Monday, August 05, 2013

Demand more for uptown

Development in Waterloo is booming. Four large high-rises are going up: 144 Park, 155 Caroline, a condo building in the Barrelyards (Erb and Father David Bauer Drive), and a rental building in the Barrelyards. Many projects are recent or almost finished, like 186/8 King South (The Red). Other large high-rises are in the planning stages, like 31 Alexandra Ave.

I have a nagging worry that the pace of development is so fast that there will be negative repercussions, but I am by nature a worrywart and I can't provide any foundation for those concerns.

My major concern is that the city is not being proactive enough to provide amenities to balance all these new residents.

All of the development to date is based on the cachet of the uptown. The small, pricey condos are aimed at well-off people without kids. Many of them are retirees who want to be able to walk to a coffee shop or a restaurant. Many of them are tech workers (like myself) who are seeking a vibrant urban environment.

The sad truth is that the uptown could be a lot more vibrant and a lot more interesting to live in. We have the Public Square, which is great, but let's face it, it's a small expanse of white concrete with a smattering of under-attended programming. Downtown Kitchener, for all its many problems, has always been more vibrant and interesting than uptown Waterloo, and has always had more interesting events.

Waterloo simply needs to up its game. There are so many things we could do:

  • Revitalize King north of Erb with a new streetscape and better parking.
  • Do something spectacular with the Post Office land at King and Bridgeport.
  • Finish the two little parks on the east and west of King, on the south side of William.
  • Revitalize the park east of City Hall (it had flower plantings until a few years ago, and now is just an abandoned area with a cenotaph).
  • Finish the path that follows the railway tracks across Waterloo Square - and in general, connect the trails through the uptown.
  • Beautify the exposed parts of Laurel Creek behind City Hall.
  • Do something spectacular with the Pumping Station on William Street across from Regina.
  • Fix and use the fountain in front of the Parkade at King and Willis Way
  • Make better use of the east-side train station.
  • Add amenities to the Public Square.
  • Engage the public in programming the Public Square. For example, start a citizen's advisory committee to handle part of the programming.
  • Get serious about making the uptown accessible to people with wheelchairs, walkers, and baby push-carts.
  • Get serious - in a pragmatic, not ideological way - about traffic in the uptown.
  • Develop an arts strategy that cuts loose the money-pit that is the Clay and Glass Gallery, and creates some serious artistic attractions in the uptown
To get these things done, City Council has to force developers to pitch in more. The developers don't need any incentive to build in the uptown, and they're getting rich by building here. The recent controversy over moving the Iron Horse Trail left a bad taste in everyone's mouth because it seemed that the developer pulled a fast one on Council, and because Council caved without demanding more in return. What many people don't know is that Council is giving in to developers on lots of other issues: increasing density, reducing surface parking, changing agreed-on setbacks, and so on, which is going to have a profound effect on the livability of the uptown, particularly as density increases.

Despite all the new development Waterloo is strapped, largely because of RIM Park debt and the unplanned costs of the LRT, so we need to be creative in funding. But we can't stop moving forward. The current attractiveness of the uptown is based on vision that was formulated in the 90s. The uptown badly needs visionary leadership that is rooted in the needs and wants of: uptown residents, uptown businesses and workers, and the residents of Waterloo for whom the uptown should be a central resource.

Over the next few posts I'll explore some of these ideas in more detail.


Marie Snyder said...

I completely agree. I went to some of the meetings about the Uptown facelift, until they narrowed their options down to four choices. All had water features and trees, and I would have been happy with any of them, so I stopped going. I could see myself coming down to sit by a fountain surrounded by greenery, have a cup of tea, and read a book. Then somehow we ended up with a sea of concrete and a bell, and I never go there. I wonder how much public input matters - especially looking at the LRT issue.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I love the vibrancy and diversity of down town Kitchener! I do like to come to uptown Waterloo for Jazz, Starbucks and boutique liquor shopping (though you have to carry it a large distance which is stupid). Strange how they wound up with a piece of white concrete with no shade that's really hot. Its best use is for skating in the winter though it's a bit small. I agree with your points and it's strange that Waterloo council isn't a little more active in 'upping their game'.