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Capitalizing on Waterloo’s Diversity and Growth

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Waterloo has one of the strongest economies in Canada because of low unemployment rates, the best post-secondary institutions in the country, stable housing and real estate markets and low consumer and business bankruptcies. We have been ranked among the top 20 startup hubs in the world because of the thousands of jobs and millions of dollars our startup companies generate for our economy.

Mayor Brenda Halloran (front, center) with the Waterloo, Ontario City Council

Mayor Brenda Halloran (front, center) with the Waterloo, Ontario City Council

And because of these and other achievements, we have been earmarked as a growth community by the Province of Ontario. People are drawn to this city for all it has to offer. Our ability to reinvent ourselves and to diversify our economy has made Waterloo a city of choice to live, work, learn and play. But we can’t rest on our laurels; we must always think about the future and how we can overcome challenges. And we do have challenges.

One of our city’s core areas is a neighbourhood known as Northdale. This neighbourhood is nestled between two of Canada’s top universities – University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. The neighbourhood’s residents are predominantly students, with businesses on part of the periphery. As the universities have a student population that has accelerated past 40,000, this neighbourhood’s diversity and rapid growth has unbalanced the neighbourhood. It has become increasingly challenging to balance the interests of a number of diverging groups.

We established a Northdale Special Project Committee to address the challenge of balancing the needs of our varied constituents. This group of residents, including students, educators, a developer, realtor and a landlord/investor, came together to provide important input to a neighbourhood vision and land use plan. This vision, along with a community improvement plan and new land use regulations, was approved by our council in June of 2012. It envisions a neighbourhood where a wider range of demographic groups can live, study, learn, work, shop, and play.

With this work complete, our next question was how to execute this vision with the very limited staff and monetary resources we have available to us. I was delighted last year, when I learned that we had been awarded the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant. We were one of 31 cities around the world – and one of only two communities in Canada – to receive this prestigious award, which will allow IBM’s experts to provide recommendations for an action plan to rehabilitate and reinvigorate the Northdale neighbourhood.

Waterloo is an award-winning city that leads by example. Globalization makes it more important than ever to maintain and enhance our quality of life so we are an attractive place for foreign investment, startups and a place where families are comfortable planting roots and building a future. All our residents, both present and future – including our student population – are important to us. Already, many of our university students graduate and remain in Waterloo to join one of the many technology firms or to start their own businesses. Having a community where people want to live is enormously important to us.

I know IBM will help us reposition the image of this neighbourhood to attract the kind of investment that builds on the vision that is the foundation of the planning – something that was outside of the scope of the Northdale plan, but which is important to its success.

This fall, as we welcome this dream team to our municipality, we look forward to seeing our vision for this important neighbourhood turned into a realistic and workable plan.

Thank you IBM!

Mayor Brenda Halloran was re-elected as mayor of the City of Waterloo in October 2010. She represents the city on Waterloo regional council as well as on a number of boards and committees. A version of this article originally appeared on the City of Waterloo Blog.

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