After the jump is the speech I gave to Waterloo City Council on Monday. The meeting itself was written up in the Chronicle, but I don’t think the quote from me totally sums up what I was trying to say (you know, newspaper quotes…).
I’ve mostly been complaining about the media and the residents’ associaton here and on WWBA. It took me a bit to figure out what to say to council.
Before I begin, I’d like to say: Calling your own neighbourhood a slum will not make new people want to live there.
What’s really frustrating about all the media coverage about Northdale is that it focuses solely on the neighbourhood becoming a ghetto and completely ignores the rather extraordinary lengths the city has gone to to keep it from going that way.
They’ve cracked down hard on lodging houses, even going to the province for special powers to close loopholes. And they’ve completely reshaped the neighbourhood around the periphery to meet student housing demand for the next 20-40 years. Saying that the city has done nothing about the “ghetto” situation is not a valid criticism.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to criticize.
The city could be doing more on by-law enforcement. A neighbourhood like this needs strict “no broken windows” policies.
We’re almost certainly not making the best use of the available land.
Columbia Avenue is now a pretty bleak streetscape.
The housing market in the neighbourhood is seriously perverted. If you look at two identical houses sitting next to one another, one might be worth $600,000 while the other might be worth $300,000, only because the one guy managed to sell out to a slumlord first.
And even if they’re not put off by the “slum” comments in the papers, it’s actually really tough for new people to move into the neighbourhood. House prices are high for what you get, and all of that new rental housing stock is 5 bedroom suite style apartments, useless to anyone who’s not a student.
Is Northdale the sort of compact, vibrant and complete community that we’re supposed to be building under the Places to Grow plan? Possibly vibrant, although not in a way all if its residents appreciate. Otherwise, no, definitely not.
That’s what the city needs to focus on now. We need to stop focusing on the people who don’t want to live here and start focusing on the people who do. How do we meet their needs? That’s what this proposal should be about.
So how do we do that?
I would like to see a broader mix of housing options, although I’m not certain how many more luxury condo developments this city needs. We should be doing more to promote affordable housing and improving the rental housing situation for everyone, not just students.
I would like to see a plan that was tightly integrated with the existing nodes and corridors plan, but with a focus on mixed use development. University and Columbia could become vibrant, mixed-use corridors with commercial, housing and office space for professionals and start-ups.
I would like to see Hickory Street become a cycling corridor with a pathway between Lester and Phillip, connecting King & University with UW and the Laurel trail. This is already a cycling and pedestrian neighbourhood, but few people really want to ride a bike on Columbia or University, even with the bike lanes.
Finally, I would like to see the local residents’ association come up with a better marketing strategy.
I think there’s a lot of potential here. And a lot of reason for optimism. No, Northdale isn’t a slum, but it can be more than it is. It’s a neighbourhood with a lot of potential. Let’s make it a great community.