Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, home to three institutions of higher learning, has a large student population. As the universities grow and expand, the student population in the city increases in tandem. Many students choose to live closer to school, especially in areas with reliable public transit. This creates pockets of student housing around the universities. One of these areas, with a higher concentration of students, is Northdale. Its proximity to two major universities, the University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier University, plus Waterloo’s downtown core, makes it a very popular choice for Waterloo’s student population.
In the Northdale neighbourhood, existing housing stock has proven to be inadequate for the growing student population. The predominant housing type – single family homes – are unable to support the influx of students. Families who live in the area are slowly relocating to other areas in the city, as the student population exerts dominance over the neighbourhood.
Excessive noise, public drinking, partying, garbage-strewn streets, and other issues related to the college student lifestyle proved too much for existing residents who desire a stable, quiet place to raise their children. The Northdale neighbourhood started declining as family homes turned into rental properties. Damage to properties became rampant, and many properties were not being well maintained. Soon, Northdale started to gain the reputation of being a “student ghetto.”
The City decided to take action and commissioned the Northdale Land Use and Community Improvement Plan Study. As a result of this study, a land-use plan, community improvement plan, and urban-design guidelines were created to provide a comprehensive planning and regulatory framework to guide revitalization efforts for this neighbourhood. The vision for Northdale is to be a diverse, vibrant, and sustainable neighbourhood, integrated with educational, residential, commercial, cultural, heritage, and recreational functions. Traditional single family homes will give way to mixed-use, high-rise buildings that will increase density and reurbanize this neighbourhood.
Today there are already signs of change after the adoption of the Community Improvement Plan. Single family homes are being demolished and replaced by high-rise buildings. Construction is constantly underway, sometimes causing road closures as new water and sewage pipes need to be install to support the significant increase in population. More students are flocking to these new apartments, wanting to be closer to school, and also to live in brand new buildings.
However, there is a flip side. To justify the cost of building taller and more modern buildings, developers and property management companies are charging a higher amount for rent in these student apartments. A typical room could cost a student almost $700 per month. For most students, this rent is exorbitant. This would indirectly create a more selective community as students from families with lower income will not be able to afford living closer to school.
A student apartment typically consists of three to five rooms, each with its own en suite bathroom. This type of floor plan is significantly different from the conventional one or two-bedroom apartment design. This raises the question of whether this type of building will be sustainable in the long run, as there might be challenges converting these apartments, with their atypical floor plans and piping systems, into units that are appealing to families if the need to do so arises.
The intention and vision of the Northdale community improvement is great. However, is increasing density enough to revitalize the Northdale neighbourhood? When we factor in the reality of companies trying to increase profit margins, the new units built will cater to students with higher incomes.
How can these high-rise apartments, with their student-centric designs, be attractive to families or seniors looking to downsize? Will this result in a homogeneous neighbourhood in terms of demographic diversity?
Credits: Images by Becky Loi. Data linked to sources.