Surrey city councillor Linda Hepner shows off their 2010 Celebration site
Given all the sites I've been at over the past two weeks, I'm prone to making comparisons. You'll probably agree that it's the little stuff that makes a huge difference for visitors. I'd heard different reviews of the Surrey 2010 Celebration site at Holland Park, and I wanted to see if for myself. Now, I don't expect Disneyland from any of these places, just half-decent food, a friendly atmosphere and a bit of entertainment. I can report that, like Richmond, Surrey's live site has an impressive array of activities geared to all ages. And where Vancouver's LiveCity venues fails, Surrey's excels.
It think it's important to mention the Vancouver-Surrey comparison, as many have been highly critical of the Host City's approach toward staging a party. Right away you are struck by the amount of content on site geared towards kids. For parents who might have wandered onto the LiveCity Downtown or Yaletown site, and "wondered what the heck am I supposed to keep my four-year old entertained?" Surrey has the answer. Lots of kids activities such as the curling demonstration, a toboggan ride and the lovely Sustainability Zone.
The theme of sport and play comes from the City of Surrey's embrace of the international "Right to Play" program. Right to Play was kicked off last summer by Surrey, and the message is traveling around through the City's school district. When children play, goes the slogan, the world wins. This is why Surrey's 2010 site feels a bit like a carnival.
The small on-site Sustainability Zone pavilion, which is geared toward teaching lessons on waste, recycling, forest management and water conservation, was such a hit that the PNE is taking the whole concept for their 2010 fair. Unlike the dull Vancouver House with its corporate brochure style and lack of interactivity, Sustainability Zone is a colourful lesson for kids – at their eye level – on reducing our impact on the planet. By comparison, I saw on the news that Vancouver House ran a video on global warming to a glum-faced room full of kids. Surrey's approach is instructive, and Vancouver's is, er, kind of a downer.
Surrey House is an aptly named 30,000 sq. ft. covered fun house with live bands, a small but comfortable VIP seating section, and plenty of selection in the types of food. Unlike LiveCity Downtown's re-heated pizza, hot dogs, and packaged baked products, you can select from a stand based upon your mood. Want Chinese, Jamaican, Vietnamese, Indian or just something Canadian? Surrey House dishes it all up in a comfortable, covered space with bands running afternoon until late evening. Thousands have had the room rocking in recent nights.
I won't plug the RCMP Musical Ride, because unless you've got a lot of time on your hands, tickets sell out hours before the 8pm ride. "That one I wish we could have had more seating," commented Coun. Linda Hepner, my host for the 2010 Celebration site visit. "We've only got 2000 seats inside and clearly it wasn't enough." One bright side is that if you're a horsey person, you can visit the stables set up for these gorgeous black animals and see them up close.
Something that caught my eye was the permeable tile surface Surrey has put down over the grass at Holland Park. "We did that because we didn't want to kill the grass underneath," says Hepner. "We lifted up some of the panels yesterday, and the grass is still looking good." LiveCity Yaletown, also built over the lawn at David Lam Park, opted for a hard rubber tile. It will be interesting to see what shape the grass there is after Sunday.
I asked Linda Hepner about security, as I was patted down shoulders to ankles, coming in the gate. "We had a lot of discussions about security, and above all we wanted the site to feel comfortable for families and their kids. At times we've got tens of thousands of folks on site, and I think it's comforting for a lot of the visitors." While I'm not a big fan of getting frisked, I'm glad the airport-style magnetic scanning wasn't in place here.
My only regret about the visit is that it was too short. I can only imagine how gorgeous Surrey's 2010 Celebration site must have been in last weekend's sunny weather, which is rumoured to return – briefly – sometime Sunday. Legendary performer Randy Bachman takes the venue's Main Stage tomorrow afternoon after the end of the Canada-USA gold medal game.
I tip my hat to the City of Surrey and Mayor Watts for creating a celebration space that rivals those in Richmond and downtown Vancouver. Clearly, the city saw an opportunity to become a big part of the 2010 Games, and rose to the challenge.