South of the Fraser

Surrey, Delta, White Rock and Langleys

Imagine Surrey: Four talks about the new Surrey downtown

There it is just outside the window: the new City Plaza


Imagine Surrey was an event at Surrey's City Centre library about urban planning for the new downtown on Saturday, March 2, 2013, from 11am-3pm.

There were four speakers, plus community displays and even an opportunity to help build a Lego city. I think the last event was aimed more for children.

Here are a few rough notes, hopefully not too incoherent.

 The City had a display of new developments planned and proposed for what is called "city centre". This is roughly the South Whalley area, from 96th to 108th Avenues and centred around King George Highway. One panel showed projects planned, 49 of them, that were spread around this area. A good exercise would be to add up the residential and office capacity. We're all familiar by now with the big names: 3 Civic Centre, Rise, etc, but there are many, many more already working their way through City Hall.



Gordon Price: wrestling with post-motordom 

Surrey's Urban Renewal

Gordon Price, director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University

The real change is the people.

A show of hands showed one person of about 60 in the audience was third-generation. 

The development of Surrey's new core is a pivot point. We know things are changing. The effects aren't clear -- yet.

What was the last pivot point for Surrey? 1964, when the Port Mann bridge was first built. This joined Surrey to the juggernaut of post-war growth. The consequences can be compared with Vancouver, which chose not to build the Freeway downtown. Vancouver is not hooked up to what Price calls the Motordom Machine. Surrey is.

What are the effects of buying into motordom? You need a place to park, you have to move fast, it has to be safe. It all has to work for the car. Infrastructure revolves around the vehicle.

Mr. Price pointed out the library window to a dense forest of metal scaffolds, aluminum I-beams and poured concrete. "This... Surrey," he said, "was a blank slate for the Port Mann."

However, there was already a road grid here, in 1-mile squares, with drainage ditches, a grid that allowed the land to be quickly opened up for affordable development, affordable right up until the 1980s, much like Vancouver in the 1910s. It allowed people to live the Canadian dream because the freeway and the arterial roads allowed cars (and people) to move long distances at fast speeds.

 Contrast this with what happened in Vancouver. Without a freeway the city became dense. Cars were no longer dominant. I may have missed something here, but I believe Mr. Price said traffic density was similar to what it was in 1965 - about the same time the Port Mann was built.

Can this happen in Surrey? With the South Fraser Perimeter Road and Freeway improvements there are increased efficiencies of movement. Therefore there is no reason to build high density in places like Guildford.

Mr. Price pointed out that from his office at SFU downtown he has a 5-minute walk to Skytrain, and then a 10-minute walk to SFU in Surrey. In effect, Surrey's City Centre could become another Vancouver neighbourhood. City Centre has the transportation necessary to support high density, but that transportation leads towards Vancouver. City Centre could belong more to Vancouver than Surrey.

Transportation was a key theme throughout the afternoon, and a question from the audience provided the impetus for Mr. Price to observe that we see transit as a social service, not an economic necesity.

This leads to a contradiction: a delay in traffic on the roads is seen as an economic cost - take the time stuck in traffic, multiply it by some price-per-hour and you have a measurement of lost productivity. But a delay in transit is seen as an efficiency - more time between trains means more money saved.  Draw your own conclusions from that!


Aubrey Kelly: how to reach build-out potential

What's Coming to Surrey's New Downtown

Aubrey Kelly, Chief Operating Officer, Surrey City Development Corporation (SCDC)

 Right now, or as of when the slide was made a few years ago, City Centre had about 12,500 residential units, with a perceived potential of 60,000. That's similar to the Vancouver downtown core.

There are currently 10-million square feet of office/commercial space, with a potential of 20-million square feet. Mr. Kelly said he had originally questioned that 10-million number, but it includes the hospital, which sits at the Southern edge of what's defined as City Centre.

Surrey defines City Centre as being between 96 and 108 Avenues, and from about 132 to 140 Streets.

Mr. Kelly's presentation focused on a few key projects that will give this area it's new look. 

At "ground zero" there is the library, the new City Hall and a 5,000 sq metre plaza connecting them to Central City tower. The plaza will be able to hold about 5,000 people.

City Hall will have an East and West block, with an atreum in between.

3 Civic Plaza will be a mixed-use building with residential, office and meeting spaces. They are very close to signing with a major hotel to run that part of the project.

A few other projects of note are several BOSA projects ringing this core: several residential towers to the Northeast and Northwest, and a project involving the Lutheran Church almost directly across from the library. Other big developers with projects at different stages are Concord and Century group.

Someone from the audience pointed out Whalley is the second-poorest neighbourhood in B.C. Mr. Kelly said the SCDC is interested in projects that benefit the community. "It's not just about the money," he said.

What the SCDC will do is collect properties for sale and package them up for resale to the private sector, or develop them as they did with 3 Civic Plaza.


Don Luymes: light rail is the way to go 

Rapid Transit Planning and Surrey's City Centre Plan

Don Luymes, Manager, Community Planning

Moving from suburb to city.

The City believes it will be adding 280,000 people and 25,000 jobs over the next 20 years. It works out to about 1.8% annual growth. That's robust but not unheard of.

How can this growth be managed? The City takes a three-legged stool approach:

  • 100,000 into existing city centres
  • 100,000 into new neighbourhoods like Clayton
  • 80,000 in the infill between these centres

In transitioning into the region's second downtown a big part will be developing a more transit-oriented urban pattern.

Right now population and jobs are relatively even across the city.  The plan is to encourage development and jobs to move to where transit can easily go. Thus, higher density around Skytrain stations.

However, even in the city centre there would be density differences. It won't all be high-rises!

City planning of city centre will revolve around a more walkable, tree-lined attractive fabric, a finer-grained network of streets.

 The City is also conscious of the Green Timbers urban forest just at the edge of City Centre. The plan is to make that accessible through some sort of greenway network.

The City is also aware of the low-income of many of the area's inhabitants. Typically the City will provide the land and the Province the money for the buildings. Mr. Lymes had a few examples I couldn't write down because my pen was beginning to act up.

Because of the rapid growth Surrey has a unique opportunity to develop transit at the same time as development occurs. The Surrey Rapid Transit Project has identified three corridors for development. They all start at Surrey Central Station:

  • King George will run South towards Crescent Beach
  • Fraser Highway cuts a diagonal Southeast to the City of Langley
  • 104th Avenue cuts straight East to Guildford

Of the three possible technologies (rubber-wheeled long buses, light rail, skytrain) the City is firmly in favour of light rail as providing the best bang for the buck.

 Whatever the technology, stations along the routes will provide nodes for development to occur.



Michael McDonald: Design is a tool for social change 

Introduction to Surrey's New City Hall

Michael McDonald, Principal, Kaisan Architecture

 This is the design Century. Creating a new downtown is quite extraordinary. City Halls are moved around, but in North America it is quite rare to have an opportunity like this to think in terms of this scale.

I may have mis-heard, but I think Mr. McDonald was leaving the next day to China where he's involved in creating a new downtown for 80,000 people. But here, it's quite special.

The new city hall is at the North end of a downtown civic area, and the Central City building at the other. Originally the city thought of putting the city hall right across 102 Avenue from SFU. Kaisan realized the City controlled all the other land and suggested moving the city hall to the far end, and tying the two anchor buildings together with a plaza.

The challenge is to create the critical mass to provide a catalyst for an effect: a great pedestrian green space. It has the scale of the great civic spaces: Barcelona, Paris, etc.

The plan evolved from an initial concept labeled 'sextus'. I don't know what the origin of the word is, but it seems to work around the idea of signature buildings that pull you along a curving path. It's a layering, providing a diversity of experience from King George to University Street.

Central to this experience is the plaza, an area that is designed so one person or 5,000 people will feel good in that space.

I had been having problems with my pen, so I just couldn't take the detailed notes that this talk deserved. Mr. McDonald is obviously a visually-oriented person and could quickly paint a picture of sun-dappled walkways and distant vistas visible through the atrium in the new city hall. The paving of the plaza is inspired by patterns made by rivers for example. There's the possibility to do all sorts of things with the plaza, from an outdoor skating rink to covering it with a big tent.

For the new city hall, some of the concepts behind it revolved around blurring the edge between outside and inside. The central atrium should allow views of the North short mountains, and also allow a covered space that is both inside and outside. It extends the plaza and ends it. The two blocks of the city hall have walkways between them, and the whole thing is enveloped in a sort of shell. "It's about edges," said Mr. McDonald.

 Council chambers will be in the East block. As an example of the flexibility that is built into the structure this room will also be able to function as a small performance space.




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