smaller is better

Some people tell me that White Rock is too small to be viable, too small to be efficient, and should or will inevitably have to rejoin Surrey. I used to be resigned to this as being a real possibility. And I thought, really what’s the difference in a resident’s day-to-day life? They will still call this area White Rock, just like Cloverdale, Ocean Park and Crescent Beach all have their own established unique identities. But now I see how being small gives an advantage to something that cannot be measured in dollars and cents: democracy.

In White Rock, the city is small enough that you have a good chance of bumping into an elected official on the street or in the grocery store. If you have a problem with a city service, you don’t have to leave your community to solve it. You can actually talk with the people making decisions. The staff and elected representatives have a relatively high degree of awareness of your neighbourhood. There aren’t multiple layers of receptionists and assistants between you and the city manager, city planner, or a city councillor. The city is small enough that you can expect personal attention. It’s reasonable to expect to be heard. That creates a stage for good citizen participation in governance and public decision-making.

But what about the money?

Though I haven’t studied it, my belief, after watching how White Rock works from the inside, is that there actually would not be a significant net decrease in staff if White Rock were to amalgamate with Surrey. The only way that would happen is if there were a reduction in service, which of course could happen without amalgamation. The work being done by White Rock staff is work that would have to be completed regardless of the jurisdiction’s size. Unless there are staff in Surrey sitting around needing more to do, I don’t see how White Rock’s staff wouldn’t still be required.

While there would be some advantages and improvements in service due to amalgamation, such as garbage and recycling picked up on the same day every week, there are disadvantages and reductions in service (such as the police per person ratio) that would probably make you want to go back to paying the extra 10-15% on your taxes to be a smaller city. This series of observations and assumptions seems validated by second-hand information that the big-city mergers in the east didn’t actually result in any net savings. Money that was saved in one area had to be increased in others.

If amalgamation simply results in decision-making further removed from residents in their neighbourhoods and diluted elected representation, I don’t see it being worth losing that kind of democratic ideal in hopes of a small monetary savings.

As can be seen in how Surrey is developing, obviously the expectation of better coordinated planning is not a certainty within a larger city. I suggest Surrey is too large. Surrey should 4 cities: Whalley, Cloverdale, White Rock, and Newton. Newton should amalgamate with a separated portion of North Delta. Cloverdale should amalgamate with Langley City and a portion of Langley Township. And White Rock and South Surrey should be a city unto itself. To provide for those efficiencies in operations that might be lost, and to ensure better coordination of services and planning, I see a stronger role for the regional government. This would be an expansion of current practice. Cities already team up to buy some products in bulk, negotiate labour contracts, provide delivery of public transportation, drinking water, sanitary sewer and air quality services.

I believe one of White Rock’s greatest disadvantages is that it doesn’t have the capacity to hire experts to help find new solutions in urban and social planning. Surrey is beginning to invest in that type of expertise, but the region as a whole relies heavily on the City of Vancouver to provide that type of leadership. Their taxpayers pay for the research and pilot projects, then the smaller cities learn from them. But this really should be a function of the regional government. That would shift the cost of that research, and the benefit, more equitably throughout the region.

I believe the model of local government described above would facilitate both greater access for citizens to decision-making and decision makers, and improve local service with better coordination regionally.

So, instead of asking, “is White Rock too small?”, maybe the question should be “is Surrey too big?”

One Response to “smaller is better”

  1. tobias c. van Veen Says:

    Visit tobias c. van Veen

    Surrey is too big. Several years ago there was a campaign to amalgamate South Surrey into White Rock. Now THAT would be intriguing. tV

Leave a Reply

If you want to use XHTML tags, these ones are allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>