A Commentary on Surrey’s Sustainability Charter

By, Alisa P. Ramakrishnan, PhD


Dear Anna Mathewson,

Surrey’s new Sustainability Charter is up for comment, and I’d like to comment on the Natural Areas, Biodiversity and Urban Forest section.

The charter says that “Surrey actively protects, enhances and restores its natural environment and habitats” yet they’ve cut almost 2000 hectares of trees, much of that in forests, in the last 15 years. That’s 2000 full-size soccer fields worth of trees. To replace that, Surrey touts their planting of 75,000 street trees…tiny little stick trees, and up to 1/3 of those will die. They will never recover the lost habitat, air quality control and water cleaning power of the now clearcut forests that used to grace so much of Grandview Heights. When I spoke with one of the city staff a couple years ago, they said that new trees will eventually take the place of the trees cut. Since forests are clearcut for new residential developments that are mostly impermeable surfaces such as roofs and driveways, there is no room for new trees to grow. New developments have less than 3% tree canopy. If you drive around any of the spots in the city that have been razed for townhouses and other developments in the past five years, you’ll see how little green space is left.

City staff also lament the lack of green space and loss of forests to new developments, but they say that the city doesn’t have enough money to buy land for parks. A parent came up to me a few weeks ago at our elementary school and asked me where my children play, because her children didn’t have any place to go. I told her we live in a townhouse complex that was one of the first in our area, so it actually has a playground. None of the new complexes have playgrounds, and even single family home complexes have hardly any green space.

Because developers get more money for maximizing square footage, and because the city doesn’t seem to regulate the size of houses, new single family lots have almost no yards to mitigate heat island effects, clean runoff water, or provide habitat for animals. How is this sustainable?

The Sustainability Charter also touts Surrey’s dedication to “its rich biodiversity, such as fish bearing streams, marine habitat and natural areas.” Apparently, Surrey “has a clean and adequate supply of groundwater.” Why then would they support a proposal to build huge industrial areas right on some of the last and most productive fish-bearing streams in the lower mainland? The Campbell Heights North Business Park is notorious for having destroyed hectares of habitat and for being developed in a most irresponsible manner. Now another large industrial complex is planned for the Little Campbell River, converting 75 acres of formerly productive agricultural land, forest, and stream habitat into a truck parking and maintenance facility. How is this sustainable? Especially since hundreds of Surrey and Langley residents get water from a shallow aquifer that is recharged just at the spot chosen for a massive truck facility.

If air quality in Surrey “meets and exceeds established standards,” it’s only because the pollution produced by Surrey’s residents gets blown over to the mountains. As 1000 new residents every month move into Surrey and start commuting up to Vancouver, car pollution will only get worse, especially with no trees to clean it.

I applaud Surrey’s great example of setting high goals and marketing their green reputation. Now they just need to do what they say.