I just attended a presentation at Surrey City Centre about the plans for the redevelopment of that area. Assuming this goes anywhere, the great shame will be that it took so long for Surrey to wake up to the disastrous results of its failure to stand up to urban sprawl.
One of the planners at the meeting pointed out that Surrey Centre is large enough to encompass downtown Boston, Amsterdam, or the center of Florence five times over. Yet there is nothing there. For a city of 400,000 people, the 10th-largest in Canada, its core is empty of anything except strip malls, parking lots, and a handful of scattered highrises; it is famous for crime and drug dealing. The body of the city is endless barren streets and monotonous too-perfect developments of cul-de-sacs cut-off from their surroundings.
Much of the problem is that Surrey is geographically huge and has directed its growth outward. Even tonight, with the planners introducing their visions of new urbanism, mayor Doug McCallum remained unrepentant for encouraging growth – any growth, anywhere1. But if he finally takes action to increase density and livability, I applaud him.
The recent construction of the award-winning Central City building is a glimmer of hope. I wish Surrey luck: its very name has been a bad word for too long. Even those of us who live outside its borders have to live with it.
1 UPDATE: I should point out that these are not the actual words he used; this is my interpretation of his pro-growth speech and the actions of Surrey City Council while he has been mayor.