British Columbia's Second City

February 16, 2012
Surrey, B.C., is redeveloping its way to becoming a major urban force in Canada.

Once rightfully thought of as a bedroom community of Vancouver, Surrey, in British Columbia, has steadily climbed its way into the world of cityness. It’s now the 12th largest city in Canada, and the second largest in B.C., but both of those rankings are likely to be short-lived. The city is expected to keep growing and is likely to overtake Vancouver as the province’s most populous city within the next 10 or 15 years, becoming one of the top ten in Canada. Considering the pace it's growing now, it could happen even sooner.

Surrey’s population grew by about 47,000 people between 2001 and 2006, and by more than 75,000 people between 2006 and 2011, according to the latest census figures. Now home to about 468,000 people, it’s still got a ways to go before it meets Vancouver’s current mark of 603,000. But at a regional scale, Surrey is growing at a much faster rate. Surrey’s population increase accounted for about 37 percent of the growth in the metro Vancouver region between 2006 and 2011. Vancouver city, by comparison, only contributed about 12 percent.

With nearly three times the land mass of Vancouver, it’s not especially surprising that Surrey would be able to see that much more growth, says Christina DeMarco, a regional planner at Metro Vancouver, the region’s association of governments.

"Surrey is the area that has the most developable land supply, both for residential and for industrial. A really important part of the industrial land supply in the region, something like 40 percent of the available land, is in Surrey," DeMarco says.

Much of the area's industrial land hasn’t yet been developed, but a lot of the city’s residential land has or will be shortly. Housing is fueling growth in the city. Recognizing its increasingly fast transition from suburb to big city, the leadership in Surrey has embarked on a major building effort to create a jobs- and housing-rich downtown in a place that for so long didn’t really have a center.

“We’re building a city from the ground up,” Mayor Dianne Watts told a crowd at the recent Vancouver Cities Summit. “We have opportunities that a city that is doing infill redevelopment doesn’t have.”