The Northdale neighbourhood discussion continues in Waterloo and proposed solutions were presented to Waterloo Council. This discussion isn’t unique to Waterloo – replace Waterloo with any city with a large post-secondary school population and this is a systemic problem in every single community.
Here’s how this conversation – and many others – goes:
“The university is doing nothing to deal with off-campus issues!”
“Students are bringing down the value of our housing and property.”
“We can’t find housing close to school that fits our needs.”
“The landlord doesn’t respond to my requests and won’t fix problems.”
“Students are members of the community and must respect the local bylaws and take responsibility for their actions.”
“Housing is expensive; it needs to be more affordable.”
“Without the school, this city wouldn’t be anything like it is now.”
And the one I think represents every side; “They just don’t respect us.”
Sound familiar? No matter what college/university city you’re from this is the conversation you’ll hear. What makes the Northdale “student ghetto” different are that two universities (University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University) are involved, the close proximity to large high-tech sector employers, and there are some unique demographics (homeownership) that happens to exist in this neighbourhood, as presented in the Waterloo Record (http://news.therecord.com/News/Local/article/701660)
The proposal Waterloo City Council received related to land use changes, zoning changes, and proposals for developing relationships with interested parties. All options are great and require collaboration, co-ordination, co-operation, and a commitment to make a stronger community. Yes, Northdale could see the most physical change. But, the real change will happen in the commitment to make a stronger community and co-operate as a collective group.
Land use changes would change Northdale. This might happen, it’ll make Northdale a different community – it might actually be similar to the solution proposed by HUGWaterloo (http://www.hugwaterloo.com/index.php/the-greener-solution-for-northdale). It might provide a more livable community for a wide demographic, which must include students. This is up to land use changes subject to approval.
The Waterloo City Council proposal references London and Oshawa as examples of student housing issues. The recommendation put forth is to establish a community outreach plan similar to London.
For the past seven years, I’ve been involve in housing issues within two university environments and the non-profit sector. I remember when London took such a unique approach to dealing with off-campus housing issues. It’s working there, and I think it could work in Waterloo. With that being said, there’s still problems and issues off-campus in London. This won’t solve all off-campus issues. It just provides a framework to become proactive with off-campus issues. It’s a solution with collaboration and empowerment in mind.
In recent years, I’ve wondered why Canadian colleges and universities haven’t adopted an American Greek-Housing approach towards university housing. It’s elitist, beer-guzzling, party-going, hazing attitude seems to proceed this system. In spite of all these presupposed problems, it provides a wide-spread off-campus housing connection to the academic institution, encourages student engagement, and allows for increased student participation within the community.
There’s no magical solution to deal with off-campus issues. In Waterloo, if all groups could work together, there will be a solution that will have interested parties take a proactive approach towards dealing with off-campus housing issues. The approach can’t be us vs. them. All interested parties must work together.
The solution might be the London community outreach approach, the Greek University Housing approach, or a truly innovative Waterloo approach towards empowering groups to proactively work together.
No matter the approach taken in Waterloo: be proactive, be innovative, collaborate, and empower one another. Maybe this “Waterloo Approach to off-campus housing” could become a best practice others refer to when planning to solve off-campus issues in future years.
For some supporting documentation, visit the Northdale Vision report on the City of Waterloo’s website http://bit.ly/9Tej9c