What did City Council do?
Committee night is an opportunity for all of Council to learn more about the work each of our Committees of Council have been working on, as well as their priorities for the coming year. As the Council liaison to the Sustainability Advisory Committee as well as the Economic Development Advisory Committee, I have first-hand knowledge of their work. I greatly value the expertise and advice that we receive from these committees and this night is a great chance to learn more about the committees I do not have the privilege to sit on. Here are some of the highlights from each group:
Age Friendly Committee – Exploring alternatives to long term care, examining naturally occurring retirement communities (NORC’s) and working on essential tools for our older adult population including the Ageing Well Waterloo Directory, My Wellness Calendar and the Social Isolation Guide.
Town & Gown Committee – Ongoing work pertaining to the student accommodations report, large street gatherings and community cohesion.
Advisory Committee on Culture – Assistance in the Community Happiness Project, Picnic Table Program and Calls for Artists. Recommendations for consideration of Council include support for live/work studios, art incubators/accelerators, art/creative residences, studio share initiatives and cultural districts.
Municipal Heritage Committee – Input on a large number of heritage permits due to a rise in construction and work on the Eby Farmhouse protection.
Waterloo Park Committee – Highlighting the work done on Silver Lake and the new west Waterloo Park splash pad as well as future projects including wayfinding signage, Bauer lot resurfacing and the west end circuit way.
Sustainability Advisory Committee – In addition to stressing the need for Council to aggressively pursue our GHG emissions targets, SAC has provided invaluable input into an array of plans and policies. Those policies include; TransformWR community climate action plan, Transportation Master Plan, Corporate Climate Action Plan, Energy Conservation and Demand Management Plan, Updated Green Building Policy, Aligning our work with the UN Sustainable Development Goals as well as the forthcoming Affordable Housing strategy.
Economic Development Advisory Committee – EcDev is focused on ‘Building a Thriving City’. This includes addressing topics related to innovation and a thriving business community, climate change, reconciliation, equity and inclusion, affordable housing, health and wellness (including mental health), active and public transportation.
In addition to the above committees, there are hosts of other committees that provide a great service to our City. These committees are made of local community members like you. In addition to providing this service to our City, I would like to believe that it offers community members a chance to learn more about what is going on at the City as well as the ability to connect with folks you otherwise may not have a chance to meet. Interim committee recruitment for 2022 has just passed, but I would strongly encourage folks who are thinking of applying to do so the next time the opportunity arises.
Formal Public Meeting – Zone Change – Erb & Dupont Development
Council approved a zone change for a new 22-story development at the corner of Erb and Dupont (some folks may remember it as the old LCBO). The process for this location started in September of 2018 and has proceeded through multiple iterations. This new multi-use development will add 234 units to our housing stock, retain a heritage home, add new retail/commercial space on the Erb Street frontage and improve the connectivity of the Laurel Trail. It is always exciting to see the change in our core and I believe this new development is perfectly located in the Uptown, near the LRT and multiple active transportation routes. I think it will be a great addition to the community, welcoming new neighbours to the area and replacing a run down, underutilized space.
Parking in Northdale Motion
Councillor Henry introduced a motion directing staff to consider a paid parking program in the Northdale area of the City (near the Universities). While no decisions were made, the intention of this program is to provide Council with options related to exact locations of paid parking, times and cost. Although we do receive a large quantity of enforcement complaints related to the three hour parking provision (residents and visitors are currently permitted to park on any unmarked city street for a period of three hours), it is a significant challenge to enforce. The intention of a paid parking program would be to discourage folks from parking in a neighbourhood that is extremely well served by both active transportation and public transportation. Emissions from transportation represent approximately 50% of all GHG emissions the community emits. As a society we need to start considering the ubiquity and ease with which driving has taken over our mindsets and start a mode shift to other less environmentally damaging options. If a small fee to park begins to make public transportation, walking or cycling more appealing, that would be very worthwhile, not to mention the ability to invest those funds back into active transportation modes.
Those were the major topics of conversation at Council in what was a light month. If anyone would like to chat further about these or any other topic, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Outside of the Council Chambers
Waterloo Region Community Energy (https://wrcommunityenergy.ca/)
It was a busy month outside the Council chambers starting with a webinar hosted by Waterloo Region Community Energy on building our energy future. This webinar included an update on upcoming priorities for the organization including Energy in Land Use Planning, Priority Projects, Literacy and Communications as well as Municipal and LDC Leadership. We heard from Robyn Wark with BC Hydro about the BC Energy Step Code. This was provincial leadership mandating that all new builds are net zero energy ready by 2032, which has subsequently been updated to building zero carbon by 2030. BC has accepted that building zero carbon is not cost neutral, but understands that many regulations pertaining to topics as varied as fire prevention to public health do not come at zero cost. That said, they are necessary to secure a climate friendly future. Some of the ideas that emerged from this conversation included requiring all new builds to be EV ready and recognizing that local government has the opportunity to act as bottom-up leaders to the province and federal government.
Safe School Travel Planning (https://www.stswr.ca/)
Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region hosted a webinar to share the findings of their annual report related to safe school travel planning. This report provided data from a few schools related to some of the interventions that the organization has collaborated on, as well as sharing other information on this important topic. I have met with STSWR in conjunction with Edna Staebler and St. Nicholas as well as understand that they have collaborated with Laurelwood Public School as well. These have always been excellent discussions and it was great to see that the data shows some improvements to schools after these meetings have taken place. The main takeaway I had was that the average distance to an elementary school for folks is 11 minutes by foot! STSWR recognizes that the ultimate goal is to have less cars in the school area in order to limit the negative behaviours that we often see in these locations. One of their initiatives is ‘Drive to 5’, which highlights locations near the school that are only a five-minute walk. That five-minute walk has been proven to be beneficial for children in terms of providing a small amount of exercise before learning begins and although not perfect, does a great job of dispersing traffic from the epicenter of the school.
Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation Vital Signs (https://www.kwcf.ca/vital-signs)
The KWCF provided our Economic Development Committee with a summary of their latest Vital Signs report on Affordable Housing in the Region. Here are a few of the interesting takeaways I had from the presentation:
- Waterloo’s population is growing at twice the rate of Canada’s over the past five years (12% vs. 6%)
- Waterloo has the highest growth rate out of 290 metro areas over 500,000 in all of North America
- Starting in 2016 population growth has tripled, while housing starts have only increased by approximately 33%
- An analysis of ‘rich countries’ shows a 36% increase in housing prices from 2005 to 2020. Canada has a 108% increase over that same time period, while KW has increased by 282%!
- The cost of a home in Waterloo was approximately 3.0x household income in 2005, while today the cost is 8.6x.
There is a ton of valuable information contained in this report and I hope it will help guide the City as we develop our first affordable housing strategy. I shared the work on that strategy so far, as well as some of the approaches under consideration here – https://twitter.com/RoyceBodaly/status/1462134051423375360.
I want to spend the last part of this newsletter talking about the recent encampment removal in Kitchener. I attended the protest over the removal of the encampment at Charles/Stirling. I understand that the removal is under Regional jurisdiction and they are facing scrutiny over how it occurred. It is heartbreaking to know that in a wealthy community such as Waterloo Region that we are facing a homelessness problem, one that has been exasperated by the pandemic. Listening to the speakers at the protest is a reminder that but for circumstance, it could easily be us in the same situation, it could be our children or a loved one living rough. I encourage everyone to show humanity and compassion when addressing our unsheltered neighbours and to respect that some folks are choosing encampments over the shelter system for their own safety. Yes, we need to approach them and ensure that they are aware of the supports that do exist in our community, but we must recognize that demolishing encampments is not only cruel, but also not solving the problem.
Take care, stay safe and get vaccinated!