Historic Whalley – New Plans, New Dreams
Historic Whalley – New Plans, New Dreams
An Arts Revitalization Project
The owner of a small restaurant on King George Highway and 107th in Surrey, arrives for work at 9am. Like any business owner, he will have to clean up the front area of his place of business but because he is in the heart of the Historic Whalley District, an area that struggles with social issues, his task will be harder. Needles, garbage and the occasional person will need to be moved to the appropriate place before he can open his doors.
His frustration is evident although he tries to stay positive.
“Nobody cares about us. It seems like we are invisible. Everybody on the south side of 104th gets attention and assistance, new buildings etc. They are all bragging about how great Surrey is but the north side is ignored. It is considered an unsafe place to be. It is very hard for me and my family to make a living here because people don’t like the area but we can’t afford the rent in the newer buildings so we have to stay here.
The truth is that it is safe here. Yes, the area has some struggles but the people are wonderful here. The sense of community is very strong. It is a great place full of great people but nobody knows that. We are ignored by customers, the business community and the city.”
This particular morning, he arrives to find an invitation in his mail. This invitation is to a Townhall meeting taking place at the Whalley Legion on Monday night. It is to discuss the new building being built at the Flamingo Hotel site and the arts revitalization project by Flamingo Square.
“I don’t know what to think about this project. On the one hand, all these new people living in this area will be good for my business maybe but I am afraid that I will be moved out or the rent will increase. If property values go up, then where will I go? How will my family survive? We work very hard and we don’t ask for much from life but I worry all the time.”
The Townhall meeting was hosted by the developer, Tien Sher, of The Whalley District. This project will see four building built over the next five years. The Landmark tower features sky gardens and linear ponds which run between the other three towers. It is an ambitious and exciting project for the developer. Tien Sher is well known in the area having developed Venue and Encore as well as the famous Quattro building, which had a massive fire in 2010.
It was that tragedy that prompted Charen Sethi to continue to build and develop in the Whalley area. When the fire destroyed his project in the building stage, the community came with coffee, donations and support. He was so impressed by the community spirit and the character of the people of Whalley, he decided to continue to work to develop the area and to dedicate his projects to enhancing the community already in the area.
“I’m a firm believer in building communities and we are heavily involved in the neighbourhood,
“I’m not here to build condos and go home. I’m here to make sure the area is respected and the history of the area is respected.”
Flamingo Square Art Society is a group of people who have a plan to bring revitalization to the Historical Whalley area using art, music and culture.
This model has worked in other cities such as Chicago and Detroit. Using the idea that creating space for people to engage, the Flamingo Square project intents to bring arts-related events and beautification projects to the Whalley area in the hopes that people will come. By bringing people back into Whalley, the area will be able to revitalize into an arts and culture hub.
“People friendly spaces are good for a city. The statistics show that people determine the livability of a city by the arts, recreation and sports that are available to them. Traffic congestion is seen as the worst thing about large cities. People want bike paths and walkable areas and outdoor meeting places. ” – Shara Nixon
“A good sustainability and quality of life indicator: The average amount of time spent in a car.” – Paul Bedford.
While Surrey is to spread out to find biking a realistic alternative to driving, the new Light Rapid Transit planed for the area will open up new possibilities for moving around the city. We can build sections of the city which are more pedestrian friendly and community based.
Charan Sethi of Tien Sher and the people of Flamingo Square partnered to create a space for an arts market, and a pedestrian-only arts-based street of walkable and bikable opportunities. Just minutes from the Gateway sky train, and in future connected to the LRT, this community is looking to become the next Yaletown. With a deep appreciation for Whalley history, it will have it’s own unique vibe.
Our restaurant owner is skeptical.
“I don’t really understand the arts revitalization thing. Are they going to put up a statue or something? Is this going to cost me money? I like the idea of more music and fun because people will come but who will pay for all this?”
He looked over his invitation to the Townhall meeting one more time.
“I am going to go and find out what it is all about. It will affect my business so I better show up and figure out what they are doing.”
It has been said that forty people at a Townhall meeting is a good turnout. Representatives of the development paired with representatives of Flamingo Square and together they walked the Whalley streets, talking to anyone who would listen. They went door to door and spoke to business owners. Separately they contacted the artists of the community, the movers and shakers, the business people outside the Whalley area and asked people to come to the meeting to show their interest, support or to state their concerns.
239 people showed up. The love for the Whalley community is strong. The people know how to come together and work together. The small town history still resides in the hearts of families who have lived in Whalley for generations. They came to the meeting.
Business owners who want to work together to make the area accessible and welcoming, came to the meeting.
Artists who know that their gift to a community brings economic benefit, came to the meeting.
The support for the development as well as the arts revitalization was overwhelming. The community loved the idea and the phone didn’t stop ringing with offers of support and ideas for moving forward.
The business community loved the development and the idea of a pedestrian centered street. Seeing such statistics as a 175% increase in retail business in Brooklyn when they opened an outdoor pedestrian only mall, opened their minds to the possibilities.
The residents loved the idea of a walkable place with interesting shops, art and music. They became excited about working together to celebrate the community spirit that is so strong there.
Our restaurant owner, although still to shy to allow his name to be used, had a big grin on his face at the end of the meeting.
“I think this will be great. I can see now how I can participate without it costing very much money. I like the flower garden idea that was at the front door. That will be cheap and easy to do. I even like the idea of painting my shop a bright color. They have a big imagination and a lot of good ideas. I think this will be fun and good for the area.”
Walkability is just good for business and the partnership between Flamingo Square Arts Connection and the developer, Charan Sethi of Tien Sher are determined to create this unique space.
“Over the next two years, while the development is being built, Flamingo Square is going to host a series of art related events. Our first project is going to centre around the history of the area. We are collecting and compiling a series of stories from people in the area. If you have a great story to tell about something that happened to you, your family or your grandparents in the Historical Whalley District, contact us. We would love to hear about it.
We have 12 projects in the works. Some are around art-making, some are family fun, some are business revitalization, some are stealth art, some are multicultural celebrations, some involve music, some involve dance, some are grandparent and grand child based, others are festival based. Follow our Facebook page to find out more.
In two years, once the development is built, we will be creating a weekend art market similar to the Christmas Market. It will have food, education and entertainment and each weekend one of the non-profit societies in the city will be given the opportunity to highlight their work and raise money for their charity. This market will give residents a place to grab a cup of coffee and wander through the market, learn about ways they can give back to their community, learn something new and enjoy meeting new people.
We will create places and ways for strangers to meet and people to connect with one another in meaningful ways. It is our plan to create community, just like Charan Sethi wanted when he envisioned this project.” – Shara Nixon
What happens when you give a struggling area of a city to the artists, the poets, the dreamers and the musicians and the lovers?
We are about to find out.
Keep your eyes on the Whalley District project and Flamingo Squares Art Revitalization of the Historic Whalley District.