Chasing Opportunity in Waterloo

Northdale neighbourhood discussions are finally coming together with an open house and visioning workshop on October 5 2011. Near campus redevelopment typically occurs when issues of land use, suitable housing, and developing transportation infrastructure reach a friction-point where groups need to collaborate.

The Waterloo Northdale neighbourhood is likely long past a friction point and outlived its initial intention. Homes once suited for small families are now housing four or five students. Many families remaining in the neighbourhood have a love-hate-relationship with the university residents moving into the community.

In June 2010, the area was described as being at ‘a critical point’ by then University of Waterloo President David Johnson. A year later, concerned property owners place their up for auction in search of attracting a developer, only to have no one bid on their properties.

What makes this neighbourhood unique is it’s situated between two mid-to-large size universities in a city with a population of approximately 120,000. Together, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo accommodate over 45,000 students. In most cities, near campus redevelopment involves one college campus, one set of administration, and one higher-education organization to establish collaborative relationships.

Town and Gown organizations address issues where town meets gown. In Waterloo, we have a section of town sandwiched between “gowns”. Recent near campus redevelopments in East Lansing, Columbus, and Berkeley all address Town and Gown principles and seek to provide home to short and long term residents.

Through zoning, state legislation, incentive programs, and collaborative working relationships cities have worked with college administration to create shining examples of how near campus lands can be used for housing, commercial, retail, and education.

It’s estimated that nearly 9,000 students move to Waterloo each year to peruse higher education. So, how can we create an environment and experience that would keep a portion of these students living in Waterloo after graduation. I feel if their experience off campus, within the city, will determine if they stay. If they leave, they take their talent and knowledge with them chasing new opportunities.

It’s unrealistic to assume Waterloo would retain 100% of the students moving into the city after graduation.  If a realistic 50% of those students arriving in Waterloo chose to stay within the region, our knowledge-based economy would continue to grow and serve our ever-growing technology sector.

This visioning workshop represents an opportunity to help create an experience, which could turn short-term residents into long-term citizens. This Northdale plan could create an inclusive environment for all residents in Waterloo, bringing town and gown together.

Some examples of Near Campus Developments:

East Lansing Michigan (East Village) near campus development (MSU)

Columbus Ohio South Campus Gateway Near campus development (Ohio State)

Berkeley California Southside Plan near campus development ~ link to full PDF

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