How to Change the World in 10 easy Steps – Flamingo Square takes to the streets in Whalley

June 11, 2017

The first myth of world-change is that it is something that government is in charge of or that you have to have money or be an important business person or you have to be a person of power in order to do anything meaningful.  The truth is the world-changers are people like you and me who see a need and put the pieces together to create a movement.  That movement gains momentum and the world changes before our eyes.  This is an easy guide to the steps in world change as see through a project currently underway in Surrey, B.C.


Step 1 – Identify a Need

Passion for change usually comes through pain. You either personally experience a situation or you witness something that you deeply believe is wrong. “Someone needs to do something to change this.” You wrestle with the problem in the middle of the night. You look at what is being done and how you can assist that effort but you realize that you are coming at the problem from a unique perspective and that partnering together with those already working on it while bringing your unique talents to the issue, together you just might be able to change the situation. It begins from a position of helplessness but that deep burning passion is born as you find others of like mind and you begin to lay out possibilities.

The first step is to clearly define the problem you are trying to solve so you can stay focused. Problems tend to attach themselves to other problems and if you try to solve them all, it can become overwhelming.

In my work in the community in Surrey, I was able to identify two problems that kept me up at night and as the universe is known to do, she connected me with like-minded people the solutions to both merged into an amazing opportunity.  But first I had to clearly identify the problems I was tackling.

Problem #1

Artists in Surrey are looking for space in which to build, create and sell their art. Our city has no easily identifiable Arts Hub. Surrey has no large designated tourist attraction (yet). We have many beautiful parks, public art, a professional theatre company and a strong arts community, we don’t have a specific area of the city dedicated to art and culture. Where is our Granville Island? Where is our theatre district? Where is our Commercial Drive?   City of Surrey Arts and Culture 10 year strategic plan

Problem #2

One area of Whalley has been struggling for many years. The residents and business owners are frustrated and feel that their needs are being ignored. Watching the south side of 104th on King George Highway, they see prosperity and success while on the north side, they struggle to keep their businesses afloat and their streets safe. They love their community and are committed to enriching their space but they need partnership and a plan.  Residents of Whalley have a fierce pride in their area and the history it holds. They are a bonded, creative, resilient, determined community and ready to step up to see the area be given the credit and respect it deserves.  Service Agencies in the struggling part of Whalley are attempting to deal with opioid crisis, lack of funding and lack of housing. They need a strong community, partnering with government to offer with solutions and support in order to help those most in need of assistance.


Photo courtesy of BC Homeless


Step 2 – Do your Research and come up with possible Solutions

It is easy to complain. It is easy to blame others. It is easy to say, “Why doesn’t somebody do something about that.”

It is more difficult to step up and say “I will be that somebody.”

Being solution-driven instead of complaints-driven is an important core value distinction. Success and motivating others to join you in world change can’t centre only on the negative need for change. It has to show a positive solution-based future outcome and a clear road map.

In an attempt to be solution-driven, I researched other cities around the world that struggled with these same sets of problems. I was able to identify solutions that had proven traction in cities such as Detroit and Chicago. Using Detroit as the model, I created an Arts and Culture Revitalization plan for the struggling area of Whalley.

Detroit city had a serious economic downturn with the loss of the auto manufacturing industry in the 1950 and 60’s. The Detroit riots in 1967 caused business to leave for safer areas outside of the city and the population plummeted. Over the next years, the city took over one abandoned building after another until it had 50,000 empty buildings in its possession.

The arts community in Detroit asked the city for permission to use those abandoned buildings and they began doing art projects in these deserted and unsafe areas. This attracted people wanting to see what was going on which attracted more artists, which then led to more and more streets being taken over by artists.

This created a revitalization of this area of Detroit, which is now a tourist destination and a strong arts community. Wherever there are people gathering, there is room for business to grow and small businesses began to come back to the core of the city.

Vogue quoted one artist, after the revitalization of the area had taken place as saying:

“Detroit is constantly amazing me,” gushes a young artist in a 2012 documentary. He’s cleaning his kitchen appliances because, as he explains, he’s never owned anything so nice before. “I feel like it’s redefining for me the value of what things are,” he says. “$25,000 for an amazing loft? That just makes it accessible for people like me. I was never able to afford a home as an artist.” He adds: “We can experiment here, because if we fail we haven’t really fallen anywhere.”


Detroit Arts District



This model will work in the Whalley Historical District.

We have artists looking for space, and Whalley has space. We have businesses looking for more walking traffic and art creates walking traffic. We have a community in Surrey that is big-hearted, compassionate and economically minded. They will support revitalization of an area that contributes to the provincial and international communities idea that all of Surrey is unsafe and undesirable.

This one struggling area of Whalley over shadows the fact that this same community is full of successful, proud, independent and resilient residents and businesses. The difficulties on the infamous “strip” make the front page of the newspapers while the fact that Whalley has a world-famous little league baseball team located in the centre of this historical district is hardly known. This area has beautiful parks, beautiful views and beautiful people and it is time that it became famous for it’s rich history and vibrant community spirit. It is time for a re-branding of Whalley. How about – Whalley Historical District – Arts and Culture Hub.



Whalley Little League


Step 4 – Find Strong Partners

All world change involves groups of people, organizations with vision and sponsors who see potential in working together. Identify your own strengths, identify your areas of need and then be bold in your request for assistance. Go straight to the top and ask directly for exactly what you want. If they say ‘no’ – go to the next one and keep going until you get a ‘yes’. Strong partnerships are the key.

The Arts and Culture hub plan was originally created for another area of the city but when I met Charan Sethi of Tien Sher and he shared his vision for a pedestrian-only street in the middle his new Whalley District development, the penny dropped. His vision of community and the arts communities vision of an arts hub were a perfect fit and the conversation around how this could work began to take solid shape.



Tien Sher Concept Drawing of Flamingo Square

Whalley met the criteria for urban revitalization and it met the criteria for artists needs for inexpensive studio and display space.  Creating an arts market would give artists an ability to sell and display their work and create a historical themed tourist centre in the heart of Whalley. The developer’s vision of creating a strong, inclusive, creative community worked well with artistic initiative to draw people into the area.

A partnership between the two was so advantageous for both that the decision was made to pursue this. Flamingo Square was the name chosen as a tribute to the history of the area where the Flamingo Hotel currently sits and the future home of the arts and culture hub of Surrey.


Photo – Darpan Magazine


This pedestrian-only street dedicated to the arts district for the support and display of all manners of art including sculpture, music, martial arts, dance, and theatre is preparing to go before council on June the 26th. As this will be the first pedestrian-only street in this area of the city, this partnership is trying to break new ground. It is important that the community show up to this council meeting to show their support for this idea. Mayor and council have restrictions around traffic and parking and it is their job to run the city efficiently for everybody, not just special interest groups but when a large portion of the community stands united and asks for the opportunity to create a unique community space, those in power are compelled to listen because it is also their job to create the city that the community and voters want. Innovation is our middle name in this city after all.



This will be a welcoming, unique, inclusive, safe space for residents to connect with their neighbours and for tourists to enjoy. Partnering with arts groups, service agencies, multicultural and education organizations, Flamingo Square will offer a different flavor every weekend. There will be entertainment, education and opportunities for people to connect with one another. This idea can become a reality with community support.



Please consider being part of this movement and join the team at the city council meeting on June 26th. (meeting date unconfirmed at the time of publication). Sign the petition and follow the Flamingo Square initiative on Facebook, Twitter and by email at


Step 5 – Identify and Remove Barriers

Every good idea benefits some but could harm others. Respecting the people who will be affected by your big ideas is crucial to success. Listen to their concerns, walk a mile in their shoes, have compassion for their story and respect their space. It is important that we don’t march in from the outside and try to “fix” something that may in fact not be broken. Large innovative initiatives involve partnerships and everybody’s perspective and requirements needs to be brought to the table.

I called on people who I knew had the same passions that I had and we formed a team. The Flamingo Square team began to meet with stakeholders, the City of Surrey staff, the business owners, the artists and the residents in the area to help them develop the details of their plan to see what kind of support they could expect to receive.

Flamingo Square together with Tien Sher hosted a Town hall meeting on a warm sunny Monday night. They invited anyone who was impacted or interested in this idea of arts revitalization to join them for an informational session. Participants were given the opportunity to express their ideas and concerns.

“I was told that if I could bring 40 people out to a meeting like this, we would be doing really well. Although I would rather have 10 people that are committed than 100 looky loo’s, I really felt that we needed to know that we have strong community support if I was going to put as many hours into this as it would require. I needed to know that people in the area really wanted this and that they would stand with me when the time came. 40 people wasn’t enough in my estimation.

The day dawned bright and warm. A perfect night to stay home, to BBQ and hang out in the sun. I had prayed for rain but… I set up 100 chairs and I had faith that the community would care enough to sit in a hot hall for a couple of hours and hear us out but I admit that I was scared. I believed in this vision with all my heart but did anybody else?”

At 6:30 people began to trickle in. They quickly passed the 100 mark. They set up more chairs. They ran out of chairs. They passed the 200 mark.



239 people showed up. Some people were curious about what we had in mind. Some were business owners who have had enough of trying to do business in a hostile space. Some were residents who have a fierce and well-deserved pride in their community and were tired of being held hostage by a few people who disrespect their right to live in safety and piece. Many were seniors who had lived, worked and raised families in the area. Some were people who loved the idea of supporting a community in need. Some were artists who want a designated area to work out of. Some were from city staff that wanted to see what we had up our sleeves. A few were educators who want to be part of this type of movement. Some were service providers who want to protect their marginalized people from being pushed further outside the public awareness bubble. Most were people who deeply care about the area and want to find creative, supportive solutions both to the human condition that occurs there and to the potential this area holds.



We were all so pleased to see how many people were willing to take time from their day to show up and lend their hand and voice to the Whalley District project under Tien Sher and the Flamingo Square Arts Connection revitalization initiative.



Step 6 – Create a Solid Strategic Plan

The Flamingo Square team consisted of myself, Shara Nixon,  a community activist from B.O.S.S. Networks and Jude Campbell, a KPU arts student, an artist and community activist in partnership with Charan Sethi of Tien Sher and Cathrine Levan of Kickstart Communications.

The Whalley District project will be located where the Flamingo Hotel currently sits at King George Blvd and 107th Street. Tien Sher and a team led by Cathrine Levan promoted their development and the pedestrian walkway through the community, the city and their business connections. The Whalley District team concentrated on dealing with the planning department of the city to get the permits required and to organize a time to meet with Mayor Linda Hepner and council.



The Flamingo Square team promoted the art’s hub and the pedestrian-only walkway artist centre through their connections with businesses, city and artists. This team wrote a strategic plan, budget and business outline with measurable targets and timelines.

Through meetings with potential partners, stakeholders and those affected by this initiative, both teams were able to piece together the best way to meet the needs of the community, not disturb the care of those in need and still meet the objective of both the arts community and the developer.

The developer donated the use of office space and Flamingo Square took the keys to their new office and gallery space on June 7, 2017.



Step 7 – Identify the Target and Stay Focused.

Knowing your objectives and staying focused on those objectives is important in terms of moving forward. Identifying what it is that you hope to accomplish and remaining true to your goal through distractions and hijacks and the push and pull of other’s expectations is the key to separating what is important from what is just noise.

In the days that followed the Town hall meeting, the phone did not stop ringing, the emails did not stop coming in. Everyone was excited to support this and all had ideas of ways they could contribute. Each had their own idea of how it should be done and what needed to be accomplished first.

Both teams worked hard to connect with everyone that responded in order to get their commitment solidified into future action.

In an effort to determine what the wider community needed, the research showed that people are disconnected in their communities and that disconnect leads to depression and loneliness. The use of online  and social media to attempt to find a life partner or people of similar interests has had a serious backlash of negative influences, fake news and distorted thinking. This has built an environment of distrust and isolation.

Flamingo Square has an idea that stranger doesn’t need to be a threatening word. The team believes that there are more things that bind us together than tear us apart. They have begun to put together ways to introduce strangers in a safe and welcoming environment in the hopes that this can create strong, relationship-built communities, not only in the Whalley area but within the context of the entire city. It is part of this initiatives mandate to find ways for inter-generational conversations, ways for singles to meet, ways for cultural divides to be crossed and places for conversations to be had face-to-face.


To build personal relationships you have to give people the time, space and opportunity to meet and really get to know each other in ways that festivals and other public meetings can’t always provide.



Flamingo Square will have a connection component to all their events and one of the first pieces will be The Kitchen Table. This is literally a kitchen table. Anyone that sits at that table is inviting a conversation with anyone else that comes to sit at the kitchen table. Everyone is welcome to join the table and the discussion. This will be a great way to meet people and hear about life experiences other than your own. Come and sit with me at the kitchen table and let’s solve all the world’s problems. Let’s connect across age and culture boundaries.




Step 8 – Keep Up Momentum

Everyone is always excited about an idea in the beginning but when the real work starts, everyone starts looking at their shoes.  It is important to have a plan in place that people, when excited, can commit to something tangible.  Break large tasks into smaller tasks so everyone has something important to do.

As the actual building of the pedestrian-only arts-based street will take two and half years to go from the planning stages to the final grand opening, it was important to keep up the momentum over this long period by providing small glimpses into what is to come. The Flamingo Team will be working with artists on four major street art projects designed to be permanent installations in the area as well as 12 major art events to take place during the construction phase. These events are still in the planning stage and have yet to go before the city for approval but watch for more information or ways you can get involved.

The Flamingo Square team is working with The Whalley District team to develop relationships with the business in the area to assist them in applying for neighbourhood beautification grants and other sources of funding and sponsorship to create a welcoming business community. Partnering with local gardening companies, designers, paint stores, security companies, artists and business people, the businesses in the area, we can create a unique space to attract customers.

Marketing the area using a communication plan created by Cathrine Levan of Kickstart Communications will help the business community come together and support each other as well as draw consumers back into the area. Working together, the area can create an economic impact.


Step 9 – Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help.

Most people are willing to help but unable to take dedicate large amounts of time or money. Break your project down into bite-sized pieces and find others to share the load. All a successful plan really needs is a good strong leader, a solid plan, a willing group of core people and a community that will step up when it is asked.

The Flamingo Square project is a community effort and will require all sectors and areas of Surrey to support this initiative. Being willing to boldly ask for sponsorship, in-kind donations, attendance at events and assistance from the leaders in the community is the only way large projects like this can work.

Every area of Surrey that has done anything amazing started with someone and their vision and then their team and then their support network. From the Surrey International Children’s Festival to the Newton Cultural Centre, the one thing each of these community based organizations have in common is someone who was willing to step up and lead and others being willing to offer their assistance.


If you like the idea of an art’s hub and want to get involved. Please call. If you think the struggling area of Whalley needs support and you want to be a part of this, please call. If you are curious and want to come and check out what is going on down there, sign the petition, sign up on the email list at or join the Facebook page or Twitter feed (@flamingosquare).

If you think is a great idea and you would like to help The Whalley District partnership with Flamingo Square, come to the Council meeting on June 26th to show your support. If you want to be a part of this legacy project then take a minute to think of a way or a service or an item that you can offer that will move this initiative forward and then call. (604 807 7210).



Step 10 – Walk the Walk

It is nice to have everyone say “what a great idea” but talking doesn’t get you up the mountain. The difficult part is walking the walk.

You will reach a point when there is no one there to help you, everything is going wrong and you are no longer certain of your success.   You reach a realization of the actual time it will take, the energy you will need and the dedication to your vision that it will really require.

It is the time in every great idea when you are at the bottom of the mountain and the noise of the cheering crowds fades and you realize just what you have started and how difficult this climb is really going to be. It is in that moment that your vision becomes reality or dies.



Without the crowds, without blinders on, with a full realization of the time, sacrifice and commitment that this will take, you either stop or you step.


The success or failure of your idea is in that one step.


Take a deep breath, say good-bye temporarily to your comfortable life, your sanity and your complacency, and put your foot on that mountain and climb.  The ten steps are important but it is that one step that determines the outcome.


You can change the world. You just have to be willing to make that one step. 



Flamingo Square Art Connection.

The Whalley Historical District – 2017

604 807 7210