Urban commentators Paul Hillsdon & Gord Price beside Surrey's iconic SFU campus
For a city-making nerd like me, the opportunity to visit a place and get a guided tour on the state of urban development is one I cannot easily pass up. That's why I was pleased when after I asked Paul Hillsdon to show me "his Surrey" that he obliged. I mentioned it to my friend Gord Price, and he thought it was a great idea and decided to join us.
While the weather wasn't very inviting last Friday afternoon, we made the most of an extensive, albeit short four-hour drive around Surrey. We met up before lunch at Surrey City Hall, and it was the first time I've met Hillsdon in person, but I certainly know him from his passion for his city. Paul not only has his own paulhillsdon.com blog, he also writes monthly on CivicSurrey.com, and Hillsdon even ran for city council as an independent last year.
As chauffeur, it was somewhat hard for me to do a thorough job of documenting our experience. It would have been helpful to be able to take notes and shoot some video, but the poor weather limited me to a few stops to pull out the camera. I invite you to see the Flickr slideshow here. I've titled each image and added notes. Double click the image and the notes will appear on the screen.
I explained to Paul that it would be hard for me to provide a very thorough analysis of what I saw during our tour without better notes and a little context, but I'll attempt a brief summary of some of the more noteworthy parts of the afternoon for me.
In order to get to Surrey City Hall where we marshaled for the tour, I drove along Highway 10, where it's disappointing to see still more greenfield development happening for sprawl housing. The highway is lined with a hard barrier for much of it to shield homes from highway traffic noise, making the communities less inviting as a result. While for the rest of the day I saw a things to be encouraged about in Surrey, the city really needs to get a handle on this kind of development.
We began the day with a stop for lunch at one of Surrey's distinctive eateries - a White Spot in south Surrey. I'm kidding of course about it being "unique" to Surrey, but we did ask for something for a little more original than a Red Robin, and came up dry. South Surrey is one of the most affluent communities in Metro Vancouver, and for many it's a place to retire. The local mall was filled with white-haired white folks mingling over coffee, and scooters were the transportation mode of choice.
What makes this commercial area appealing is that people feel comfortable walking. There are still many cars – and Surrey is still very much a auto-dependent place – but even on a rainy day there were still plenty of pedestrians.
Heading out of south Surrey we traveled to Cloverdale, the community that Hillsdon now lives and was most familiar with. It was amazing to see the scale of redevelopment taking place here. Vancouver today could never catch up to the pace of development happening here. There is an interesting attempt to move away from big box retail and massive parking lots, by creating "streets" with a retail and residential mix. It's a puzzle to me who are the target residents for this kind of housing though.
The most appealing part of the tour for me had to be Clayton Heights in Cloverdale. According to Gord, UBC's Patrick Condon consulted with the developers to create more "new urban" style neighbourhoods. Homes were smaller, traditionally designed with front porches and closer to the street. Price said that it's old Kitsilano moved to Surrey.
Next we drove through the Guilford community, which Hillsdon reminded me was once the key shopping area for the city. The Gateway program is leading to an immense amount of development near here just off the highway, and it feels like more auto-dependent sprawl at first glance. We didn't get a chance to get up close as we accidentally missed an offramp and would up spending 25 minutes crossing the Port Mann and coming back.
Much of the city's real energy is being devoted to the revitalization of Whalley, which is being supplanted by Surrey's new Central City identity. This community is served by Surrey's only rapid transit Skytrain link. The future Surrey City Hall will be located here, and nearby Holland Park is the location of the city's LiveCity Olympic site.
We stopped to grab a coffee at the Blenz, and thanks to plenty of free parking (which Surrey still has plenty of) we were able to get out and walk around to see up close the new housing being built around the SFU campus. The area was walkable, well-landscaped and felt very safe. Definitely a sign that Surrey was where the future will live, as their marketing motto suggests.
I should point out that Surrey has commissioned a very interesting project to aid the development of its city around mixed-use town centres, called Townshift. It's a signal to me that this place is someday going to get serious about reducing car dependency.
Thanks to Paul and Gord for providing me with a very interesting way to spend an afternoon, and learn more about the region I live in. If there are other budding urbanists who live throughout Metro Vancouver who wish to share with us their city, drop us a line at CityCaucus@gmail.com and we may take you up on the offer.
- post by Mike