NEIGHBOURHOODS: Guildford Town Centre is a community in transition

NEIGHBOURHOODS: Guildford Town Centre is a community in transition

From Panorama Ridge to Tynehead to East Clayton, Surrey has become home to practically dozens of cities within cities.

With more than half a million people living in Surrey, each of these communities has created its own identity.

With our  series we call "Neighbourhoods," we are coming to your area simply because we want to tell its story.

Recognizing that every one is unique, both in their character and in the challenges they face, our series will look at each area’s struggles and triumphs.

This ongoing feature will showcase Surrey’s dozens of neighbourhoods through stories, photos and video. Click on the map below to access them.

To share your neighbourhood’s story, email us at edit@thenownewspaper.com with the subject line "Neighbourhoods."

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SURREY — Vera LeFranc has lived a block away from the Guildford recreation centre and mall for nearly 10 years, and says she wouldn’t live anywhere else.

"For me, Guildford is just a great place to live. There’s such a mix of people," she said. "We have this wonderful sort of melting pot of cultures, which I love."

LeFranc is with the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society, and as such is part of the committee behind Surrey’s Poverty Reduction Plan.

She said Guildford Town Centre has a high number of low-income residents. Surrey’s poverty reduction coalition did a neighbourhood mapping based on 2011 Statistics Canada data and found that around 152nd Street and 104th Avenue, there are several pockets that have more than 1,500 low-income residents.

"This is one of the neighbourhoods that kind of falls below the radar," LeFranc said.

"It’s interesting to me, because in some ways it doesn’t really get the attention that, say, Whalley does. But kids here are often living in low-income."

In her own building, there are many low-wage earners who own their home, she said.

"That’s a wonderful part of Guildford’s story – that there are some affordable home ownership options. But along

with that comes people who are living paycheque to paycheque trying to make a go of it."

LeFranc says one of the things she loves most about the area is that she can do everything she needs to do within her community. Whether it’s exercising at the rec centre, running or cycling through Green Timbers, shopping or eating out, she has everything she needs nearby.

"Where I live, I have an 87 walking score. Everything I would want to have, I could walk and get, which I love."

Also within walking distance from her home is Holly Park, located at roughly 107th Avenue and 148th Street. The park has a community garden, in which LeFranc has a plot.

One man is growing a garden for Korean kimchi, LeFranc said, and one woman is growing just garlic.

"It really is a magnet for people. When you’re working in the garden, neighbours come over, kids, and it becomes this sort of cool conversation. And often new Canadians ask about what you’re planting and growing. It brings people together."

And being connected results in a safe neighbourhood, she said.

"There’s lots of activity. One of the reasons I bought here was my daughter was still living at home and it was just a really safe place."

LeFranc has seen the area becoming more dense, which she said results in more foot traffic, and thus safer streets.

"It’s becoming more urban…. When I get off the bus at night, there’s lots of activity, lots of people coming and going."

LeFranc said she is pleased with the recent Guildford Town Centre mall expansion.

The shopping centre completed phase two of its $280-million expansion last August, which included 75 new stores, making it the largest shopping centre south of the Fraser River. All in all, the additions created 750 full-and part-time jobs, making the mall one of Surrey’s biggest employers with approximately 4,000 employees.

The mall is now is attracting more customers, LeFranc said, which has resulted in stress on the local roads.

"Traffic has become a bit of an issue with the new mall, just the increase of people on the roads."

LeFranc is excited about the planned pool for Guildford rec centre, but does have concerns about the increase in traffic that it will bring.

An eight-lane, 50-metre competition pool is planned, complete with a waterslide, sauna and steam room. It will be used for recreation, as well as to host large competitive swimming events. It’s expected to be completed this fall.

"It is set up to become the heart of the community," she said of the rec centre.

When it comes to transit, LeFranc said area residents are quite fortunate to have gained a 96 B-Line bus along 104th Avenue.

"I work in Vancouver and I take transit almost everyday and I just find it really simple," she said. "It’s funny, I thought it wouldn’t make that big of a difference, but it really did."

She likened the service frequency to that of Vancouver’s, and said she is glad to hear Surrey council pushing for an LRT line along 104th Avenue.

On another transportation front, LeFranc said many in the area are not pleased with the Port Mann Bridge tolls.

"That toll has been a struggle. I see some of my working neighbours who have to drive into Vancouver who are finding it a real challenge to pay that toll…. Right now, some of them take the Pattullo (Bridge). When they toll that, what are the options for some of our low-income wage earners?… It should be fair. People all across the Metro Vancouver region should be paying into the tolls."

AN EASILY ACCESSIBLE AREA

Kathleen Davidson lived in Guildford from time she was five years old until she was 14.

"I was very happy growing up here. There was a great deal of green space and the complex I lived in was filled with kids…. During the summer we played in the woods, picked berries and went to the stream," she said.

While she never thought anything bad about her area growing up, she said in her teen years, she realized that some people in "Surrey and Guildford were thought to be poor and be slightly trashy."

But that didn’t deter her from moving back six years ago, and she chose the area because it was the only place she could afford to buy other than Abbotsford. And she still enjoys the area, as she did as a child.

"I like the quietness of the area we are in.

As well as how easily accessible it is to major transit thoroughfares. It is easy to get to," she said.

She also appreciates how easy it is to get to the rec centre, library and grocery stores.

Davidson echoed LeFranc’s concerns about increased traffic in the area as a result of the mall’s expansion.

"The demographic that the mall is aimed at is one that looks to access more wealth than many of the closely-surrounding neighbourhoods, which means that there is more traffic coming through…. I think the mall exemplifies the direction that the Surrey city council hopes to re-imagine Surrey in. I think it is nice to have more options in a Surrey mall, however I do wonder if the selection that is now there will make the mall more inaccessible to the surrounding community, with the exception of Walmart."

Davidson said it will be interesting to see how the mall expansion and the forthcoming Guildford rec centre upgrade will change the demographic of the area.

"I think this neighbourhood is in transition," Davidson said.

RESIDENTS ‘OWN THIS MALL’

Peggy Howard, general manager of Guildford Town Centre, said the mall has seen record numbers since completion of phase two of its expansion.

"We had our largest Boxing Day ever. We had in excess of 85,000 people in the building on Boxing Day. Our opening day was 65,000 people and before that the most we ever had here was 54,000," Howard said.

The mall is in the midst of demolishing most the shopping centre’s older section, north of 104th Avenue, which will be paved for parking. And on the south side of the mall, 25 new stores are coming later this year.

Howard said the expansion is pulling in customers from new areas. And she hopes the mall can continue to draw from other communities, mentioning the mall may look at paying customers’ Port Mann tolls to encourage them to shop at GTC.

Howard said the mall prides itself in being part of the community it’s been in for some 46 years. She said the area’s residents are key to the mall’s success.

"They own this mall."

areid@thenownewspaper.com

With files from Jacob Zinn