Outreach provides new planning tools for Fraser Valley

September 08, 2006, volume 37, no. 1



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"There are two phases of development," SFU Surrey's Community Outreach director John McEndry quips. "There's ‘too early to tell', and ‘too late to stop it'." It's a joke, of course. There is a third alternative to rampant development—an informed, involved citizenry willing and able to monitor growth and ask the tough questions about its impact. Simon Fraser University's outreach program is well-poised to lead the way, McEndry says.

"It's a front-door opportunity for SFU Surrey to provide a place for people to explore the extremely complex issues around growth. How do we accommodate growth? What do we do about transportation? What are the environmental impacts? What happens when urban space bumps up next to agricultural lands?" he adds. "The University has the depth and breadth of resources to facilitate a discussion about these issues. We don't have an agenda, but we can offer the expertise, and the interdisciplinary faculty, to help with these problems."

And the problems are getting more acute day by day, as the population of the Greater Vancouver Regional District continues to grow. Within a few decades, projections are that the region will double in size, to about 4.4 million people. As has been the trend for the past decade, much of the expected influx will settle in the communities south of the Fraser River. The triangle formed by White Rock and Aldergrove in the south, and Port Coquitlam's Burke Mountain to the north, with a population of about 800,000, is now the fastest growing region in Canada, McEndry says.

Given these realities, how do we define a sustainable community? And then how do we achieve sustainability? Everyone—urban planners, retailers, municipal services, and the folks next door—has a stake in searching out answers to the many new and not-so-new challenges.

According to SFU's City Program director Gordon Price, "The future of the region depends on the quality of change that happens in places like Surrey. It's an amazing opportunity [for SFU Surrey] to play an anchor role in attracting and affecting change."

The campus has already been playing a quiet but pivotal role in planning the future, not only for Surrey, but for all of the communities of the Fraser Valley. Last year, three public lectures on sustainability attracted municipal administrators, realtors, developers, planners, and citizens alike to share thoughts on transit, revitalization, and the interface between urban and rural interests. And a four-day community-planning workshop brought together a similar mix of experts and concerned citizens to share views and ideas around livability and accommodating growth south of the Fraser River.

The outreach continues in October, when the campus hosts a two-day conference on urban planning, with an international roster of speakers, focusing on the Fraser Valley.

"This is the most viable, and most urgent program we could engage in," McEndry says. "Land is scarce, water resources are finite, and farmland is dwindling. Dialogue is urgently needed, and we can help facilitate that discussion".

The hunger for and information and the opportunity to become involved is evident in the levels of participation in the events, according to McEndry. "It's the hottest program area for continuing studies", he says. "It's a chance for the knowledgeable and the curious to get together and figure out how we're going to build a truly sustainable community".

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