City evaluates student area

After a year of discussion and debate, this April city council will be presented with two visions for the student-dominated community of Northdale to determine which will be the most effective in solving the problems of the area.

“We started off in town hall discussions fairly focused around creating a neighbourhood that was friendly and welcoming to all,” said Kory Preston, Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union vice-president of university affairs. “There was a lot of focus on trying to create a very innovative neighbourhood.”

From earlier discussions in April 2009, to later meetings in the fall and winter, the plan for Northdale seemed to shift its focus to the density of the area.

According to Preston, this has since reverted back in some degree to the original plans – in February, the universities proposed their vision for the area that involves them being larger stake-holders to ensure a quality living environment for students.

“The universities want to require that the developers develop in a way that creates, much like our residences do, community spaces for the development of safe, healthy and fun activities,” said Preston.

Although these interests are still being taken into account, the visions being tabled this April will consist of a proposal made by permanent residents and an accumulation of town hall results and city plans.

Growing problems

While behaviour and by-law adherence are often the more publicized problems in Northdale, the root issue sprouts from the inadequate housing in the area.

War-time houses and crammed apartments, which have been utilized for student housing, have resulted in illegal or absentee landlords and uncomfortable living situations.

“When we look at things like St. Patrick’s Day and the Olympic events occur … on the streets because there’s no common area for people to gather,” said Preston, pointing out that the small homes students live in have minimal amenity space.

Anne Crowe, candidate for Ward 6 in the upcoming municipal election, active landlord and 30-year resident, echoed this view.

“We find with these enormous student residences – you know, with students packed in with very little space for recreation – it’s no wonder they spill out onto the sidewalks,” she said.

A year in review

The town hall meeting in April 2009 identified many of these key issues and allowed students and permanent residents to find a common ground.

“We have certainly highlighted some of the issues and I think that we’ve also developed some respect between the students and some of the permanent residents in terms of this being a situation we all have to deal with,” said Jan d’Ailly, councillor for Ward 6.

While the results of this initial town hall were compiled to create a cohesive vision that was brought back to residents in the fall, the permanent resident group Help Urbanize the Ghetto (HUG) developed their own vision.

HUG’s vision, entitled The Green Solution, was presented following the city’s compilations at the town hall meeting in November. This vision has gained a lot of support among homeowners in the community who are anxious to reach a solution.

“That’s what I’d like to see, a more urban vision, a more green vision,” said Crowe in support of HUG’s overall vision.

“We’re moving towards a more urban type of environment and … [implementing] some of the new urban planning principles creates a more ecologically-sound urban environment.”

Looking ahead

At a council meeting in January, both visions were presented and it was determined that before choosing which route to take, an outline of the tools and resources necessary in following either vision was needed.

“City staff [have been asked] to provide a greater clarification to council on the vision for the area,” said Tanja Curic, policy planner for the city of Waterloo. “They have also asked us to identify the various tools … available to council to implement these two visions, including such things as costs.”

It remains unclear as to which way council will lean once the costs, resources and time frames are presented for each vision, or even if another alternate solution is found.

Regardless of the vision that is adopted for Northdale, the actions required to reach it will take a great deal of time and resources to redevelop the area.

“It took 25 years to get where we are now, so it’s not going to take one year to fix it. I think we’re going to see a gradual and continued improvement in the area,” said d’Ailly.

Speculation also remains as to whether any decision will result in feasible changes, given the little improvement that has been seen thus far.

“We’ll truly have to see if this city council has the guts to take a stand on the Northdale area or if they will leave it on the docket for the people who take over,” said Preston.

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