Surrey Community Dinner & Walkabout
Last night, I had the chance to attend the Surrey Community Dinner & Walkabout which was hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the City of Surrey. The evening started with a 1.5 hour walk around Surrey City Centre and ended with a talk by Fraser Health’s Dr. Helena Swinkels and City of Surrey Community Planning Manager Don Luymes.
The walking tour was very similar to the walk that Civic Surrey hosted this summer and followed the same route. The walking tour was guided by staff from Surrey’s planning and transportation departments, so it was a good chance for me to pick their brains. When talking about the transformation in City Centre, there seemed to be a sense of pride about the work that the City has done around sustainability, multimodal transportation, and good urban design. City staff really lit up when talking about the potential of Surrey’s City Centre. I asked what changed in the City of Surrey over the last few years that made it see the light and shift away from auto-oriented design. I was told that it was a lot of pressure from newer City staff members pushing to do things different combined with the full support of Mayor and Council. You have to give credit to Dianne Watts and her team for the transformation that is going on in Whalley.
Did you know, for example, that there is now a demand for AAA office space in Surrey’s City Centre? Another interesting fact that we missed on the Civic Surrey walking tour was that the sidewalk outside of the new library is actually a future separated bike lane, very much designed like the Sea Wall in Vancouver, that will be built out along the whole corridor.
Of course I had to bring up the contrast between City Centre and other parts of Surrey that aren’t developing as sustainably. I was told by staff (I could almost feel their disappointment) that some parts of Surrey “are what they are”. I got the impression that those other areas will be “fixed” once the City Centre has been built out more and proven to be a successful form of development in the South of Fraser.
After the walking tour, we heard from Dr. Swinkels who made the link between good community design and good health. Auto-oriented community design costs our health care system billions of dollars a year. An interesting fact is that every dollar spent on active transportation (walking, cycling) saves four dollars in health costs. The whole time she was talking, I couldn’t help but wonder why the Ministry of Health (responsible for the majority of provincial spending) hasn’t sent a memo to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure informing them that they need to start funding more transit and active transportation projects and lay off the costly auto-oriented highway projects. Besides the billions in infrastructure costs, one has to wonder how many billions highway expansion costs our health care system.
The final talk of the evening was by City of Surrey’s Don Luymes who gave a brief history of urban planning and how we got into the auto-oriented mess we are in today. He also chatted about how Surrey is on a quest to become multimodal and mixed-use.
The event was well attended with 75 people. I hope that the City of Surrey and Heart and Stroke Foundation host another event like this in the future.