daily as home-owners, commuters, workers, and recreational users. But unlike other coastal cities (eg. New York, Portland, Seattle), Vancouver has yet to develop a comprehensive waterfront plan. The city had to close several beaches this summer because of water contamination, highlighting the urgency of developing a comprehensive plan that effectively manages tensions between various land-based and waterfront activities.
  • The absence of a waterfront strategy in Vancouver is even more perplexing given that the city hosted the 1976 United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (HABITAT) at Jericho Beach (where this photo was taken) which produced the Vancouver Declaration, and that it was also the birthplace of Greenpeace, a pioneer of environmental action. More than Vancouver’s reputational risk is at stake. Intensive waterfront competition is likely to be driven by three key drivers – rapid land urbanization, population growth, and industrial growth. Without a comprehensive plan, it will become increasingly difficult to get a holistic understanding of the complex interrelationship between human and ecological processes along the waterfront.
  • Difficult policy dilemmas can often be the source of innovative thinking that fills in knowledge gaps and challenges outmoded conventions. With strategic leadership and foresight, policy challenges can also foster new alliance structures. One example is the Georgia Strait Alliance, a 200-member collaborative partnership which is leading the Waterfront Initiative. Likewise, the Tseil-Waututh Nation, recently issued the Burrard Inlet Action Plan that includes a six-point action plan. A third example is the Central Waterfront Hub Framework, a 2009 City of Vancouver policy proposal for an extended transportation infrastructure in the Burrard Inlet. A productive next step will be to scale-up peer-to-peer and city-to-city knowledge exchanges in a spirit of cooperation, reconciliation, and in-depth learning.

Concluding Remarks: Exploring these initiatives in a process of discovery-led learning will be especially important in 2018, a municipal election year in which the defining political issue is likely to be access to affordable housing, not the environment. Over the long-term, hosting another HABITAT conference (or something equivalent) could achieve what the 2010 Olympics Games did for Vancouver’s urban development almost a decade ago, especially if it highlights the future challenges facing the world’s coastal cities.

Speakers and Agenda:

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