Last Wednesday at the Sheraton Guildford, the mayor of Surrey, B.C., Diane Watts, rattled off both the accomplishments of and various challenges faced by her administration. The Lower Mainland’s other metropolis has added the population of Kamloops to its swelling ranks during the last 6 years, but has only four SkyTrain stations, for example.
Watts wants to place Surrey squarely in the future, the most ambitious project to do this is called Innovation Boulevard, which will network 180 healthcare-related entities with Surrey Memorial Hospital and Simon Fraser University, using an ultra-high speed fibre optic network called Canarie. The healthcare sector’s potential worth is estimated at approximately $300 million a year to the municipality.
She also unveiled a new initiative called City Speaks, which will function as a virtual town hall, soliciting opinions from citizens on issues such as bike lanes, development of infrastructure and the range of issues that might come up during a typical City Hall meeting.
Surrey turned to Vancouver-based market researchers Vision Critical to develop City Speaks.
“Connecting and engaging our residents has been the cornerstone of everything we’ve done in this city. It’s very important, because people have very busy lives and we want to ensure they have every opportunity to engage,” she said in a statement.
During a media scrum she said, “We can’t allow politics to trump the development and implementation of good, common-sense public policy,” a somewhat jarring statement coming from a politician. “Connectivity is essential,” she said in a statement. “We must connect our neighbourhoods, businesses, town centres and most importantly, our people.”
Although Surrey is the first municipality in Canada to undertake the City Speaks initiative, Newcastle, Australia, has implemented a similar model for the last four years, claiming a saving of $1 million per year in efficiencies resulting from the program, as well as a better overall civic atmosphere with citizens who says they feel like they actually have a say in the life of the city.
“Everything about the way we communicate with our friends, families, employers and businesses is changing and evolving. Now it’s time to change the way we communicate with our cities,” says Shachi Kurl, Director of Communications for Vision Critical.