The Shape of Surrey’s Future

The shape of things to come for Surrey.

Surrey, ever trying to out do Vancouver to be number one in the city, is building with light metro, because Vancouver has one. The following quote caught my eye.

Gurugram is not a walkable city, and has very limited public transport connectivity for the masses. While it is connected to Delhi by the Metro, and its own Rapid Metro is meant for movement within the city, its scope is limited. A car is almost a necessity for even short distances.

This describes Surrey and Metro Vancouver, both have a very expensive light-metro system, yet the car is the only real means to get around both cities.

With the extension of the Expo Line to Langley, Surrey’s future will be etched in stone and like its clone Gurugram, India,

This is the most recent model of a very old format of city-building,” says Rahul Srivastava, a Mumbai-based urbanologist and co-founder of design planning and research collective urbz. “It represents the harsh, capitalist vision of taking over space.”

The City of Surrey, yesterday’s city, being  built today!


Gurugram Rapid Metro struggling to stay afloat, may be forced to stop operations from September 9


India’s glittering Gurugram remains a model of how not to build a new city

Gurugram, India’s Millennium City, has exploded in recent decades, but beneath its gleaming high rises lie haphazard infrastructure and stark inequality.

Gurugram, a bustling tech and finance center on the outskirts of New Delhi, encapsulates the fast-paced capitalism and bourgeois aspirations of a new town. Nicknamed the Millennium City, it stands in contrast to Delhi’s old neighborhoods with their sarkari (bureaucratic) offices and centuries-old monuments.

But come monsoon season, the paradox of Gurugram plays out on its streets. Year after year, rain water floods spanking new roads and underpasses, causing immense traffic snarls, and leaving wealthy residents locked inside their condominiums.

“Gurugram is the most recent model of a very old format of city-building,” says Rahul Srivastava, a Mumbai-based urbanologist and co-founder of design planning and research collective urbz. “It represents the harsh, capitalist vision of taking over space.”

He points towards Mumbai, which was built on reclaimed land with a similar vision by the British. The city then called Bombay was built as a challenge to Surat, a port town and thriving mercantile centre in the western state of Gujarat, he says. “This meant defeating nature and traditional ways of land use,” Srivastava adds. And like Mumbai, Gurugram, too, has slums, hidden from plain sight and away from the multi-million dollar homes that face the sprawling golf course.

Even the most gleaming Indian metropolises are rooted in colonial origins and foundations built on inequality. Gurugram may represent India’s future, but its poor infrastructure, segregated housing, and unreliable public transportation mean it can never escape its past. Instead, it has become a beacon of how not to build a modern city.

The lack of any master plan at all—blueprints for a city and its buildings—has played a major role in this inequitable growth. And this gaping hole in city planning has roots in how Gurugram developed as an urban center.

How Gurugram Came Up

Over 30 years ago, Gurgaon, as it was then called, was just large swathes of land. These land parcels were either owned by the state government of Haryana or by wealthy farming families. The first time it appeared on India’s socioeconomic map was in 1981, when Maruti Udyog, then a government-owned automobile company, set up its first factory in Gurgaon.

A year later, Maruti Udyog would turn into a joint venture with the Japanese automobile giant Suzuki, marking Gurgaon’s first official entry on the global map. And yet, it was still what present-day Gurugram residents see as “old Gurgaon.”

“It wasn’t until 1995, ’96 that the Gurugram we know today began to be developed,” says Manish Aggarwal, a managing director for JLL India, a real estate services company. This was the time that DLF, one of India’s largest real estate developers and instrumental in the creation of this modern city, built the first large office space for General Electric.

This was a new city, one that DLF envisioned as a space where people work, live, and play. The real estate company began developing Gurugram in phases. In the national capital region (NCR), which includes Delhi and its satellite towns, it was the first time high-rise apartment buildings of good quality were constructed. Delhi’s other satellite town, Noida, would not allot land to private developers at the time, so for nearly a decade, Gurugram had a niche for itself in the market. Today, because of that head start, Gurugram has nearly 60% of the 10.9 million square feet commercial space in the region, according to JLL.

“Seeing this progress and the possibilities, other private developers like Unitech also started buying parcels of land and developing them in the early 2000s,” Aggarwal explains. Gurugram’s high rises  made it the shiny new thing compared to Delhi’s low-rise housing and commercial buildings. It was also the first to tap into India’s newly liberalized consumer sentiment with large shopping malls.

“I remember while growing up, Gurugram was always the first for many things. People from Delhi would come to visit the malls here,” says Amrita Singh, a 24-year-old PR executive with an Indian startup. To her mind, Gurugram was the city of modernity, way ahead of the cities around it. Singh’s family was one of the early investors and residents of Gurugram, and she grew up and went to school in this new city.

After a slow start to building, Singh suddenly witnessed an explosion. “All of a sudden, every part of Gurugram was being developed. There was never a time there was no construction in Gurugram,” Singh says.

And yet, Gurugram’s municipal body had no master plan. “All this construction was happening at an independent level by the developers and was completely haphazard,” Aggarwal explains. So much so, that entire condominiums were built without an active sewage connection, or a centralized power grid. This meant property developers had to account for this infrastructure in-house, including arranging waste treatment plans inside the complex. “As a result, the maintenance fee in Gurugram apartments was very high,” Aggarwal says.

The master plan finally came into existence around 2009, and now the infrastructure comes under the purview of the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon. But the 15-odd years of development that preceded this regulatory change had already wreaked havoc on the shared infrastructure in the city.

The roads, for instance, have historically been a problem. “I remember once my sister and I were the last to be picked up from school because our parents were stuck for hours on a rainwater-filled road,” Singh says. That story hasn’t changed today, and only keeps repeating itself every rain storm.

Singh, who saw New Delhi as an inferior neighbor of Gurugram as a child, has come to enjoy the green and historic spaces in the national capital. But others are still lured to the glamour of Gurugram, potholed roads and traffic snarls aside.

The City of Migrants

Gurugram is a destination for Indians looking for jobs, and as such, it is a city with few “original” residents. Everyone is a migrant, even if their hometown is just 25 kilometers (16 miles) away in Delhi or nearby towns like Manesar in Haryana.

Gurugram’s initial boom, which rode on the back of the global corporations setting up offices in the new complexes, also made it not just a city of Indian migrants, but a robust expatriate community. For instance, a Gujarati event organized by GurgaonMoms, an online community of 30,000 mothers, saw Korean, Japanese, and Malaysian expat women dancing to garba tunes, says Upasana Mahtani Luthra, director of PR, events, and the book club at GurgaonMoms. “It is a city that makes you feel welcome at once,” she says.

Even those who find Gurugram to be a concrete jungle often relocate for the convenience and amenities. “A friend of mine from Delhi was never a fan of Gurugram, said Neela Kaushik, the founder of GurgaonMoms. ”But once she had a child, she found the infrastructure and safety much easier to manage. As was the availability of good schools.”

But these conveniences are, of course, not universally shared.

An Unequal City

The gentrification of Gurugram has an obvious consequence in the lack of diversity in the city. “Most kids who I went to school with were either kids of landowners, businesspeople, or corporate executives,” says Singh. The city, she says, is very segmented.

The new Golf Course Road has some of Gurugram’s most expensive luxury properties. That part of Gurugram is home to the DLF trifecta of the Aralias, Magnolias, and Camellias—three condominiums with designer interiors, concierge services, club houses, and access to the golf course. And then there is old Gurugram. “Some parts of Gurugram look almost rural. Others are practically clones of Singapore or Dubai,” she says.

Gurugram is not a walkable city, and has very limited public transport connectivity for the masses. While it is connected to Delhi by the Metro, and its own Rapid Metro is meant for movement within the city, its scope is limited. A car is almost a necessity for even short distances.

Thousands of blue collar workers—guards, gardeners, domestic helpers, janitors, construction workers—all live in the unorganized and hidden slums of Gurugram. While Gurugram cannot move without them, they rarely are a policy focus in the city.

It is also attractive as an antidote to the “old memory of an earlier middle class, tired of socialist rule and Delhi’s sarkariness,” says Srivastava of urbz. “As a private-sector dominated space, Gurugram is a futuristic site. It can be the backdrop of a dystopian fiction 20 years from now. Ugliness and harsh aspirations sit over there,” he says.

Manavi Kapur is based in New Delhi and writes about everything culture, from books, films and art to religion, gender and politics. She has a master’s degree in literature from Delhi University and has worked with Business Standard as a feature writer for close to six years. She loves all things vintage and is a strong proponent of postcard writing. When not planning her next museum-centric holiday, she can be found obsessively reading fiction of all kinds.


7 Responses to “The Shape of Surrey’s Future”
  1. Adam Fitch says:

    I looked at the first photo in the story, trying to figure out where exactly in Surrey it was. Then I read the story, and realized that it was Gurugram, India. The cars driving on the left side of the road gave me the clue I needed.

    Other than that, it looks like Surrey will look when the skytrain is extended. Especially when some of the stations are more than 2 km apart. That means that people who live ALONG THE LINE will e walking or taking a bus up to ONE KILOMETER just to reach a station.

  2. Dan says:

    Truth is Surrey’s future under their current mayor is much higher taxes.

  3. Haveacow says:

    Why do you have an expensive rail based rapid transit system that goes out of its way to protect car lanes on roads and encourages Urban Sprawl? You need it to reduce car lanes. Traffic engineers have had 76 years since the end of WW2 and they control no less than 95% of the road lane mileage, yet the traffic situation has not improved. What we need to is start taking away just a little lane space from cars and trucks, so that more cost effective and convenient surface rapid transit can be added like LRT and sometimes even BRT. What are you really getting for all this money and protection of car lanes with the Skytrain? Seriously $3.95 Billion!

    Its disturbing that for $3.95 Billion very few people in Surrey or Langley will be able to do local trips, especially outside of peak periods, unless the end point of their trip is within a comfortable walking distance (around 400 m to 500 m or 12 to 15 minute walks) of the few local stations. Most of these stations are 1-2 km’s apart. Yes, more stops slows the longer trips, especially the long commuter trips to downtown Vancouver, but what is the use of this if your replacing an LRT line which would have made it cheap to add more local stations later and could easily, not to mention inexpensively, bypass a local station if necessary to speed up the trip.

    Instead you have a line very few locals can use without having to resort to using a parallel bus route, which will still have to most likely,do the majority of local trips for kilometres at a time, adding operating cost to a line that already has a truly massive capital cost. This why the TTC in Toronto and the STM in Montreal insist on 1 station every kilometre. It promotes use of the subway/metro line for more local trips outside of the hours which are peak periods, when the line is seeing less use.

    Toronto especially learned this expensive operational lesson, with its Yonge Street Subway and its station spacing differences. North of Eglinton Avenue where the Yonge Street Subway line has an average station spacing of 2 km, which requires a parallel bus route for local transit trips, whereas south of Eglinton Avenue, with an average station spacing of less than 1 km, far, far more local ridership occurred on the line.

    Then to prove a point something amazing happened in the mid1980’s when the North York Centre Station was added 810 metres north of Sheppard Avenue in downtown North York. A huge and I mean a huge increase in sidewalk traffic occurred as well as a development boom. For a sub-centre downtown which until then, had many problems attracting any development, now has grown to have more office tower and condo development than all of downtown Ottawa. Downtown North York is a roughly 2.3 km long stretch of Yonge Street in the former city of North York, roughly 6km north of the Yonge-Eglinton sub-centre.

  4. Jason says:

    Big difference between India and Surrey. India has over 1 billion people. Only the second most populated country in the world. Surrey already has the expo line. It is just being extended. Surrey chould build a new line going south to white rock with a different technology (LRT, BRT, Tram).

    Zwei replies: If the combination of metro and light metro is not attracting ridership in a heavily populated suburb of Mumbai, I doubt that the Expo Line extension to Langley will attract the motorist from the car. The car will be the preferred mode in surrey, despite a $3.95 billion investment.

  5. Haveacow says:

    I was right! Just watched the interview with Translink’s new CEO. He said the current Translink funding formula has serious issues, like the fact that people are still only driving half as much as they used to pre-pandemic and future plans might have to change. This means that the gas tax revenues are way down. I bet many of Translink’s revenue sources are still considerably lower than normal. This means I was right when I said that Translink’s portion of the currently available $1.63 Billion for the Expo Line extension to Langley, isn’t at the expected level. This is because Translink’s portion is based on future tax revenues like gas taxes, license fees and development charges, which are all down due to weaker Covid-19 consumer spending levels and for now, seem to be staying at a continuously lower level. So how much money does Translink actually have for the Langley extension? It sure isn’t $1.63 Billion!

  6. zweisystem says:

    I have been told that TransLink does not have the revenue for the extension and in fact TransLink (Horgan and the mayor’s council) was hoping that Trudeau would pay the entire shot. Evidently something a bit more serious was happening on the Sky Bridge and TransLink decided to replace the expansion joint as well as making further unspecified repairs. This unexpected expense has caused serious financial ills and when the person inquired about the $3 billion rehab to the Expo and millennium Lines, they were met with a blank stare.

  7. Haveacow says:

    I was looking at the work budgeted under stage 2 of the 10 year plan, the budget report did mention work on the expansion joints of the bridge and they expected the work to last 2 to 3 weeks. I remember reading in one of the online articles earlier this year that the work was significantly longer than that timeline, currently being exposed in the media. Whatever they found I guess it can either wait or it can be done in the current 3 week timespan.

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