From the Editor: Polycentric approach is needed for Surrey’s rapid development

Condominium in Surrey City Centre. (Keet Kailey)

Condominium in Surrey City Centre. (Keet Kailey)

Between now and 2051, the City of Surrey estimates its population will increase to a total of 884,370 residents. Around 199,660 of those people will be living in Whalley and the City Centre areas. This is one of the reasons residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional developments are rising in the city, sometimes at the cost of demolished neighbourhoods and displacement. 

Surrey’s development growth began to speed up in 2015, when the total value of construction permits hovered around $1.5 billion per year, later increasing in 2019. In those years, the city added 10 million square feet of commercial and industrial floorspace and over 23,000 housing starts. 

The city decided to demolish established business and residential buildings to make space for modern highrise developments.

In 2017, the city councillors gave Tien Sher Group of Companies, a real estate development company, the go-ahead for the demolition of sex shops, a strip club and a bar on King George Boulevard between 108 and 107 Avenues. 

The land where these businesses once stood will become the new home of condo towers, shops, and restaurants in order to fulfill the city’s plan to create the “Yaletown of Surrey” in an area that currently provides a community for people experiencing homelessness, addiction, and poverty. 

While they can be good for the modern expansion of an area, projects like these also mask the ongoing issues people within the city face. It’s as if placing a large invisibility cloak on the people experiencing homelessness will hide the fact that Whalley and City Centre is their home. 

Last year, the city issued an eviction date for Don Chepe’s restaurant in Surrey’s Plaza 104. The location of this family-owned business that serves Latin American and Salvadoran food will become the home of a highrise condo building.

Along 104 Ave, the restaurant is situated near Our Lady of Good Counsel parish, the only Catholic Church in Surrey that provides Spanish-speaking mass, bringing crowds of Latinos to City Centre, including many who eat and spend their time inside Don Chepe’s.

It’s hard to tell if the restaurant will relocate near the church and continue to be a space for Latinos to enjoy traditional meals together.

This is a time to question who projects like these are being built for and what type of people the city wants to bring into these areas in the future. 

new highrise development in the City Centre has suites starting at $300,000 that “will appeal largely to first-time buyers, millennials and investors,” according to BlueSky Properties. The suites have a clean and modern aesthetic, but not everybody can afford to pay $300,000 for a studio or a one-bedroom. 

For many, buying a property is out of reach, but rent in Surrey has also increased and this could mostly be due to the increase of housing development. According to the recent National Rent Report, Surrey is ranked 19th out of the 35 most expensive cities in Canada to rent. The average rent for a one-bedroom is $1,463, and the average for two-bedrooms is $1,931.

City Centre’s intense densification could lead to gentrification, which is the process of changing the characteristics of a neighbourhood by replacing local businesses and homes with newer buildings. 

Because of Surrey’s unfair reputation as a “dangerous” city, this could be one of the reasons why urban planners might want to change the city’s overall appearance, especially in areas like Whalley and City Centre.

Gentrification will increase rent and give “unequal distribution of developmental benefits to the middle class,” leaving lower-income folks displaced. An arguable example of gentrification is ongoing in Chinatown in Vancouver. A Simon Fraser University student life blog recently explained that Chinatown is being developed with fashion stores, cafes, and modern condominiums in what is a historical and cultural part of the city. 

In order to avoid the harms of fuelling gentrification within Surrey’s City Centre, urban planners need to consider a more polycentric city development approach where there can be many centres within the region, instead of focusing on development in one specific centre.

A polycentric model can create balance and inclusion within a region, and result in less demolished businesses and displaced communities.