Adversity is exhausting our city

It’s one thing when you hear readers, politicians and pundits express frustration with the state of our city. But when it comes from the mouth of a seven-year-old, it’s really something else.

My son Noah spent two weeks over the Christmas holidays with his mom on Vancouver Island. I picked him up at the ferry terminal and it wasn’t long after we got into the Jeep that he was asking about what he had seen on the news coming from his hometown of Surrey.

“Dad, did you hear something about a hockey mom being killed in Surrey?” he asked.

“Yes, I did. We’ve been covering it at work. It’s very sad, isnt’ it?”I replied.

“Yeah,” Noah said before pausing for a moment.

“I’m sure glad we live in Cloverdale.”

Perplexed, I looked back at Noah in the rearview mirror.

“What do you mean? Cloverdale is a part of Surrey, so we actually do live in Surrey,” I said.

“I know, dad,” he said. “But Surrey is dangerous so I like saying I live in Cloverdale, not Surrey.”

I heard this exact sentiment countless times before – in fact, hearing something like this spurred one of my first columns at the Now about five years ago – but I had never heard it from a child, until now.

I did my best to use it as a teachable moment and talked to Noah about Surrey and crime in general and how bad things can happen anywhere, not just Surrey, but it really got me thinking about how deep our city’s problems truly go.

And since that conversation took place, things continue to go from bad to worse in Surrey.

More bodies found. More shootings. More sex assaults. More carjackings.

The time for kneejerk reactions, task forces, committees, political infighting and passing the buck is over.

Let’s admit to our real problems.

We have grown – and are growing – way too quickly. We can’t manage this growth because we don’t pay enough taxes to pay for things like a police force large enough to serve a city as big as Surrey. Other cities need higher tax rates just to make ends meet yet Surrey insists on clinging onto the tag of having the lowest residential taxes in the region.

Along with our police force, the city’s schools and services can’t keep up with the growth. (For that matter, neither can our roads – it shouldn’t take 45 minutes to get from Newton to Cloverdale but it often does.) At some point, we need to stop patting ourselves on the back for attracting 1,000 new people here a month and start realizing that therein lies our problem.

We can’t even manage the population we have now, so why are we actively encouraging more people to come here? Let’s get our affairs in order before seeking any more growth.

We need to move up our tax rate so Surrey can deal with this ridiculous population growth that is constantly adding strain to an infrastructure already stretched to the limits.

And in our city core, Surrey’s strategy of developat-all-costs seems to be failing. In this very space four years ago, we made this argument and I’ll make it again here today – fixing a community takes more than just building a bunch of new fancy buildings.

As the Now’s Michael Booth wrote in this space in April, Surrey officials are way too sensitive about cleaning up their perceived notion of how the rest of the Lower Mainland views us.

He wrote, “Bigger, better, first, best, highest this, lowest that – those stats are all well and good, but are they always entirely pragmatic when dealing with the issues that face a city that has been the fastest-growing community in the province for the better part of three decades?” And as Amy Reid reported in the Now’s Neighbourhoods series in December, Surrey’s strategy of revitalizing our city core is squeezing out services like the food bank and pushing the community’s challenges into neighbouring areas – like Newton.

And speaking of Newton, residents there may be showing us the key to leading Surrey out of the mire and into the future.

For me, the most telling part of the community meeting on Monday night was the fact that politicians weren’t invited. After years of talk and empty promises, Newton’s hearty residents are poised to take back their community themselves.

As Newton residents are showing us now, this is a great city and its residents show a lot of mettle when faced with adversity.

But we’re tired of adversity. It has become clear we need a new direction, one that focuses on sustainability, not growth.

The good news? This is an election year – a new direction may be just on the horizon.

And Noah may soon be proud to tell his friends on Vancouver Island that he lives in Surrey.

Beau Simpson is editor of the Now. He can be reached at bsimpson@thenownewspaper.com