May 27, 2011

The Transforming of Surrey

Surrey’s greatest challenge is to manage its explosive population growth while improving the quality of life of its citizens.


Mayor Diane Watts and Concord Pacific President and CEO Terry Hui at Park Place Central City in Surrey. (Arlen Redekop/PNG) Photos below clockwise from top left: Golf pro Philip Jones at Surrey’s Hazelmere Golf course. Finalist Michelle Sanghera during the Central City Fall 2010 model search at the Central City shopping mall, Shay Lalor of Surrey tries out longboarding. Camille McMillan-Rambharat moved to Surrey from Trinidad and Togago. Robin Lich and Brent Boudarenko of Kitchen Therapy in their Grandview Corners, South Surrey store. Face-painting, a popular attraction during Surrey’s Canada Day celebrations last summer. Nadine Gagne, early childhood development manager, at the Kla-how-eya aboriginal resource centre, in Surrey. (Ward Perrin, Arlen Redekop Jason Payne and Les Bazso/PNG)

In the Mad Men world of advertising, a company’s brand stems from a reputation founded upon the promise and delivery of its products. “Brand” is embraced not just by multinational companies, but by countries, sports franchises, even individuals (or, as it was first developed almost 14 years ago in Fast Company magazine “The Brand Called You”).

Synonymous for many years with urban sprawl, traffic congestion and, unfortunately, violent crime, Surrey presents, as marketers might say, a massive re-branding challenge. If Surrey’s reputation is to be transformed, it will be in no small part due to the ambitious initiatives and policies undertaken by Mayor Dianne Watts, her progressive council, and the city’s planners and developers.

Indeed, every brand has a catchy tag-line and in Surrey, it’s The Future Lives Here.

And what Surrey’s future looks like is far, far different from its somewhat seamy past.

Cultural diversity, affordable housing, and plenty of new businesses (Surrey has been voted “Best Place to Invest in British Columbia” for four years in a row) are what Surrey is all about. Compared to other regions of the Lower Mainland, it’s a young city with more than 100,000 children; indeed the school district educates more students than anywhere else in B.C. If current population growth continues, Surrey will some day surpass Vancouver as B.C.’s largest city.

Right now, the greatest challenges are how to manage explosive population growth (2010 population – 460,000, with 10,000 new residents annually) while not just retaining, but in fact improving, the quality of life for its citizens. Surrey’s 3,000-square-kilometre size – larger than Vancouver and Burnaby combined – is dwarfed by a complex number of relatively dissimilar communities; from the ocean boardwalk of Crescent Beach to the rodeo grounds of Cloverdale to the farms and market gardens along the south shore of the Fraser to the traditional ”downtown” at the end of the SkyTrain in Whalley.

An incredibly ambitious infrastructure plan known as Build Surrey is already radically transforming housing, commerce, recreation, culture, and transportation throughout the entire region. The focal point is North Surrey (aka Central City), where the vision is to create the Lower Mainland’s second largest downtown. To do so, an enormous amount of infrastructure construction will be taking place, including a state-of-the-art public library, a gleaming new city hall, a multi-use recreation centre, performing arts theatre, a welcoming community plaza, and a covered youth park. Even more jobs and infrastructure will be added by the expansion of Surrey General Hospital, Simon Fraser University (Surrey campus), the Surrey School District, and a new RCMP headquarters. All told, more than $5 billion will be spent by various levels of government and land developers in Central City.

Michael Heeney, principal and executive director for Bing Thom Architects, on the construction site of the Surrey Centre Library. The library is slated to be completed this summer. (Les Bazso/PNG)

Co-existing with these community amenities is an enormous range of new highrise housing developments, including CityPoint, d’Corize, and Park Place towers. Other projects in varying states of construction and pre-sales include Urban Village (WestStone Properties), and Quattro (Tien Sher). Big box and boutique retailers are flocking to the area as well.

But there’s more to Surrey than Central City. Five Town Centres (Cloverdale, Fleetwood, Guildford, South Surrey and Newton) have been identified for infrastructure improvements to encourage and enhance commercial and residential development. Everything from beautification (flower boxes, heritage signage, street banners) to a new Business Retention and Expansion department (to encourage and attract small and medium-sized enterprises) is part of the plan.

Future improvements to Cloverdale include a new recreation centre, animal shelter, and additional park/green space. Cloverdale West Village brings a mix of townhomes, apartments, and rowhouses and combines it with new retail space to create an inclusive, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood.

Adera‘s Salus, at Scott Road and 66th Avenue in Surrey, offers exceptional design and superior amenities in its apartments and cityhomes.

In Newton, the New Town Centre will revitalize an existing neighbourhood through enhanced transit, improved recreation and civic facilities, high-density residential and commercial development, more open spaces and a vibrant Main Street.

Bisected by the Trans Canada Highway, residents of Surrey’s Fleetwood neighbourhood will enjoy even more recreational and parkland facilities over the next six years, including a new ice rink and two gymnasiums.

South Surrey is already home to some of the Lower Mainland’s most loved beaches and parks. Residents will soon enjoy the South Surrey Recreation Centre, more parks and attractive public art.

Guildford residents can already take advantage of the new Guildford Town Centre commercial/retail space. Surrey Bend Regional Park is sure to draw nature lovers from all over Surrey.

To gain some perspective on where Surrey might be heading in the future, in 2009 the city embarked on a “visioning” project called TownShift: From Suburb Into City that invited anyone with an interest in urban planning to enter an Internet-based ideas competition that offered more than $50,000 in prize money. The winning ideas – and honourable mentions – can be found at

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