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The Industrial Gateway District of Surrey

Sep 28, 2012

by Jihad Bitar, PhD
Urban Designer, VIA Architecture

Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the City of Surrey collaborated to create an educational two-module course entitled SFU & City of Surrey Transportation Lecture Program. The overarching goal of this program is to inform and spread knowledge about the role of transportation in shaping our cities, using Surrey as the case study, as well as to reach out to the local community and get some serious ideas established relating to transportation and the City of Surrey by the end of the course.

I had the privilege to be in the first group of professionals to participate in this program and, as a participant, was asked to give back my personal opinions/ideas/suggestions about what I think it means to the future of the City of Surrey.

Through the SkyTrain windows on my weekly trip to the SFU Surrey campus, I noticed that the first scene to welcome us to Surrey is a substantial swath of land covered with dirt, car junk yards, construction sites, webs of highways, train lines, and big machinery taking over the landscape of Surrey’s gateway. In fact, this area is the industrial zone of the City, so something needed to be said about it– and the course was the best platform for me, personally, to try to answer the challenging question of industrial zones, transportation, sustainability, and community interaction in this area.

A sustainable industrial zone is essential for the future of any city, and the connectivity of these zones to our cities through a healthy transportation network is the key for a prosperous future. Dealing with industrial sites is a very challenging matter; some cities may decide to rezone those areas to a more residential use like the Pearl District in Portland or like the Distillery District in Toronto. Others they may use it simply for commercial or cultural use, similar to Granville Island here in Vancouver, or as heritage museum sites where there is a dying industry such as coal mining, as they did at Zollverein Heritage Site in Essen, Germany. However, the success lies, in my opinion, in keeping the land industrial while upgrading it to become a reflection of our times’ industry.

Industrial areas are the real engine room for the prosperity and functionality of our cities. Regardless of how dirty, rundown, or even toxic our industrial zones may become, they are the workplace of our citizens; they are the first step for any idea to materialize and be manufactured– before it has its own life that will go on to aid in our cities’ financial and physical growth.

Keeping that in mind is the key element that will keep our industrial zones moving along, however, we also have the duty to upgrade those zones to reflect the level of development we reach, and to make those zones sustainable both environmentally and financially, while keeping them safe at the same time without losing the core purpose of these zones.

I’m sure that we have a very long way ahead of us before mastering and perfecting the way we use, build, and maintain our industrial zones, but we need to start somewhere– this is the best time for the City of Surreyto start on the correct path.

The video below is the proposed idea that I, in collaboration with colleague Andrew Fayn from MXD Development Strategists, put together during the lecture program: