Where are all the Surrey Urbanists?
I spend a lot of time thinking about the urbanity, sustainability, and liveability of our region and how we can make it better. I’m not the only one that thinks too much about these kinds of things, but it feels at times that I’m one of a select group of people that live in the South of Fraser that is actively trying to promote change. I can count on my hands the amount of urbanist that live out here and that to me is sad. Our region has some great planning programs and is known around the world for being liveable and doing planning right (at least in the City of Vancouver.) The challenge is that most urbanists end up in the City of Vancouver. This of course makes perfect sense, why live somewhere that goes against your values? But, it creates too much of a focus around Vancouver. Most events about urban issues in our region take place in Vancouver and focus on Vancouver. While this is all fine and good, is talking about whether if green glass or blue glass best creates a great public space the best use of energy when we have parts of the region that are growing at seemingly exponential rates and lack sidewalks? Shouldn’t the energy of urbanists be focused on shaping Surrey with its budding Downtown, green-fields development sites, and agricultural lands to protect?
As an urbanist, Surrey excites me. It reminds me of where Vancouver was in the 1970’s. Vancouver wasn’t always the “greenest” city on the planet. If you look at pictures of Broadway in that period you might mistake it for Whalley. Also just like Surrey today, people were starting to see that a city was more than just cars and parking lots. Advocating for transit and cycling infrastructure in Surrey will do a whole lot more for improving the sustainability of our region than exclusively focusing on the City of Vancouver. Likewise, advocating for great pedestrians public realms in Surrey will do more to improve the livability of the region than anything done in Vancouver.
Vancouver to me seems like a been there, done that kind of place. It’s a safe space for an urbanist and doesn’t provide much of a challenge and therefore not much of a reward when doing urbanism advocacy. Surrey and the South of Fraser is truly the frontier. When I sit in on Vancouver planning events and groups, I always have to remind them that there is a population in the South of Fraser that is larger than the City of Vancouver that could use their help. More often than not the South of Fraser is either ignored or thoughts of like an untamable, car-tastic, evil suburb that is beyond all hope. Not every event or group is like this though. I have to give SFU and their urban program credit for doing events out in Surrey, but where is UBC? I’m working with a Vancouver group who advocates for sustainable funding for transit that has realized that the key to sustainable funding lays in the South of Fraser, but some haven’t figured this out yet. Schools like SFU and UBC need to do a better job of hosting events that focus on South of Fraser issues. The South of Fraser is the breadbasket and industrial heart of the region with a population larger than Vancouver. Surrey’s moto “the future lives here” is the truth and development is happening at a breakneck speed. This is why I believe the South of Fraser is the most important part of the region to get urbanism right and why we need more urbanist out in Surrey.