Northdale Neighbourhood is not a ghetto

January 7, 2010 — Tags: , ,

Contrary to the impression you might get from a January 6, 2010 article in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, the Northdale neighbourhood close to both universities is not an ugly ghetto with a bad reputation.

I live in the neighbourhood the article mentions, and I think it is a great place to live. I cannot think of another neighbourhood I would want to live in more, in Waterloo. I take issue with the image of this neighbourhood as an ugly student ghetto. I think it is exaggerated and sensationalistic, and it is not at all how I feel about living here.

The Record article, like many of the newspaper articles I’ve seen about this neighbourhood, seems high on sensationalism and low on fact checking. For example, the photo in the article is of the house next door to me. It was recently bought by a young professional couple, the very people that supposedly are not being attracted to the neighbourhood. They are living in the house, and renting the basement to students.

I would also like to note that while there are sometimes loud noises at night, I have never seen anyone having sex on the sidewalk in several years of living near students. Nor do I think that having big backyards detracts from the quality of the neighbourhood. In fact, along with the mature trees, it is one of its charms.

Also, most students are quiet and studious. It is only a small minority that are bad neighbours.

I was disappointed to see the comments made by my city councillor Jan d’Ailly, as quoted in the Record article. For example, this one “I think it’s pretty clear that what’s there now is not working.” Also his plans to “file a motion next Monday that calls for changes to the area.” I’ve written him a letter to tell him my opinion.

Whatever the city does, there will be a lot of students in this neighbourhood, because of the location. I have reviewed the 20 year plans that the city has for the neighbourhood, and I think they are well thought out and sensible. I think it may be possible to improve the plan, but not on the basis of sensationalistic claims, and not with the unrealistic expectation that changing zoning will stop students from living here or attract more high tech workers to the area.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jesse Rodgers, Darcy Casselman. Darcy Casselman said: Ellen responds to the Record's "OMG ghetto!!11!" article: #waterloo #omgghetto […]

  2. If they just said “we think we’d get more money for our houses if we could sell them to condo/apartment/office tower developers” then I wouldn’t have any problem. Even the fantasyland artist’s renditions are no more ludicrous than ones drawn for other proposed developments. But to use the word “ghetto” and pretend that there is some noble sustainability/greenification motive behind this lobbying is just too much.

    Comment by Gary Will — January 7, 2010 @ 1:12 pm
  3. What they are riffing on are the party houses. Some terms there can be the one house on your block that is the local party house. In which case, public fornication, fighting and puked covered sidewalks become pretty common.

    We had one such house up the street from us. The sound of breaking glass and speeding cars became quite common at 3AM.

    But, and this is the important thing, Waterloo cops are pretty good at breaking these up after a few complaints.

    Comment by clvrmnky — January 7, 2010 @ 4:11 pm
  4. The story also didn’t mention the massive condo development planned to start soon in the big empty lot at Fr. David Bauer and Erb. An easy walk from most of the high tech, and much closer to Uptown Waterloo, which has transformed into a very high-class place to be. Why rip down a nice neighborhood to build condos when we can put them on an empty lot?

    Comment by Tim — January 8, 2010 @ 10:45 am
  5. Regarding current residents — of course they want to get the zoning changed. Ghetto it may not be, but the general appeal of the neighbourhood for single family residences has certainly decreased over the last few decades. You’d think that student housing would increase property values, but the city’s efforts to “save” the neighbourhood have resulted in restrictions on lodging house spacing. So as I understand it, those that live close to existing lodging houses cannot sell their house for a fair price as their property is not eligible to be (profitable) student housing.

    The city’s own reports show that the few live-in property owners left have been living there for 30+ years, with almost no one living there for a medium length of time (e.g. 5 to 20 years). Of course there are exceptions, but that doesn’t change the overall picture of the neighbourhood, which is of a place that families have been leaving and students have been cramming into.

    Anyway, I support the urbanization of Northdale for reasons completely unrelated to the property values of land there. It’s a suburban, low-density area in what would be an ideal location for good quality urban development. Waterloo approves sprawl on the edge of the city without allowing the creation of residential units within walking distance of UW, WLU, RIM, and Uptown — as Northdale is.

    I actually spent a really long time myself looking for a one-bedroom apartment near UW and Uptown — and good ones pretty much don’t exist in Waterloo. See here: It’s absurd that car-oriented sprawl is okay, but prime real estate in a place where people already do walk and cycle to work and school is forced to remain post-war single family residential. Northdale is an amazing location, but its built form completely fails to take advantage of that.

    Comment by Michael D — January 8, 2010 @ 5:11 pm
  6. Sorry, one more point: if high-bedroom-count units are allowed and overall density is restricted (i.e. the current situation), what results is only student housing of the five-bedroom apartment kind or the seven-bedroom house kind. What kind of IT worker (+ family) or even upper-year undergrad wants to live like that? Due to the limited supply, it’s not even particularly cheap.

    Comment by Michael D — January 8, 2010 @ 5:17 pm
  7. Michael, I read your blog and I know where you’re coming from, but I think you’re missing the point.

    Ellen (full disclosure: I’m her s/o) is a full-time resident in Northdale who wants to live there. Ellen’s next door neighbours are young professionals who want to live there. We think the house across the street was bought by a young family (with kids!) although she hasn’t actually met them yet and don’t know for sure if they’re not just hanging around to fix the place up and fill with students. Her part of the neighbourhood (a) isn’t that bad and (b) seems to be getting better.

    The map that keeps getting printed in the Chronicle is wrong. The picture the HUG Waterloo people are painting is demonstrably false, and Ellen is the counter-example. The media coverage has been irresponsible and misleading.

    You’re speculating based on faulty information. She’s telling you about the actual situation as she sees it.

    I would love to see Northdale become a vibrant, high-density urban neighbourhood, but I don’t think the market can bear it. I could go on, but I’ve written a whole blog post about it, so I won’t belabour it here. See

    I’d love to talk to you personally about this. I’m sure Ellen would to. This whole thing bugs me in an irrate blogger sort of way, but it’s personally important for her. I don’t think we should be basing our urban planning decisions for a neighbourhood based on the wishes of people who don’t want to live there.

    Comment by Darcy Casselman — January 9, 2010 @ 4:00 pm
  8. Hi Darcy, I would respectfully suggest that I am not missing the point but simply disagreeing.

    We’re not talking about mathematical theorems here. It isn’t a contradiction that Ellen — and some others, I’m sure — thinks the neighbourhood is fine. Any worthwhile generality has some exceptions. The contention you’d need to make is that Ellen’s is the general experience for live-in property owners in Northdale, and I think you’d have a hard time with that claim. Though I’m not placing much weight on how much I (or others) personally like/dislike the neighbourhood — what matters is the empirical preference and the manifestations thereof. And more importantly, I simply do not think the zoning there makes for good urban planning today.

    What speculation, and what faulty information? Anyway, I think you are seriously misunderstanding the proposal and how it would work — specifically, how it would affect property owners and developers. I’d be glad to meet with you to discuss this — tomorrow afternoon, perhaps?

    Regarding housing markets and the rest, I’ll respond to the linked post separately.

    Comment by Michael D — January 9, 2010 @ 11:51 pm
  9. Can you send this to the Record as a Letter to the Editor? It would be great to see your firsthand perspective get out to a broader audience!

    Comment by Johnny — January 11, 2010 @ 4:42 pm
  10. There may be some young professionals attracted to Northdale due to its walkability, rental property potential and housing prices, but it’s not contradictory to suggest that the housing stock of the area isn’t typically attractive to that demographic. Every infill development in Northdale, as Michael mentioned, involves high bedroom-count units, which are limited in their appeal. That, and the floorplans of post-war single-family homes in Northdale are relatively unpopular — it’s practically all Victory Housing and spartan bungalows.

    To address the rowdiness issue: yes, most student renters are good neighbors. However, anyone who’s been a student in KW is well aware that people looking for optimally-located “party houses” often look for properties close to the universities or within stumbling distance from bars. So, unfortunately, Northdale is well-suited to the students most likely to be the worst neighbors. A good way to discourage these types of students from living in Northdale is to create mid-market high-density developments with — here’s the key point — low bedroom counts. This also makes the neighborhood more attractive to other demographics that would highly value its location and amenities.

    Darcy, the people who are calling for a change in Northdale’s zoning are the same people who want to live there, just not in its current housing stock. It’s great that Ellen managed to find a house that works for her needs, but that doesn’t undermine the fact that Northdale doesn’t have the right properties for many people who fit her demographic.

    Comment by JM Lambert — January 12, 2010 @ 6:10 pm
  11. JM Lambert, I think we agree on that last point. What you’re talking about is perfectly sensible and I don’t think we have a problem with it. But that’s not what HUG is saying to the papers. They’re saying the neighbourhood is a ghetto therefore the city needs to bulldoze and put up luxury condos.

    HUG needs better spokespeople.

    Comment by Darcy — January 13, 2010 @ 2:02 pm
  12. Perhaps it would be helpful to hear from someone else that lives in Northdale.

    My family lives on Albert Street. For the last five years I have spent countless hours trying to get Northdale rezoned.

    There are two visions for intensification. The first is a student precinct. The student population prefers to live in one and two bedroom apartments close to the University. The City allowed developers to build 5 bedroom units. Why not rezone parts of Northdale to MR, build more apartments, condos and three story brownstones for students. Make it a green community with local services like coffee shops, dentists, restaurants and a grocery store. It will limit the need for cars and would house students in safe accomodations. Right now Northdale is full of unlicensed houses that are packed to the gills with students. Don’t you think students deserve better than run down houses that may or may not be safe?

    What is here now was designed for single family occupency not students. And for a variety of reasons single families are not happy here. Why not build something that is accually designed for the students that do want to live in the neighbourhood.

    The second option is a diverse and intensified community- some sort of MR zoning (apartments and condos) mixed with three story brownstones… This community would be roughly 50% students and 50% non students. It would be a youthful community with a wide variety of housing options- but again not five bedroom apartments- one and two bedrooms units. Services for the neighbourhood could be added to the ground floors of the buildings.

    Just to be 100% clear- there would be significantly more student housing in Northdale with either option. I am talking about a seriously intensified neighbourhood close to many area attractions, jobs and the universities.

    What is here doesn’t make sense. Something better needs to be built.


    Comment by Christine — January 14, 2010 @ 9:57 am
  13. It appears that the house being touted as a young family moving in and renting the basement out has been duplexed? Presumably without acc. apt. status.
    I wanted to live here for a long time.
    The city promised the residents very specific actions to preserve the area.
    Then the city did none of them.
    A councillor yammering at meeting after meeting about exprorpiation doesn’t make it sound as though his goal is preservation of what exists. Nobody expropriates to hand it over to families, when it’s already single family homes.
    Jan did this at meeting after meeting, but refused to explain himself.
    This year alone 16 more houses converted from owner-occupied to rental.
    I would be thrilled to correct any errors on the map.
    Ellen has been emailed diretly to correct it if she sees a house that is wrong.
    I would love to know more about the status of the house across the street from her.
    Last night, walking the neighbourhood, I found two more houses converted from owner-occupied to rental.
    And because Ellen hasn’t seen people “fornicating” doesn’t mean that others are lying – I guarantee you I saw it, and another senior reported another incident of it as well.
    Northdale is the most disrespectful treatment of a group of seniors that could be imagined – by the City of Waterloo – with them lying to residents in 2004, and not keeping their promises to protect quality of life and property values.
    Some houses are on .44 acres and many are over 2,000 sq ft and well maintained.
    This close to tech jobs, university jobs, they should be no problem to sell to someone other than students, but they don’t.
    I loved this neighbourhood and I gave up when I saw what the city was up to in here.

    Comment by Deborah — September 30, 2010 @ 12:24 pm
  14. One other problem to consider here is the genuine needs of students as well. I am entirely in favour of the rezoning, and think that the majority of this problem is stemming from the city’s (mis)handling of student populations within the city.

    What everyone is saying about young families in the IT industry or starting out in Waterloo in whatever new jobs, who wish to be close enough to their work to bus/bike/walk is likely quite true- but the same goes for students!

    Most students don’t have cars, and therefore need to be within reasonable distance to on of the Universities (Laurier or Waterloo), but the sad fact is that student housing is not being well managed.

    It is extremely difficult to find student housing for a group smaller than 5 people. My housemates and I had to look for months to find a place that would rent to a group of 3. Small student homes simply do not exist currently, which needs to be addressed by the city.

    Due to the overacceptance rates at Waterloo, more and more upper year students are being forced to live off campus every year as the university slowly converts all on campus residences to first-year only buildings. And sadly, the solution seems to be to stuff more people into buildings like the ones in Northdale (in my second year I lived in 3 storey a house with 10 students- it was absolutely ridiculous and in complete disrepair)

    Overall, I think the city should be collaborating with the universities to ensure their students are taken care of, because if the students are being treated like sh*t, what motivation do they have to give back to their communities (which is not to say that I agree with the behaviour of the “rowdy” students, just that it is fairly predictable)

    Comment by Sandy — October 7, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

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