British Columbia

What should Vancouver's waterfront look like in 30 years?

When groups representing everything from industrial development to the protection of birds began discussions six years ago on the future of Vancouver’s waterfront, the strangest thing happened — they found some common ground.

A new report is bringing together some unlikely allies to map out a long-term plan for the shoreline

The Georgia Strait Alliance is starting a conversation about what Vancouver's waterfront should look like 20 to 30 years from now. (Christer Waara/CBC)

When groups representing everything from industrial development to the protection of birds began discussions six years ago on the future of Vancouver's waterfront, the strangest thing happened — they found some common ground.

The 200-plus stakeholders involved in the talks now want to hatch a plan that will determine what the city's shoreline should look like 20 to 30 years from now.

The foundation for the plan is a report from the Georgia Strait Alliance (GSA) called 'State of the Waterfront.'

It examines topics that range from rising sea levels and housing prices, to how many jobs are directly connected to shoreline.

"We're trying to build a vision and build some goals so that we can work together," said GSA executive director Christianne Wilhelmson.

"It's really about working proactively to protect the environment and to do projects that will find a balance between residents and industry — and have goals."

Wilhelmson wants to reduce tension between groups that are competing for some of the most valuable and limited real estate in the world.

It's a tall task but it has been done before.

The GSA is borrowing the idea from New York's Waterfront Alliance, which has operated since 2007.

"Waterfront Alliance's advocacy has helped double the number of neighbourhoods served by waterborne transit, produced a Harbour Scorecard for community-level data about flood risk and water quality and, most importantly, advanced legislation to safeguard effective waterfront planning," said Vancouver city councillor Andrea Reimer.

"We hope Vancouver is able to make similar advancements."

The city has revealed the final design for northeast False Creek, which will come to fruition over the next 20 years. (City of Vancouver)

Strange alliances

Wilhelmson says New York's model is successful because stakeholders focus on what they agree on instead of topics that will inevitably lead to conflict.

She says there is no sense in wasting time arguing about a contentious issue, such as the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, when talking about common goals is far more productive.

"We asked if we can stop the decline in the loss of industrial lands over the next 10 years," Wilhelmson said.

"If we agree that, yeah, that sounds like an achievable goal, how do we do it?"

International Longshore and Warehouse Union secretary treasurer Bob Dhaliwal says all the discussions he participated in were productive.

"There's always going to be conflict and there's always going to be a need to find a balance," he said.

"It's all about collaboration and as a union we've always wanted to be at the table when these discussions happen."

Georgia Strait Alliance executive director Christianne Wilhelmson wants to map out a long-term plan for Vancouver's shoreline. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

What's next?

Now that the report is completed, Wilhelmson wants to look at policies and potential pilot projects that could be implemented in a year or two.

She also wants to bring even more stakeholders into the discussions, look at what other cities are doing successfully and start talking about the long-term future of the waterfront.

"There hasn't been social licence to say this is what we want our waterfront to look like in 30 years," she said.

"It's a big visioning exercise that then moves down to tangible projects we can work on together and also, hopefully, avoid the conflict that just seems to be part of conversations nowadays."