Georgia Strait Alliance releases first-ever State of the Waterfront Report for Vancouver

There is a significant gap in the city’s waterfront planning

Vancouver, BC — Vancouver’s waterfront, which spans from saltwater in Burrard Inlet to freshwater in the Fraser River, is showing the stresses of a shoreline that lacks a comprehensive approach to considering the sustainability and accessibility of waterfront areas throughout the city.

Georgia Strait Alliance, a regional marine conservation non-profit, has measured and tracked five key trends that demonstrate the status and health of Vancouver’s 63-kilometres of waterfront. The data analyzed considers social, economic, and environmental elements.

Vancouver’s waterfront is a natural resource; it is home to 1,200 species, including 125 classified as at-risk within the larger Salish Sea. The city’s shorelines are on the frontlines of absorbing the increasing pressures of urbanization, pollution, and population growth, as well as the impacts of rising sea levels and the growing tensions over land use. At the same time, residents and visitors expect the waterfront to provide easy access to nature, facilitate healthy ecosystems, offer recreational activities and social amenities, provide housing, and support the local economy through jobs, industry and tourism.

“There is a lack of focused discussion about how Vancouver’s waterfront in its entirety is evolving and that’s concerning when you consider the increasing impacts of urbanization and climate change,” says Christianne Wilhelmson, Executive Director of Georgia Strait Alliance. “Our objective with the Waterfront Initiative, modelled on New York City’s Waterfront Alliance, has been to connect waterfront stakeholders, government and industry to facilitate conversations and solutions that will allow the City of Vancouver to address the management and maintenance of our entire waterfront in a comprehensive way.”


  • Fifteen percent of waterfront lands, zoned exclusively for industrial use, were rezoned for residential or mixed-uses between 1990 and 2016.
    • Question: How are competing land uses being balanced?
  • Container ship traffic increased 18% between 2008 and 2016.
    • Question: Are effective mitigation initiatives being implemented to protect flora, fauna and the health of Vancouver’s waterways from increased noise, light and contamination?
  • Average rent on the waterfront increased 27% compared to a 17% city-wide increase between 2006 and 2016.
    • Question: Is access to living by the waterfront equitable to everyone in the city, including the benefits of having proximity to water and its associated amenities?
  • Population living in potentially floodable areas increased 67% between 2006 and 2016, with False Creek and the Fraser River having the largest increases.
    • Question: How is Vancouver preparing to adapt to rising sea levels knowing that an increase of 1 metre would mean that 33% of the waterfront would be flooded to greater than 50 cm and cost $7 billion, according to City of Vancouver data.
  • Vehicle traffic increased 8% to more than 10,000 vehicles per day on the Second Narrows Bridge between 2007 and 2016.
    • Question: Is Vancouver able to better utilize non-polluting water-based transit to ease reliance on commuter vehicles?
  • Nearly one-third (30%) of the city’s shoreline area can be considered as part of a natural shoreline (i.e.) non-heavily-human modified environments.
    • Question: Are plans in place to protect the amount of current natural areas and enhance other areas to promote biological productivity?


Roland Lewis, President & CEO, NYC’s Waterfront Alliance:

“In New York City, we’ve had such positive results that other cities are taking note—and it’s exciting that a similar model could benefit the city and residents of Vancouver. 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. We hope Vancouver is able to make similar advancements as the blue movement spreads far and wide.”

Councillor Andrea Reimer, Chair Policy and Strategic Priorities, City of Vancouver:

“Through the Waterfront Initiative, Georgia Strait Alliance is providing the structure we need to engage this broad cross-section of waterfront stakeholders as we begin to more deliberately address the development of the shoreline…this vision is especially urgent with many developers eyeing the remaining waterfront lands, a shifting economic profile that leaves our working waterfront vulnerable to residential development, accelerating Port expansion, and ongoing degradation of the health of the foreshore and marine environments from climate change, sea-level rise, and other factors.”

Duncan Wlodarczak, Vice Chair, Urban Land Institute BC:

“It is particularly exciting to consider how a dynamic waterfront plan could put Vancouver on the map globally as a continually innovative and forward-thinking city. While borrowing from the New York City model, Georgia Strait Alliance is creating a made-in-Canada solution to revitalizing and planning with a waterfront focus that could be replicated across the country.”

Jerry W. Dobrovolny, General Manager of Engineering Services, City of Vancouver:

“In my role as General Manager of Engineering Services, I see the value in the idea of an initiative designed to promote integrated waterfront planning. Engineering Services is responsible for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of our world-class city’s public works infrastructure.”



View highlights in the Snapshot of the State of the Waterfront report for Vancouver

View the full State of the Waterfront report for Vancouver

More information on the Waterfront Initiative:


Since 2014, Georgia Strait Alliance has involved all levels of government, private sector, First Nations, industry, academia, citizens, and other waterfront stakeholders as part of the Waterfront Initiative—a group dedicated to defining a common agenda that paves the way to build a prosperous and resilient waterfront.

Georgia Strait Alliance undertook and financed this study to create awareness about a largely unknown gap in waterfront planning. In order to take this project into its next chapter, a formal partnership with the municipal government is desired to bring about concrete ways to protect, manage, and improve Vancouver’s waterfront.

Reports from the Waterfront Initiative.


Formed in 1990, Georgia Strait Alliance is the only conservation group working to protect and restore the marine environment and promote the sustainability of the Strait of Georgia, its adjoining waters and communities.