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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Gabriela Montero concert

December 4, 2009 — Tags: , , , , ,

I went to see Gabriela Montero perform at the Perimeter Institute on December 3, 2009. The concert was fantastic. She played some pieces by Brahms and a piano sonata by Alberto Ginastera, an Argentinian composer, in the first half of the concert, and these were quite beautiful, but what really made the concert special was the second half, when she did something different from any other classical music concert that I’ve attended.

After intermission, Ms. Montero asked for members of the audience to sing to her a theme, one that other members of the audience would recognize. Then, she played the theme on the piano, and improvised using it as a starting point. Some of the tunes the audience requested were “America” from West Side Story, Happy Birthday, Summertime from Porgy and Bess by Gershwin, the entrance of Papageno in Mozart’s Magic Flute, the Theme from The Simpsons, and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. She said that classical music has a history of improvisation, and that it’s too bad that modern day classical performances so seldom include it. The improvised pieces she played used patterns of music similar to those found in classical pieces. I definitely felt like I was listening to a world-class classical musician improvise in the style of classical music, not jazz or another style of music, although there were small sectionss of the music here and there that were reminiscent of jazz.

After the concert, as she was signing CDs, I asked her how she learned to improvise. She said it is something that she has always done, and that she wouldn’t know how to analyze or teach it. It is instinctive and mystical, mysterious even to her. She said she plays from a mindset of no judgment and that she feels very relaxed and at home when improvising.

Gabriela Montero has been taking requests for improvisations over the internet, and releasing the results as MP3 files, since December 2007. I think that’s a fantastic idea, and I’m looking forward to listening to the results, if I figure out how to, since the website says the MP3s are available only for 3 days after the performance, and the link to subscribe to her email list appears to go to a domain squatter. She did appear on NPR’s Sing It and Wing It, and you can hear some of those segments, including an improvisation based on the song “You Are My Sunshine.” There are also some clips of her on Youtube, improvising various songs in various venues, including at President Barack Obama’s Inauguration.

All in all, I’m delighted that I’ve been introduced to her music. Thank you Perimeter Institute.

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Waterloo Park Master Plan

The City of Waterloo is making a new Waterloo Park Master Plan. The idea is to make a plan about how the park will develop in the next 20 years. Members of the public were invited to participate in a task force starting in 2007, and this task force has come up with a Preliminary Concept Plan (related documents available in PDF format here). There were recently some public consultations about the plan, and I get the impression that members of the public are encouraged to participate in the process. So if you’re interested in this stuff, there’s still a chance to get involved. If nothing else, you can fill out the Preliminary Concept Plan Questionnaire (PDF file), and register for their email list to keep up-to-date on events and the planning process and get newsletters.

One thing that I find a bit frustrating is navigating the City’s webpage and making sense of the information I find. I’m not sure what would change at the park if the plan is approved. I would like to see a summary of that. Perhaps one already exists, but I didn’t find it. If nothing else, the projected increase in population living near the park, and the introduction of Light Rail Transit along the railway tracks that go through the park will have an impact. Presumably this is accounted for in the plan.

Waterloo Park is one of my favourite parts of the city. I like to hang out there, sit at the picnic tables, walk by the water, admire the flowers and shrubs in the Victorian Garden, watch the wildlife, and sit on the rocks by the zoo. I hope that the park will continue to be as awesome in the future as it is now.

If you’d like to see what the park looks like, there are photos of Waterloo Park on Flickr, including some of my own.

Kudos to the City of Waterloo for involving the public in urban planning, and recognizing the importance of public spaces. Perhaps we can also get a blogging conversation going on about it. Anyone?

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