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Northdale Neighbourhood: Visions for Change

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

Enrollment at University of Waterloo has been increasing every year and things are no different at Wilfrid Laurier University either. This has inevitably resulted in an increase in student occupancy of the areas adjacent to the universities such as Keats Way, Uptown Waterloo and primarily Northdale. Northdale which roughly lies between Uptown Waterloo and the Research and Technology Park has been a topic of much debate recently. This area, due to its location between the two universities is desirable by a very large population of students and is dominated by students particularly since the City of Waterloo allowed licensing of rental units in this area.

The increasing student population has resulted in complaints from the permanent residents over the years including and not limited to public drinking, littering, excessive noise, violence and damage to property. Such complaints mainly originate from the area bounded by King Street, Columbia Street, Lester and University Avenue which has gained the reputation of being a “student ghetto”. This reputation is further preventing families and the tech-savvy employees from moving into Northdale.

In order to address the issues of providing safe, affordable and close to campus housing to students and to lessen the hostile attitudes of the residents towards students UW conducted the “Student Accommodation Study” (SAS) in 2004. As a result of the study, a long term plan for the development of student housing in the neighbourhoods adjacent to the universities was drafted. The Universities Neighbourhoods Plan, as it is called, encourages more apartment development in “Nodes and Corridors” near the universities and also discourages further conversion in low residential neighbourhoods by limiting the number of lodging houses, accessory apartments and duplexes, in order to maintain the low density residential neighbourhoods.

Waterloo residents are not satisfied with the approach that the City is taking and some residents from Northdale Residents Association and the rest of the city have proposed a different plan under the banner Help Urbanize the Ghetto in Waterloo – HUG Waterloo.  HUG Waterloo wants a mixed neighbourhood in Northdale which would be no longer dominated by students.

It suggests a “green” solution and requires restructuring of the entire Northdale area to convert it to a sustainable urban living area with parks, and lots of trails and sidewalks – a potential car free neighbourhood. The residential units will be five and six storey condominium buildings having one or two bedroom units, with shops, services, cafes and restaurants occupying the ground floor. HUG believes the current situation of the Northdale is a blot on the City of Waterloo, one of the most intelligent communities in the world with two universities and a well-reputed high-tech sector.

These two plans, the one in place currently as of the release of UNP and the proposal by HUG Waterloo are being officially considered by the City of Waterloo. A City Council meeting is to be held on June 7, 2010 where the City will hear a presentation from the City of Waterloo Development Services and Protective Services staff regarding the merits and demerits of the two proposals, lessons learned from the SAS in relation to Northdale and tools and resources available to the City to implement either or both of the plans.

In a nutshell the two proposals are as follows:

Proposal A Proposal B
Maintain low rise, low density character of interior of the neighbourhood. Allow intensification and mixed uses within the neighbourhood
Encourage intensification and mix of land uses in the edges of the neighbourhood in the designated Nodes and Corridors. Have diversification of households including longer and shorter term residents
Encourage a range of households including longer and shorter term residents. Require “world class” design and environmentally friendly design
Encourage high quality urban design where intensification occurs. Support a car-free neighbourhood

According to Bradley Moggach, President of FEDS (Federation of Students), both plans fail to address the actual issues. He commented, “The major issues are creating a long-lasting sustainable solution that allows for affordable housing, a safe and secure environment, and addresses the needs of all stakeholders (including students). [Unfortunately] Student friendly plan isn’t being implemented by either proposal.” Moggach further went on to say that the UW Administration is of the same thought as it realizes that the root issues are not being tackled by either of the proposals; consultations have taken place between UW and Laurier administrations and the student societies and a viable solution requires a very involved role from the stakeholders too.

Moggach further explained, “ Although there are positive elements contained within both plans, there are significant drawbacks for students. The City’s Vision Plan, the one currently being utilized, essentially develops the nodes and corridors of the neighbourhood, attempting to move students to the outside of the neighbourhood. We encourage our students to live close to campus in a safe and secure environment and the current developments do not support student needs.

Many of the new developments being built are high density, large unit buildings, far from amenities. The HUG Waterloo Plan is not a viable and sustainable solution for students because there are concerns about housing costs significantly rising and potentially becoming unaffordable for students. The HUG Waterloo Plan was proposed by a minority of residents in the area and does not reflect the needs and concerns of all stakeholders, specifically students.” Moggach stressed that UW has considerable different demographics and student needs due to its co-operative education system and that needs to be taken into account for a sustainable solution.

When asked about the student opinion on these two plans, Moggach commented that student opinion is difficult to gauge just by what is presented to the students. The solution by HUG Waterloo is labeled a green solution which students will agree with without understanding the full ramifications. The students who live in the neighbourhood know what the issues are but they are not aware of the sensitivity of the current situation. They do not realize that the issue is coming to the Council, and the resources that are available. Co-op students from UW do not even live long enough in the neighbourhood to understand the fundamental issues. Although students form the major proportion of the stakeholders in this matter and FEDS is emphasizing involvement from all stakeholders it’s surprising that no formal initiative has been taken by FEDS and the UW Administration for that matter, to spread awareness about this issue among the student body at large or obtain their input.

A representative from FEDS will be making a presentation at the City Council meeting on June 7th. When asked about the content of the presentation, the FEDS President said that FEDS would work with the Bylaws, Policies and Procedures Committee (BP&P) to construct a policy which notes the lack of support for either plan, outlines what students needs are and the lack of consultation that has been done to date. Furthermore,  BP&P will be encouraged to write a policy regarding future developments in neighbourhoods with a significant student population.

Both FEDS and HUG Waterloo agree that it is fundamentally not a students-versus-residents issue as the media is portraying it. A sustainable solution that caters to the need of all stakeholders will involve extensive consultation. As students it is our duty to be aware of what is happening and take active part in determining the future of the our University neighbourhood.


  1. Deborah

    Good article, but what is missing is this key point: the SAS 2004 (city document) goal was to reduce the number of students living in the houses inside the nodes and corridors: the opposite happened. Coming very soon to city council is a rental housing licensing bylaw which will, according to dev. services, result in students being evicted from every house in the neighbourhood without a license. And they may go back to restoring the legal separation between licensed house to 75m. – this will see students having no option but to live in those new buildings going up.
    See Oshawa for an example of this bylaw – only two unrelated people will be able to live in a house without a license.
    The remaining homeowners actually asked city hall to call the area what it is: a student precinct. This would allow the very few remaining non-student owners to sell their houses for rentals, but city hall is pursuing this other goal instead – ending the renting of houses w/o licences (approx. 50% of the houses in Northdale). The city’s current vision is the biggest obstacle the universities, students and the few remaining non-student homeowners face.
    Everyone loses.

  2. Chris

    Deborah: I agree, everyone loses. Oshawa’s a great example of a failed version of this bylaw, where students are basically treated like an obnoxious, drunken problem that the rest of the town has to try and stamp out. The bylaw also imposes ridiculous restrictions, including outright bans on home renovations. A friend of mine lives in a house with a completely unfinished basement (in a bungalow); they’d planned on turning it into basic living space (not additional bedrooms but the basic amenities for people already living there). Under the bylaw, they can do nothing about it. Ridiculous.

  3. concerned

    except the developers

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