COLUMN: Surrey’s grade: steep, uphill

Report card indicates respondents far from convinced that Surrey is on the right track

Surrey’s health as a community isn’t very good, according to a “Vital Signs” report issued Tuesday by SurreyCares, the brand name of the Surrey Foundation, in partnership with Surrey Board of Trade.

The foundation has been in existence for more than 20 years and exists to help fund ongoing community projects in Surrey.

Run by a board of directors with strong business and communication backgrounds, it would be safe to say the foundation is a strong believer in Surrey and its future. The same can be said for the board of trade.

The report includes the results of a public-opinion survey, where residents assigned grades in 11 areas that measure quality of life.

Overall, the community scored C, or “average,” on its first report card. Residents did not rate the city higher than C in any of the categories, while four were rated D+.

That grade means that “additional work is required.”

Note that the work is not “optional,” it is “required.”

Perhaps of the most interest is that safety rated only a D+, as did getting around, housing and standard of living.

In other words, those surveyed have little confidence in their own safety, or their ability to get around the city, either by car or public transit.

They also have concerns about housing and the standard of living that many Surrey residents actually enjoy.

For a city of this size, which has invested hundreds of millions in hiring new police officers and building new roads, the D+ grade on safety is shocking and deeply disturbing.

In the area of arts and culture, environment, health and well-being, belonging and leadership, learning, getting started and economy and work, the grades were slightly better, at C. Considering the efforts the city has made to preserve the environment – albeit in fits and starts at times – it appears the citizens are far from convinced.

Safety issues will not be solved by simply hiring more police officers.

There needs to be a major rethink as to how the city can help citizens to feel safe. It could involve such issues as building design, park patrols and citizen patrol volunteers.

Some of the safety issues cannot be solved by the city, but require major changes of approach in Ottawa and Victoria.

These involve issues like halfway houses, how to deal with people with mental illness and housing.

In terms of getting around, Surrey has expanded many of its major roads, built new bridges and pedestrian and rail overpasses, and is the single biggest beneficiary of the expanded Highway 1, new Port Mann Bridge and new Highway 17.

Nonetheless, the Highway 1 improvements come at a personal price to drivers, in the form of a toll. That may have an impact on the low rating of getting around.

However, the transit service in Surrey has not come closer to keeping up with development and population growth. There is no better example than the fact transit service over the Port Mann Bridge, which was promised by former premier Gordon Campbell, was not in place when the bridge opened and only started from Surrey last month because of lobbying efforts by a Surrey teen and others who took up the cause.

The housing comment is interesting, as the housing stock has greatly expanded in the past decade.

However, the proliferation of suites, many of them done without inspections of any kind, is a significant challenge. There are also many older substandard buildings.

There has been a lot of effort to paint Surrey up in the past decade. Parks and recreation facilities have opened, a new city hall has been built and there has been a push to develop Whalley into the city centre.

These efforts are important, but the Vital Signs report shows that Surrey has a long way to go.

Given the events of the past two years, and particularly the recent murder of Serena Vermeersch which has galvanized the city, it is going to be a steep uphill climb.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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