Frances Bula header image 2


October 30th, 2009 · 13 Comments

Every time I turn around, Surrey is doing some new thing that no one could have predicted 10 years ago: a multicultural music festival, a sobering centre, a bike park, a homelessness action plan. The latest is a design competition for the gigantic municipality’s future neighbourhood centres. (See news release below.)

One day, a design competition. The next, who knows? Maybe in another 10 years, we’ll all be making the trek to hang out in Surrey’s funky new arts district. I’m holding my breath.

Media Advisory – TownShift launch Nov 2, 2009-1

Categories: Uncategorized

  • gmgw

    I can see the promotion campaign now: “Y’all motor on down to Surrey’s funky new arts district, pardners… biggest selection of black-velvet oil paintings of Elvis west of Pincher Creek!”

    You can dress up a pig in an Armani suit, Frances, and it’ll still be a pig. Sorry.

  • Bill Lee

    The SAG (Surrey Art Gallery) in Bear Creek Park used to have good shows under curator Rosa Ho. They were worth a trip out. SAG also had unique little travelling shows helped by Canada Council for the Arts monies and advice that wouldn’t get in the stupendous VAG.

    Speaking of stupendous, wouldn’t the new 4,550 sq.feet house proposals build some nice studios for artists colonies.

    And Frances Bula, of all people, should expect that the future Mayor of Metro Vancouver, Diane Watts, will give every householder a day’s pass to take the Skytrain out to the arts district?

    It’s only a matter of time before Vancouver pushes the poor bohemian artists out of the city because of the lack of studios, cheap rents and so on. Look for the artists-studios-tours soon.

    Surrey always claims that they are growing faster than Vancouver and soon will surpass it in population. One day.

  • flowmass

    Yes, Surrey is really improving it’s cultural facilities and bringing it’s land use planning and design into the 20th century.
    However, during all of this, no one noticed By-law 09-7865 that quietly slipped through: Men are now allows to tuck their shirts into their pants.

  • Mary

    gmgw and flowmass obviously need to broaden their horizons; Surrey has been an up and comer since Diane Watts showed up on the scene and started hiring talented staffers. As to teh art scene, Bill is probably right on. Look at what happened in Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph in the late 80s when TO got too expensive and full of itself to support artists.

  • Newtonian

    They have already started redesigning our neighbourhood. We are getting a new community arts center in Newton at the old Fire Hall, right on the train tracks. Add to this the newly approved 200 bed “recovery” center for addicts, a new neighbourhood casino with 150 new penny slot machines a stones throw from the “projects,” two local elementary schools, the local crack shack and right on the hooker stroll. Add to this the handful of payday loan/pawnshops that have popped up in hood the last two years and I can say that as a resident of Newton I am looking forward to more of the redesigning of our Town Center, especially the pending approval of the new mega monster homes we all seem to crave in the press.
    Happy Halloween everyone.

  • Echman

    Suburbs evolve, thankfully.

  • Dan

    This edge city is growing incredibly. Bill, I believe its population is already bigger than metro Vancouver. I dont see Vancouver bohemia being pushed out anytime soon however. There are still plenty of affordable areas east, south and north of SoMa and west of Commercial dr. too. SoMa will reach a tipping point over the next 10 years where gentrification will have shifted the young arts core elsewhere and it will probs start slowly looking more like west. 4th. Yay dog bakeries!

    Surrey does have tremendous opportunities however, with more land, the advantage of being young at more reflexive, etc. I am not to familiar with transportation around surrey but I believe it needs plenty of work. Their seems to be occurring in surrey, a remodeling from its late 50’s classical suburban growth to a new urban sustainable approach. You cant just demolish stripmalls and make dynamic neighborhoods overnight, so it will be interesting to see its changes over the next decade. Keep up the boosterism and civic marketing Watts!

  • gmgw

    Lest anyone think I’m a kneejerk anti-Surrey curmudgeon (well, you can drop the “kneejerk” from that phrase), I’ll point out once again that I come by my attitude honestly. My wife’s parents retired to Ocean Park (the area west of White Rock and south of Crescent Beach, sometimes called “Surrey’s Riviera”) in 1983, and thus for more than 26 years, with a few interruptions, we’ve been making the trek out there twice or more a month, sometimes staying for several days on special occasions or during family emergencies.

    Through the years we’ve repeatedly tasted the myriad non-delights of the entire municipality, from Guildford to the Semiahamoo Mall (to name two prime landmarks of Surrey culture). I can remember when South Surrey in particular was largely farms and woodland and parts of it held considerable natural and aesthetic appeal. When my in-laws moved to their townhouse the property next door to their complex consisted of 10 acres of grassy meadow with horses. Now South Surrey is mostly housing developments and malls– with more of both constantly going up– and its appeal, such as remains, is gravely endangered. The most frequently overheard conversation among Lexus drivers in Surrey would appear to be: “Hey! There’s some empty land over there with a stand of trees! What a waste! Let’s cut ’em down and put up a mall!”

    I don’t share the enthusiasm of well-meaning idealists like Frances who not only see a bright golden future for Surrey, but also see Dianne Watts as the city’s avatar of salvation. I used to think that Surrey would gradually evolve, that the average long-term Surreyite would finally climb down out of the trees, learn to walk upright, and begin using fire and simple stone tools. The reasons for this are obvious, and have been alluded to by Frances: As housing becomes more and more unaffordable in Vancouver, there would come an inevitable exodus of– shall we say– more “evolved”, big-city refugees, seeking places to live. Their growing presence, I’d hoped, would wreak a gradual transformation on a suburb so notoriously retrograde that visiting stand-up comics still routinely use it as a punchline.

    Well, even I have to admit that Surrey no longer entirely qualifies as a paleolithic hellhole, though cultural anthropologists specializing in primitive man could still find considerable material for study in the environs of Whalley, for instance. But I think there has been more of a reverse colonization, with the cultural values of Surrey taking deeper root in Vancouver than vice versa. Anyone doubting this should take a stroll through the Granville “Entertainment District” (I still wince at the use of that sobriquet) any Friday or Saturday night.

    As for Mayor Watts, I remain unimpressed. I have thought all along that if Watts physically resembled, say, Bernice Gerard, it’s unlikely that she would get a tenth of the fawning media coverage she has. Up until about a year ago, the Surrey “Now” (which is, as a friend says, “the closest thing Surrey has to a newspaper”), ran large colour front-page photos of Watts seemingly every week– Watts opening new buildings, visiting nursing homes, hitting softballs, officiating at public picnics, and so on. The level of all-Watts, all-the-time coverage was almost comical. Now they’ve cut back, seemingly, to a biweekly front-page photo. One half expects Watts to wear an official mayor’s T-shirt to public events reading “all this and brains too”.

    Watts is obviously a few steps up the evolutionary ladder from the likes of Ed McKitka. She promises much, articulates frequent urban/suburban visions, but delivers little that’s concrete, except maybe the concrete that continues, unrestricted, to obliterate greenspace throughout her city. The rampant development she speaks of restraining continues unhindered. I think her success and the regard in which she’s held by people both inside and outside Surrey– to the extent that she’s now widely spoken of as a possible successor to Gordon Campbell– says as much about the ongoing shortage of inspiring civic politicians throughout Metro as much as it does about any innate skills or qualities that Watts may or may not possess. Certainly at first glance, she impresses more than the terminally hapless Gregor-puppet; but then so would a well-groomed Cocker Spaniel.

    If it’s true that suburbs evolve (and having grown up in one myself, I’m not convinced that that’s always true), then Surrey still has quite a way to go. I know that my wife and I are always delighted to flee the place and return to the sputtering little 25-watt bulb at the semi-center of the galaxy that is Vancouver. I hope that Frances is right and that we may yet see “funky arts districts” and the like sprouting among the Wal-Marts. I just don’t think I can hold my breath that long.
    Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s Sunday afternoon and time to make the trek south once again…

  • Huh Surrey! I’ve built a bit of stuff there and couldn’t wait to pick up the cheque and run.

    For a brief time I lived in the ‘burbs: Lighthouse Park.

    But all my life I have been a down towner: so I cannot comment on art in the ‘burbs: although I will.

    “Surrey has been an up and comer since Diane Watts showed up on the scene and started hiring talented staffers.”

    Diane Watts! I don’t see it! My antenna twitches when “talented staffers” show up. Surrey was a Cultural Capital of Canada 2008: so was Nanaimo! The latter got C$750,000: all went on staffer salaries and hoop la. Go figure!

    Being a practicing architect, all my adult life, an artist, published poet and author I can say with authority I know nothing about art, but I know what I like!

    And one thing I know for sure . . . With bland sprawl, a speculators paradise, art in Surrey is not only implausible but Montmartre it ain’t!

  • Bill Lee

    Ah, Mayor Ed McKitka.

    In one of their remodeling, SAG created what I call the Ed McKitka Memorial Wall.
    It closed off the open French windows sending direct south light into the gallery, and they used its outside (south side) to put paintings that might ‘offend’ on that side, while the rest of a show would fill the interior side of the wall and the rooms.

    South Surrey is just the wild part of White Rock (seceded as a ward from Surrey in 1957) where they have had marine side galleries and various artists who moved down when housing was cheap and the road was corduroy on the old days. I still see adverts for artists, sculptures and such for down there.
    I wonder if the crafts people (‘not real artists’ sniff many) have hidden charms and warehouse suppliers in Surrey?
    Maybe the ghost of Brad Holmes will bring “Artists Lofts” to Surrey?

  • Surrey Insider

    There are 3 things that will help Surrey become a cultural vanguard:

    1) It’s got a lot of youth (demographics)

    2) It’s got a lot of angst (see above)

    3) They all have somethin’ to prove.

  • MB

    I am led to conclude that GMGW sees no golden future in anything anywhere, at least not in our little corner of the world. Perhaps this is a function of selective filtration, not of rising to the larger intellectual challenge of actually proposing something better.

    Surrey is a work in progress and requires much help. But there are glimmers of hope such as when people like Bing Thom ignore the slag heap of insults on Surrey and build a gem — in Whalley, of all places. That one tower and associated university and rapid transit link have acted like a fulcrum, drawing attention to the fact Surrey never had a centre until now. Develop carefully, and follow this precedent could be their mantra to achieve high quality urban spaces.

    When I cruise down the King George Highway and other Surrey arterials via Google Earth I don’t see the hundreds of acres of mall parking as a liability, but as an opportunity to utilize this utilitarian acreage for more important and highly valued uses, like self-contained villages, town squares, transit-oriented development, etc.

    Would that Vancouver has as much ‘spare’ land, almost like a clean slate. Vancouver has learned some hard lessons on the value of its land base and more carefully debates and designates future uses.

    Surrey could learn from Vancouver in that regard. That’s an opportunity to get it right, or at least get it better.

    Lastly, only a fool’s armchair critic blames one individual (say, a current mayor, or a former director of planning) for the multi-faceted history of a place. At least Urbanisimo follows up his thorough trashings with a prescription of his vision and solutions.

  • I don’t know Surrey is always a wellspring of art, but I do know that this:

    was one of the most interesting installations I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy. It was worth the long transit journey to Surrey to hear it.