Category Archives: urbanization

Students struggling to learn in roasting-hot portables

I just dropped off a fan and spray bottle for my daughter in her classroom at Sunnyside Elementary. The seven portable units have heat in winter, but no water, no washrooms, and no A/C in spring/summer. Parents and teachers often supply basic shelving and storage space for educational materials. There will probably be two more portables at Sunnyside next year. My children still love going to school, which is a testament to the hard work and dedication by the many teachers and staff at Sunnyside.

I sent a thermometer to school today so I could have a number for how hot it gets in there. The sun beats down on the metal roofs and the fans brought by teachers and students hardly move air around at all. There’s no shade to cool the units, so when the sun hits, they heat up quickly. For students who struggle with hydration, it’s dangerous for them to be in school for the afternoon.

At least one teacher is trying to find $400 for a portable cooling unit for the classroom. They’ll probably end up bringing the cooling unit from their house to use at school during the week.

This new school building opened in 2014, built for 400 students, now with over 600 students, with more projected to come next year. The gravel field is the main play space, and it would be great if it were replaced with grass. Bandaids are a hot commodity.

From google maps, edited to include the 7 portables.

I like the teachers and staff here, and my children have done well at Sunnyside. The band program found shared space with French classes in one of the portables, which at least allowed the award-winning jazz and concert bands to continue. The band program includes many students from other schools in the area, so it’s crucial for them to have space to practice in, and this one portable is the only space available. There is a very active PAC at Sunnyside, and many parents work hard to help the school run smoothly, with great learning activities for the children. Despite the less-than-ideal physical environment, in the end, it’s the people that make a school, and Sunnyside has a wonderful team of educators, staff, and parents all working together to support the students.

Now if we can just get some air conditioning.


South Surrey stands to lose what it loves during urbanization

The last performance of Sunnyside Elementary School’s award-winning jazz and concert band program is next Thursday, June 22, 6pm at the school. There’s no more room at the school for drums, pianos, marimbas, and musical instruments you can’t put in your pocket. South Surrey is running out of room all over.


A corner lot by Sunnyside Elementary was finally bulldozed. In a day or two it was transformed from the left picture to the right picture. The lot will become three new big houses with tiny yards. The tree there, a big maple, I think, was well-loved for 50 years, at a guess. It had a tire swing and lovely climbing branches. I’m sure children sat there on summer days, but the inevitable forces of economics were unable to save it for future children.



It’s ironic that at the same time this lot was being bulldozed, the Sunnyside Elementary school’s music program was undergoing the same transformation. img_2147.jpg

For over 20 years, students passionate about music could find a mentor at Sunnyside Elementary. Next year, unless we get even more parent advocacy, this practice room will become a classroom, and their music teacher will be teaching at 7-9 other schools, normalized by the pressures of urbanization.


It’s hard to take pictures of a band program facing the bulldozers. How do I take a picture of something that’s not there? How do I document the absence of a school at the Kiwanis music festival for the first time in over a decade? How do I show what will be lost without demeaning the efforts of future band programs? The Surrey school district will ensure that Sunnyside grade 7 students can take band if they want, two days a week (100 minutes, if I remember right). That’s a far cry from the grade 5 through grade 8 students you usually find in the music room before school, during lunch and recess, during the first hour of classes, and after school.

Once the houses are built on that corner lot, more people will move in and they’ll be happy they could find a place to live. They won’t know about the tree swing, or the climbing branches that used to be there. But hopefully their children will have the choice to attend an award-winning band, practicing music with other students and a passionate teacher!

If you happen to be someone who appreciates music and the efforts of students and teachers who have supported Sunnyside’s program in the past, please write the administration (emails below)! We need to preserve this unique music program from demolishment, not just this year, but for decades to come.,,,,,,,,,,,

Lack of resources for children near new South Surrey elementary school

The snazzy-looking Sunnyside Elementary school building was built at a cost of $14.9 million, to hold up to 450 students.

Sunnyside Elementary School
Front view of Sunnyside in June 2014 before massive area development

Only two years later it is seriously overcrowded, with over 600 students expected this September. In order to make space for those students, 6-10 portables are being sandwiched in on the small grounds (with one small playground, by the way). The highly-lauded music program there is constantly under threat, salvaged only by the diligent efforts of passionate parents, an astounding music teacher, and students who practice every free moment. Other schools in the area face similar challenges.

Rumour has it that the music program may be moved out to a portable this year. Next month we’ll see whether or not that’s true. The portables contrast starkly with the modern architectural design of the original building.

They have no air conditioning or heat. One of my twitter followers said that was absurd, so I confirmed it with a student who was in the that class. She said the only electricity they had was lights and a broken phone. They wore jackets in winter to keep warm, and boiled when it was hot. It was really crowded, too.

Developers don’t get any money for the portables, I guess, because public buildings are astonishingly fancy.

Inside of the new Surrey City Hall, cost over $90 million

Developers insist there aren’t enough houses, and they’re right. People are thrilled that they can buy a townhouse here for under $800,000.


What they’re not thrilled about is how little the city of Surrey has prepared for the children they bring with them. The Sunnyside Parents Facebook Group has a couple posts from parents worried about finding before and after-school care for their children. The latest one said all the childcare spaces near the school are full. I hope she finds something before September!


Several parents I’ve talked to have read the news (thank you, local newspapers like Peace Arch News and Surrey Now), and they decided to enroll their children in Catholic schools or other private schools instead of Sunnyside. But for the parents who didn’t research the issues around Surrey’s massive urbanization efforts, several unpleasant surprises may await as they get ready for the upcoming school year.

On the positive side, I can say for certain that parents already at the school, and the ever-helpful staff and teachers, will do all they can to help new families feel welcome, and to get the help and information they need.

Meanwhile, please keep writing letters to the provincial and city governments about the problems faced by families moving into these newly-densified areas.

Overheated and underplanned overdevelopment

When development is allowed to continue solely because of immediate economic benefit, I can tell you what happens, because we see it every day. Without restrictions, checks and balances, and rules to guide economic growth, infrastructure can’t keep up.

I’ve been reading a lot about overcrowded schools in Surrey and Langley. My school will have six new kindergarten classes next year but it’s already past capacity, two years after it was built. Next month we’ll probably hear about the healthcare system again, and after that it’ll be another spate of shootings in Newton. Traffic is getting worse and worse, too.

East Clayton
2001 to 2015 in East Clayton (from Google Earth historical imagery)
time series of clayton
More Clayton images: 1998, 2005, 2012

As they sandwich houses into Clayton way beyond the capacity of schools, while hospitals are still overcrowded and congestion is awful (lack of public transit), they look to the future and set their sites on the next obvious target, Grandview Heights in South Surrey.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 8.00.04 AM.png

Grandview Heights has historically been one of the most treed, greenest areas of Surrey. Many residents, including GrowingUpGrandview and members of the Grandview Heights Stewardship Association have been astonished at the inability of Surrey to leave forests intact and increase density around forests instead of clearcutting everything.

Morgan Heights
Morgan Heights densification in progress

We’ve seen that when immediate economic benefit takes top precedence, public services rapidly become inadequate to support residents. Surrey school trustees pleaded with City Council to mitigate development and allow funds to grow enough to meet residents’ needs. The mayor’s reply means that the “robust economy” is more important than helping people be educated, healthy, and safe.

All this is really a reflection of what’s happening to the ecology itself. Animals, birds, and butterflies (and other beneficial insects) are forced out of their homes as urban hubs and corridors are replaced by high-density housing. Water quality plummets as road runoff increases exponentially without mitigation measures in place. Pollution levels rise as cars pack overcrowded roads, and air quality suffers. What happens to the earth reflects what is happening to the people who live on it.

The city says it can’t afford to put mitigation measures in place. Higher density means more money, which it desperately needs, at the expense of leaving forests and parks for human and plant/animal residents. By the time they’re done with Grandview Heights, it will be completely unrecognizable.

Can’t we build high density developments and surround them with parks and forests within walking distance? Every half-kilometer should have a significant public park, so people can exercise and kids can play. Healthy residents means less burden on the health system, so the city saves money. Long-term benefits of city planning for the people means a city is liveable, economically strong, and desirable.

And with more parks, there will be more room for native plants, animals, birds, and insects, while the enormous amounts of rainfall we see here in this temperate rainforest will be filtered better, to keep salmon-bearing streams clean and productive.

But that’s not a priority in the Vancouver-area. Take a look at this graph I just found from 2004:

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Dirtying the Air in Surrey BC

As I’ve watched thousands of townhouses bloom in my area of South Surrey (Grandview Heights), I wonder how our air pollution is doing.

View from Blackie Spit last week

How much of that brown haze am I breathing? 1000 people are moving into Surrey every month, and Surrey BC is cutting an average of 8,500 trees per year. Mature trees are one of the major air cleaners for cities. Mississauga has some excellent canopy data, and I combined data from that with data from Surrey’s tree canopy report to figure out what’s happening to our air.

With a population increase of 1000/mo, I estimate 300 new cars/month. The EPA says the average pollution from one passenger car is 4.7 tonnes/yr. That’s 16,920 more tonnes of air pollution from cars every year in Surrey, BC.

Surrey went from 10,441 ha of tree canopy in 2001 to 8,542 ha in 2013, which means the trees went from cleaning 846 tonnes of air pollution to 692 tonnes of air pollution each year. That’s 154 tonnes less air pollution cleaned every year.

The health impacts of air pollution are huge. Surrey BC may think they’re getting money in their pockets by letting developers build houses with ridiculously small amounts of tree canopy (2.6% tree canopy in new residential developments compared to 24% in 2009), but the long-term cost isn’t worth it.

Motor vehicle-related air pollution is believed to be responsible for between 900 and 4,500 cases of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and bronchitis each year in Australia, and between 900 and 2,000 early deaths.27

Surrey BC government is systematically removing the lungs and air filters from our city. What a sad thing to do.

Keep nature away from me

I keep wondering why our cities are built the way they are.


Let’s talk about water. This newly-developed neighborhood is common here in South Surrey. Lots and roofs are sloped to channel water away from foundations. Roads and driveways are sloped to channel water into gutters where it is whisked away to, um, somewhere else. The grass we plant for greenery doesn’t absorb much water either, spitting it out into the gutters too. There are some trees planted because, after all, people like trees. As for backyards and gardens, new developments don’t need those because people don’t have time to take care of them.

Basically what we’re building are neighborhoods that push everything away. We build houses that regulate temperature so we don’t need shade. Our houses have running water that comes from reservoirs high in the mountains, so we don’t have to worry about the quality of water in the streams that used to run here. We don’t have gardens because we buy our food from South America or the US, unless we’re feeling environmental – then we buy local and feel proud of ourselves for doing something good. We don’t worry about air quality because the ocean breeze whisks away our air pollution to somewhere else.

There are people who look around and wonder if there’s a better way, but they’re called “environmentalists.” As if they’re different or weird.

I’d love to see developments that take into account the needs of the land and of the people who live there. Clean air, clean water, clean food, shelter, and space to socialize and exercise. That means using and embracing the world around us instead of pushing it away.

We could look at the water that runs off our roofs and down our roads and find ways to clean it using swales and planters instead of dumping it “somewhere else”. We could plant useful plants along the roads — plants that need little care but that clean our air, clean our water, and give food to birds and butterflies. We could increase permeable surfaces so the water can go where it has gone for hundreds of thousands of years — into the ground.

By cementing over thousands of hectares of rainforest, we’re the equivalent of a massive volcano. Everything that used to be here is destroyed. There’s little food for the animals that have lived here for so long, and habitat for rare and amazing plants is gone. If we think that humans won’t be affected by that, well, maybe we’re right and maybe we’re wrong.

I can’t help but think there’s a better way. Unless we think that humans really do only want big houses to sit in and watch TV. But if clean air and water and food and natural spaces aren’t important, why do people post beautiful pictures of nature and clear streams? Why do they pay hundreds more for “natural” food? Why are our developments so often named after the natural areas they supplanted? I think humans need a lot more than big houses to sit in. But someone has to pay for it, and I guess for developments in the 21st century, the simplest things are the ones that are the hardest to pay for.

Guest Post: Growing up in Grandview Heights, by

I met this wonderful woman while our kids were at ice skating lessons together. She agreed to write a blog post for me! She grew up in South Surrey, Grandview Heights in particular, and has a very important viewpoint to share. Read on! (The original is at her new blog)


The high rises that are modelled on the City of Surrey’s logo are not the high rises I grew up with or would ever care to grow up with, even today.

For me, the Douglas Fir trees towering on the horizon along 24th Ave, as I navigate my way South on 176th street, are the high rises of my childhood. I can remember driving back from the Okanagan and seeing that tall, welcoming passage of evergreens looming in the distance, a symbol of the “homestretch”.

These iconic trees, are the “WELCOME HOME” banner painted across the skyline, the roots of a healthy, happy community and the grandeur that I believe still exists within Grandview Heights despite the urbanization that is consuming vast hectares of its rural properties.

 My old stomping grounds, the green dots representing previous homes my family owned including the property at the corner of 176th street and 24th Ave that my father still owns. The blue dot is the elementary school I attended. 

Nestled within South Surrey, Grandview Heights has a rich history,  and the Douglas fir trees along with the mighty Redwoods are a huge part of it.  The trees provide our natural ecosystem with so much stability, diversity, and strength, and attracted to the area , it’s very first settlers. Logging, incidentally, really helped pave the way for our great city.

Grandview Heights was originally a logging region. The Royal City Planing Mills established an operation east of Elgin near the Nicomekl River to log the areas south of Kensington Prairie. In
1886, a logging railway was built east through Grandview Heights. At the west of the line, logs were dumped into a ditch and floated into the Nicomekl River.

Grandview Heights has always been sparsely populated. A 1910 map shows the Royal City Planing Mills and the Government owning about half the land in the area.The subsequent development was small lot agricultural. The area was opened up through the construction of the Pacific Highway, which opened on August 3, 1923 and connected to the border crossing at Douglas. A number of very modest buildings were constructed throughout the area during 1920s and 1930s. After the end of the Second World War, further subdivision occurred for the development of large estate lots.

The settlement of Grandview Heights began with David Brown, who arrived in Surrey in 1878 and took up residence at the corner of the Clover Valley and North Bluff Roads (176th and 16th).  Brown’s sons Peter and David were avid tree collectors and donated the land for what is now Redwood Park.

There’s a little bit of history preserved within the forest of Redwood Park and I remember going on many class field trips there when I attended school at Grandview Heights Elementary.

Grandview Heights was named at the time the school was being built. As Alex McBeth, was helping to shingle the roof he could see Semiahmoo Bay, Blaine and all the country side around. He said, “What a grand view!”, and someone suggested that as the name of the school Grandview Heights.

One teacher at GHE, in particular, was able to really mentor his students, myself included, to be more mindful of the environment. His name is Mr Lynn Pollard and I believe he is still mentoring children today with the Young Naturalists’ Club of BC.

Growing up with the trees, and in my little naive, unsuspecting rural bubble, I never dreamed that these stomping grounds would one day be paved into someone else’s urban residence.

Many homeowners within this community have already experienced the devastating effects of the urbanization of this once rural area. They’ve witnessed trees ripped from their horizon and felt first hand how developers and big box companies can swoop in and hook their talons into some of the prime real estate surrounding us.

The same real estate that has been shared for the past many years with the majestic eagles, gliding overhead, who take up residence high atop the trees they depend on, to nest. (More on the South Surrey Eagles…not the Hockey team!)

The same real estate my children’s great granddad had built a beautiful brick home on, by the sweat of his brow. The home that would later be knocked down and bulldozed to make way for a 97 unit townhouse complex where his daughter-in-law now lives. Units so close together, it seems the only way to maintain ones sense of privacy is to draw the blinds tightly closed so as not to peer into a neighbours bedroom while drinking coffee at your kitchen table in the morning. Where the echoes of your neighbours voices can be heard as though you were sitting right next to them. Sheepishly avoiding eye contact as you head out for the day, knowing so much about them, while not knowing them at all. And perhaps our sense of pride in our community lessens as the neighbourhood morale wanes.

With real estate prices soaring within an aging community looking to retire, coupled with a demand for affordable housing by younger families just wanting to get their foot in the door of this serene-yet-trendy living, we are seeing large parcels of land getting bought up and more & more development proposal signs littering the landscape. And in keeping up with our metropolitan neighbours, we’ve committed ourselves to the metaphorical knife of cosmetic surgery, in our slogan “the future lives here”.  The Grandview Cornersshopping district and the numerous high density “cluster-type” townhome complexes, have left the area forever altered and almost unrecognizable.

Before development

After development

Grandview’s face lift will no doubt be met with some resistance as it leaves scars fromcanopy loss that may take years, even decades, to recover from.

These gentle giants should be given much more consideration amongst the development that has taken place in our cherished little community.

While I grieve for the loss of the many trees that once stood tall and proud in this area, I’d be remisced not to mention that I conveniently work in the Grandview Corners area, a mere 5 minute commute from home. And of course I fully intend to take advantage of the new aquatic center with my kids when it’s complete.

That being said, I would like to see the Ciy of Surrey live up to it’s promise to keep Surrey green (and not with greed or envy) and preserve wherever possible these beautiful giants in our ever-changing architecture.

Only slightly further east of this rapid development taking place is where I lived in my 2nd & 3rd childhood homes. And while they no longer remain in my families possession, I still feel the roots of those old growth trees surrounding the land and feel the nostalgia when I drive along 24th Avenue and past 174th Street, peering down the lane at the homes on one acre parcels that will hopefully remain as such.

And I wonder …Are we still the city of parks? Or are we focussing now on a new slogan which involves building up high rises and high density urban style living? The alteration of Surrey’s Logo from a fuzzy, tree_chewing beaver to the metropolitan design of the future has me questioning

With Arbor Day just around the corner, I would like to see what the city has to offer in terms of replanting trees in neighbourhoods that have experienced significant canopy loss(to see Arbor Day activities  in Surrey click here).  Maybe we can provide Grandview with some much needed “re-leaf“  planting, nurturing, and preserving trees growing up in Grandview so that my kids can also enjoy growing  up in Grandview.

I want to thank the Grandview Heights Stewardship Association as well as Alisa Ramakrishnan for inspiring and encouraging people like me to be more involved and not take a back seat with regards to the developments taking place all around us. Change is happening and can still happen. I’ve heard comments about tree loss from others saying “It’s a bit late now, isn’t it?” and others who see what’s happening and think it’s appalling, however don’t feel as though they have a voice to be heard. Look around! We still have so much to preserve and to develop. This place has all the potential of being a perfect paradise to retire or raise a family in and we need to ensure we have done all we can to accommodate the future that will inevitably live here, while maintaining the happy, healthy tree canopy that we love so much.