December 7, 2016
Ever since we approved the Northdale Plan back in 2012, I’ve been working hard with staff, students, developers, educational institutions, and neighbours to implement the vision the community wrote:
“By 2029, Northdale is revitalized and reurbanized into a diverse, vibrant and sustainable neighbourhood, integrated with educational, residential, commercial, cultural, heritage, and recreational functions, and improved open space, pedestrian, cycling and transit networks.”
Today, I wanted to update you on how we’ve moved forward on all components of the vision, particularly about new parks, exciting streets, new partners, and better buildings.
Earlier this week, I was pleased to announce we secured two new parkettes in Northdale. Adding open space is an important part of the overall plan, particularly as people start living more densely. Veteran’s Green just wasn’t going to be enough. These land purchases were funded entirely from developers, as they are required to set money aside when they build for the city to expand and improve parks to accommodate new residents. These funds will also build out those parks into great urban spaces.
What we need to know now is what people want in these new spaces, and that’s what we’ll be asking next year when parks planning kicks off.
Earlier this fall, Council approved the Northdale Streetscape Master Plan. As we update the roads and pipes in the neighbourhood, we now have a plan to rebalance the streets to work for everyone. This means safer cycling infrastructure, more space for walking and sitting, and lots of new trees with room to grow.
We are also building mid-block connections to make it easier to walk or bike through the neighbourhood to get where you want to go. As developers have built new buildings, we have been 100% successful in securing land for these planned connections through private lots without spending a dime. The first full connections are from Sunview to Albert then Albert to Hemlock, coming out near Balsam. As construction of those buildings finish, we’ll be able to build those pathways.
The most important connection is between Phillip and Lester Street, to let folks get to and from the LRT. We have secured a path on the north side of 256 Phillip Street. A path through 275 Lester Street is part of a settlement with the landowner at the Ontario Municipal Board. As development unfolds there and at WCRI, we’ll be able to finish that key connection.
We’ve also been supporting the Waterloo Region District School Board and Wilfrid Laurier University as they talk about what they can build together on their lands, which are 17% of the entire neighbourhood. WCI is staying in Northdale, but needs to be accessible by 2025. This presents an opportunity to bring on other partners to create a true community hub. Some early ideas have been presented, including new cultural space components, and now these ideas need to be refined. The City of Waterloo is particularly interested in adding new bookable community space as well as updated sports fields accessible to the public. Our heritage advisory committee has also engaged with the school board about preserving key elements of WCI, which was the city’s first high school and was designed by a local architect in the modernist style of the day.
Finally, we’ve seen substantial private sector investment, bringing one and two bedroom units, and townhouses. Thousands of square feet of retail on ground floors are opening up, particularly along or near Hickory Street. . Urban design has substantially improved, including more interesting ground floors that engage pedestrians and, for tall buildings, slimmer towers that leave ample space for sunlight to get through. After what was built last decade along Columbia and along King St. before the Northdale plan, these changes are exactly what we needed to achieve.
While there has been a lot of press about surplus beds in student housing, they haven’t reported that this translates to a 5% fall vacancy rate, which is actually quite healthy. That data also assumes only students are renting in and around Northdale, and these new buildings can actually attract a much wider demographic — anecdotally, they already are, but we need better data. In any event, we spent decades with a shortage of housing for students. A healthy vacancy rate means students don’t have to accept substandard housing, putting them back in the driver’s seat. And as there is still a shortage of affordable housing, there may be opportunities for landlords to pivot towards housing other residents, including seniors.
Lots of change has already happened, and lots more is coming. You can stay fully up-to-date by following along online at http://waterloo.ca/northdale.