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November 2011: Urban shifting Suburban Surrey
by Carmela Cucuzzella, published 2011-11-12
Launched in November 2009, the Townshift ideas competition was the largest international ideas competition of its time. Five challenges were planned by this competition; all at different scales within the city of Surrey. With 138 competitors for the combined 5 competitions: (Fleetwood, Semiahmoo, Guildford, Newton, and Cloverdale) the city centers were infused with fresh and innovative ideas, from all over the world. The proposals came from 31 different countries and therefore represented a true international ideas competition.

Surrey, the 2nd most populated city in British Columbia is also soon becoming the largest city in this province with its own urban sprawl. It has sought a shift towards a future that is built along the lines of inclusion (public-minded population), boldness (identity), sustainability (walkability) and productive urban futures (vitality). In other words, to transform the suburban nature of the City of Surrey into a vibrant urban city.

The 5 different challenges ranged from public art installations (Fleetwood), to architectural projects both private and public (Semiahmoo and Guildford), to urban planning exercises (Newton and Cloverdale). The Fleetwood competition had the greatest freedom of proposition; to boldly name and locate the city center. For Semiahmoo, the challenge was to humanize high-rise residential housing through the introduction of a plaza. Guildford's focus was to energize its heart by creating a sense of place-making and a future less dominated by cars. Connecting new housing to existing public institutions, particularly the public transit, was the challenge for Newton. And finally, Cloverdale's main concern was to build affordable medium density housing. The common thread for each of the competitions was to shift the City of Surrey from a suburb into an animated and vibrant city. So the main concerns were to infuse energy, provide a sense of identity, densification, inter-connectivity into existing public institutions, walkability and citizen engagement.

Each competition was meant, through its own scale, intervention and intrinsic organization, to offer transformative changes to the city fabric, and to enrich and energize their respective contexts. Rather than tearing down to eventually build up large areas of each of the centers to infuse the vitality desired, these competitions chose to create a maximum effect through limited urban stimuli. The idea that profound urban transformations can occur through minimal intervention is based on the assumption that the urban fabric is interconnected and complex and that on the most part, repercussions can only be anticipated. What better way to anticipate the future of the city than to create it? This was the intent of this ideas competition.

This is why the selected interventions were seen as opportunities and potential for revitalization rather than marginal locations or objects of each of the city centers. The ideas were intended to address the global issues of each of the centers through varying scales of design intervention, in order to “shift” the suburban areas that discourage walkability, livability and sustainability into ones that do.

The jury had their work cut out for themselves in order to understand the issues of each of the town centers and how best these may be addressed. Whether the 5 winners were the safest or most politically correct entries, which has been said, whether any of the other ideas better touched the complex concerns of each of the centers or whether some ideas were just too ahead of their time for the jury, the judgment is now yours to make through this CCC update. We encourage you to peruse and enjoy some of the 138 entries, if not all.
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