Improved neighbouhood can boost city pride

This as part of my continued contribution to the Waterloo Region Record’s Community Editorial Submissions, this post explores my experience with the Waterloo Door-Knocker Programs.

The quality of life in Canadian post-secondary education communities embodies the city’s image to students. Based on my first-hand experience, we need to make continued improvements to the communities surrounding post-secondary institutes in Waterloo, Ontario. Not only do these improvements need to be made in the quality of housing available, we need to improve working relationships amongst campus partners. In Waterloo, we do have a Northdale Plan for the developing the neighbourhood’s character, but we need to operationalize that plan to make this outstanding vision come true. Here’s the article that was published on Monday, October 1st 2012.

This September, I had the opportunity to volunteer alongside other student services professionals from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University while we took part in the Door-Knocker Program organized by Waterloo Regional Police Services.

As police deliver a message of enforcement and zero tolerance, student service professional are able to relay the message of support for students living off-campus. Issues with landlords, maintenance, living conditions and roommates are rarely police matters, but they impact the quality of life for students living in the community.

Yes, there is a need to highlight zero tolerance for bylaw enforcement, but the program is intended to welcome students into the community. By using language that focuses on welcoming students, we would be more inclusive and effective in encouraging everyone to be good neighbours.

Although this program started eight years ago and has roots within the Waterloo Town and Gown Committee, 2012 was the first year student services from the universities took part. By including these volunteers, it was an important step in recognizing the supportive and influential role universities play in near-campus communities.

Often, there is a sense of shock when residents open the door to see uniformed officers. Having community partners and university representatives present for this program eases tensions on this first encounter.

The one downside of participating in this event: a crude reminder or the need for quality housing for students in Waterloo. Poorly maintained houses with broken stairs, rusted railings, unattached light fixtures, and with doors that don’t latch were too common in the neighbourhoods surrounding campuses. I hope the Waterloo Rental Housing License bylaw will improve these living conditions, but it will be a long, uphill battle. Anyone with children of their own would not feel comfortable having their son or daughter live in these conditions at any time of their life – especially while they pursue higher-education.

If these houses represented the image of what it means to call Waterloo home, you would likely be looking to leave the community at your first opportunity. Currently, that could be the exact experience of over 40,000 post-secondary students within the community.

Based on the description of the neighbourhood, you might not be surprized that the area I visited was Northdale. That’s the same controversial area that had multiple presentations before Waterloo Council and now has plans to “reurbanize” the landscape and develop a sense of community for local residents.

Granted, Northdale is not the only area with student housing, nor is it the only area with housing issues; but issues seem to be magnified in this neighbourhood. Also, it’s important to note that not every building housing students was in disrepair, but it’s the bad ones you remember – just as it’s the negative behaviour of a few students that give them a bad name.

I often drive through Northdale, but it’s been over a year since I’ve walked around and had a close look at the state of housing. If you only know the neighbourhood from stories in the paper or local news, please visit the neighbourhood and get a first-hand look. Most people who pride themselves as citizens of Waterloo would be embarrassed to know that this is what students consider Waterloo. 

The neighbourhood is full of life and energy – not just from students that call the area home, but from permanent residents to feel at home here. If captured properly, the quality of life within this neighbourhood could be outstanding for all residents.

If citizens do not believe in the need for this community improvement plan, just walk through this neighbourhood and imagine your children living in one of those houses.

The complete Northdale plan represents a vision for 2029. In 17-years this neighbourhood could be the image of Waterloo that would fill citizens with pride. With this common vision, we need immediate and collaborative actions to improve the quality of life in Waterloo. If this plan is not achieved between today and 2029, over 190,000 students could be leaving Waterloo with a bad impression of the community.


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