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City of Surrey growing wisely, New York think-tank says

Intelligent Community Forum applauds municipality’s handling of population boom
John Jung, executive director of the non-profit think-tank Intelligent Community Forum Canada, says his organization named Surrey one of the world’s most intelligent cities again because of its handling of density issues in a growing city | Chung Chow

According to the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), a New York-based non-profit think-tank, Surrey is the third-fastest-growing city in Canada, adding more than 1,000 people a month to its population. For the second year in a row, the ICF also named Surrey one of its Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year alongside Montreal, Muelheim an der Ruhr, Germany, and New Taipei City, Taiwan.

John Jung, executive director of IFC Canada, who was recently in town for the Globe 2016 conference, said part of the reason his organization picked Surrey again this year was the issue of density and accommodating exponential growth.

“Density is a good thing, if it’s done right; it works to bring people and the community together,” Jung said. “Look at a place like Singapore; it’s one of the most densely populated cities in the world, but they find a way to make it work and bring people together.”

2015 was another banner year for Surrey with $1.46 billion worth of construction taking place, the highest total since 2007. There were increases in all categories including single-family homes, low-rise and highrise apartments, commercial buildings and industrial developments.

Jung acknowledged Surrey is dealing with some growing pains, but he said the positives are outweighing the negatives.

“I mentioned this at the conference; I said, ‘Let’s get the topic out in the room. There are people out there who can’t believe that we’ve recognized Surrey in a very positive way.’ And when people say, ‘Oh it’s got gangs and crime,’ [I say,] ‘Yeah, that’s what happens in these types of environments when you thrust a lot of people together in a very short period of time.’”

According to the Surrey RCMP, crime was up 3% in 2015 from a year before, but property crime was down 11%, something the police targeted in 2015.

Jung, an urban planner who is the former president and CEO of the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and the Calgary Economic Development Authority, said for Surrey to continue to evolve from a bedroom community into full-blown metropolis, it needs to continue to offer increased levels of affordable transportation and housing – something he noted might be tough given Vancouver’s housing boom and its spillover effect.   

“A lot of new cities are sort of in the shadow of bigger cities like this,” Jung said. “A lot of times things can be pushed into those adjoining communities, and that’s exactly what’s happening with Vancouver and Surrey.