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Surrey: It’s harder to build a suburban downtown than it looks

March 28th, 2017 · 3 Comments

I’ve been curious about how Surrey will evolve ever since former mayor Dianne Watts set out to transform the city’s image and its reality.

Besides the music festivals and the beautification and the stunning new pools and other facilities built in the city, Watts also promised to create a downtown for Surrey out of almost literally nothing.

It’s been 10 years since she started talking about that. I took a closer look at what kind of development there has been — and what hasn’t arrived yet.

There are towers here and there, none of them yet forming a critical mass that feels urban. And there seems to have been a pause in development.

Some of that delay is because certain property owners are waiting to see exactly what the alignment of the new light-rail transit line will be.

But one Surrey watcher wrote to me afterwards with these observations.

Besides, as the story noted, a certain drop-off in energy and boosterism characteristic of the Watts noted, this writer said:

The other problem with slow growth in the City Centre is the lack of focus and the fact that this Council seems more concerned about courting political favour in neighbourhoods and with developers who want to build elsewhere. Also, the City Centre Plan covers too large an area. Even the Anthem property, across King George Boulevard, seems like it is in an area too distant from where development should be concentrated.

Finally, a lot of developers are waiting to learn what will happen with transit in Surrey City Centre. Everyone seems confident that LRT is coming, but station locations have shifted a few times and I believe the reason was that they were trying to accommodate larger station platforms to show that they can have longer trains and compete with SkyTrain, likely in response to some in Victoria who are pushing to replace the LRT plan with SkyTrain. This uncertainty, I believe, may have delayed some development.

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  • neil21

    1. Food trucks and other temporary liner buildings
    2. Cones, planters, paint and other temporary street redesigns

    If urban change is slow, it’s always about political will, not private sector choice.

  • neil21

    Not to mention dedicated bus lanes down KGB

  • logan5

    There’s too much competition from other municipalities, especially now with the Evergreen Line now open, prospective homeowners have the option of living close to a Skytrain Line and the WCE that gets you DT in 25 minutes. Plus these areas are just plain nicer to look at. How do you compete with that?

    Looking at what has been built in Surrey it’s no wonder people will tend to look elsewhere, even if it does cost a little more. The tower node around King George Station was executed terribly. Absolutely no attempt to make a connection to the sidewalk, consequently, it feels desolate.

    And I don’t see LRT stimulating growth any better than Skytrain. Surrey has had 30 years with 3 Skytrain stations, stations that would normally stimulate development in a suburban centre, but it’s just hasn’t happened.

    I think the mistake Surrey is making is it sees itself as something it’s not. They’re trying to skip the natural growth stages that a city needs to go through and go straight to “Bustling City Centre” status. That plan isn’t working.