Breaking down the issues this election
With the upcoming all-candidates debate on Oct. 13, Staff Writer Praveen Alwis investigates the hot topics affecting the student-inhabited Ward 6, just north of University Avenue
“What has happened is that out of the 327 houses all but 25 are now student accommodation,” said Mike Connolly, candidate for Ward 6 and former city councillor, noting that planning for the area has not occurred at a fast enough rate in comparison to the growth of the student population.
Candidate Ed Korschewitz agreed about the poor planning of the area, looking towards the development of recent high density buildings. “Go down King street and you see these big apartment buildings. 120 students live in that building but they have no social space,” he explained.
It is this lack of social space that he sees as a root cause of many complaints about student conduct in the area, suggesting that it encourages student activity to spill out onto lawns and sidewalks. Pointing to a lack of amenities in the area, Jeff Henry, a University of Waterloo (UW) graduate, also noted the need for businesses such as grocery stores in the area.
Considering the disgraceful quality of student housing and the upsetting behaviour of some students, Anne Crowe pointed to current bylaw enforcement as ineffectual, believing that infractions are caught too infrequently to bring any improvement to the area.
The general consensus calls for a collaborative approach to resolving these issues involving the city, students, universities and private developers. “I think it’s a complex problem,” Henry reiterated, “that requires way more than a one line answer to deal with.”
Arts and culture
A former editor-in-chief for UW’s newspaper the Iron Warrior, Henry sees the arts in Waterloo as an area of interest which holds long-term consequence for the city. “I think arts and culture is incredibly important in helping us get a sense of place, getting us a sense of Waterloo as a place where there are exciting things to do,” he commented.
He believes developing a local arts scene can be valuable for a city which has had difficulty in retaining students after they graduate from university.
Henry stated his support for the recent Prosperity Council initiative which sets aside a dollar per resident for arts funding in the area. “One of the things council is going to have to do over the next while is figure out exactly how that gets allocated across the community,” he said.
“I realize you’ve got to keep all your facilities up and working but they should study these and see just where we can save,” said Connolly. While the city has managed to balance its finances despite the impact of the recession and the ongoing RIM Park debt, Connolly is of the camp that lower tax rates are possible.
Connolly specifically noted that water and sewer taxes have increased “by 35 to 40 percent.” With a large portion of the city’s budget going towards funding salaries and benefits, Connolly suggested that staffing was one area that could be considered for cost reductions. However the affects on public services would have to be investigated first before any such changes in spending could occur
While plans for a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system in the Waterloo Region has been a central focus, the issue of transportation, according to Crowe, is not limited to rapid transit. Expressing interest in developing alternative modes of transportation, Crowe emphasized the importance of making Ward 6 an area which offers its residents varied options.
With a background in healthcare, Crowe suggested creating walking and biking trails as potential initiatives which simultaneously address issues of transportation, public health and environmental sustainability.
Students in particular stand to gain the most from improvement to transportation in the city in Crowe’s opinion. “A lot of students don’t have cars, so it’s the perfect population to improve walking, biking and public transportation to allow them to get around the city better.”
With only 28 per cent of the city’s population voting in the last election, reaching out to the community to create more interest and involvement is a priority. What is even more alarming is the even lower turnout percentage for student voters.
Korschewitz, a life-long resident of Waterloo, admits to the difficulties of engaging a student population. He explained, “[Students] don’t really care about municipal elections because we don’t have any say over tuition fees.”
Despite this, he suggested that engaging the student community in local affairs is still an attainable goal. Allowing the community to feel that they have a voice in their community is necessary to spur interest. “Take one single, little block and let those people know that ‘hey, you can make a difference here’,” said Korshewitz.
News Director Linda Givetash explores the issues directly impacting Laurier in the Uptown Ward 7
Reflecting on the current and future success for the heart of the city, Ward 7 candidate Erin Epp said, “Small businesses are really the backbone of [the Uptown] area.”
While the topic of local businesses doesn’t share the contentious debates of other election questions it is not an area to be forgotten.
Noting that they drive the economy for the area, current Laurier student Epp expressed, “I think there are ways that we can promote better business and encourage new business — new independent businesses actually working with entrepreneurs.”
As businesses contribute to the social health of an area, providing green space and areas to gather, Epp concluded that growth of small businesses mixed in residential areas are necessary in a city that is projected to accommodate 40 per cent of the 700,000 people expected to move to Waterloo Region by 2031.
“After door-knocking, one of the things that have become very apparent to me is a lot of people read about decisions that are made in city council after it’s happened,” said Melissa Durrell, explaining disengagement between the community and government in Waterloo.
Durrell, a reporter for CTV Southwestern Ontario, noted the city’s failure to utilize social media to connect with its citizens. The difficulty in navigating the city’s website was also an area Durrell expressed that deterred residents from seeking out information.
“If you’ve checked out the website for the city of Waterloo, it’s ridiculous,” she said. Durrell declared that the city must overhaul its website and use of technology in order to create a dialogue with citizens.
Though it was an economic leader among Ontario cities through the recession, Waterloo is not free of challenges of the poverty and homelessness.
“Sometimes the concentration becomes too technological and economical,” said Edwin Laryea, a former teacher and administrator in the public school system.
“I think Waterloo has to spend more time growing people … putting in place strategies that help those who cannot afford to make ends meet.”
Laryea went on to list the many social groups, including single mothers and new immigrants, who are in need of customized programs that connect them with the resources to live successfully in the community at large.
“The way you build communities is [through] the economy and sharing it among people,” he concluded.
With a shortfall in funding of approximately $250 million for the region’s proposed LRT initiative, the future of transportation in the city has become rather unclear.
“I’m hearing at the door from a lot of voters that they have serious concerns about the LRT, that they don’t think it solves the overall transportation picture and that the cost is going to raise property taxes dramatically,” said Duncan McLean, whose work experience includes business development for the Waterloo-based company Primus Realty.
Voicing the other side of the debate, Noel Butler, a mechanical and quality engineer in the automotive industry, expressed the concerns of sustainability of the current transit model. “I’m advocating for a rail transit system in the future which is an environmental benefit as well,” he said.
In a city that was declared as one of the “greenest” cities in the province by TV Ontario’s Studio Two in 2003, the question stands whether sustainable and innovative practices are still being utilized as they once were.
Considering vital resources the city must maintain, retired professor of political science Peter Woolstencroft explained, “We’ve done some things that would not put us up in front of the rank and that particularly has to do with the development of the Waterloo Moraine.”
Ward 7 candidate Butler also expressed concerns about the city’s water source, noting that the “safety and security” of the population is – among the many aspects of the environment — dependent on the quality of water.
Woolstencroft continued to highlight the need to decrease the reliance on cars for transportation and intensifying the city’s core with both businesses and housing.
Butler echoed the importance of integrating eco-friendly practices to all areas of city life, stating, “When we talk about any kind of decision that gets made it has to be considered from [the environmental].”
The politics and policies affecting Ward 7 can be felt by the university first-hand as Laurier and its residences lie within its borders. The exponential growth of the student body, for better or worse, sprouts topics of discussion as all stakeholders adjust to the crowds of young adults filling the streets.
“I don’t believe this community has fully addressed the fact that we have such a large component of our population that are coming from our educational institutions,” said Woolstencroft, citing the benefits of the diversity students bring and the unresolved issue of unsafe student housing and absentee landlords.
In terms of the social tensions between permanent residents and students, Epp explained, “It’s important to increase communication and come up with a collaborative approach.”
Butler, sharing similar views, called for more community engagement during first-years’ orientation.
Looking for the city to be more inclusive, Laryea suggested, “We have to get youth playing significant roles in decision-making and policy-making in our community. Once [they] see that… [their] sense of belonging is enhanced.”
While engaging and integrating students are contemplated by some, others don’t see as much of a need to involve students in the community.
“I’ve talked to many students; they don’t want to be integrated, am I wrong there?” Durrell asked.
“I think in the end, what it’s going to be is students taking care of students,” she continued, using the example of Foot Patrol as a method in which students monitor one another to ensure the community is “safe” and “respected”.
The differing views exemplify the need for collaboration to resolve all the implications of having a growing university present in the ward.