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Impact of rising tides on the built environment explored

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by Warren Frey last update:Sep 9, 2014

Rising tides are bringing new challenges to cities in the Pacific Northwest.


Changing water levels were the subject of the Rising Tides session, which opened the first full day of the recent Sea Change 2013 conference put on by the Architectural Institute of British Columbia and the American Institute of Architects – Northwest and Pacific Region.

Sadhu Johnston, deputy city manager of the City of Vancouver, said climate change and rising tides have only recently become factors under consideration in the municipal government’s ongoing plans to enhance sustainability in the region.

Vancouver and other cities have focused on increasing walking and cycling and decreasing driving, but only recently have started specifically addressing climate adaptation, he said.

“Currently the city is involved in mitigation, but adaptation will mean responding to impacts of climate change,” he said.

Johnston pointed to the king tide event of 2012, where water levels climbed up the seawalls of the Yaletown and Kits Beach neighbourhoods, as an indication of the need for action.

While a king tide is not directly related to climate change, it provides a good indication of where high and rising tides could go in the future. Anticipating impacts is key.

“Making sure the built environment, current and future, is ready is also important,” he said.

“Backup power policies, planting the right trees in the right place, and integrated storm water management are also ways to address the problem,” Johnston said.

Washington Sea Grant representative Nicole Faghin gave an American perspective on the matter and explained that more than 50 per cent of the population in the United States lives in a coastal city.

Increased storm and flood activity signify an increased danger to the public.

“Our natural environment is crashing into our built environment,” Faghin said.

She added that options to adapt to rising water levels include protecting ourselves, combatting the tides and retreat.

Forterra president and CEO Gene Duvernoy said that climate change attitudes have shifted from looking backwards to the past with conservation to using sustainability to find new ways to co-exist with the environment.

“The challenge is that the Seattle-Vancouver region will eventually expand to 15 Seattles. We must welcome this growth, but use it to maintain sustainability,” Duvernoy said.

Sustainability means looking not 30 years in the future, but 100 years ahead, he said.

“We must live within our city boundaries, while still maintaining and improving quality of life,” he added.

He added that land use is the key to adapting to higher populations and more stresses on the environment.

“In order to be sustainable there must be no more sprawl,” Duvernoy said.

Sea Change 2013 was the first joint conference between the Architectural Institute of B.C. and the American Institute of Architect’s Pacific Northwest Chapter. It was held at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

last update:Sep 9, 2014

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