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What will downtown Kitchener be like in the years to come? What do people like about it and how do they want it to change?

Members of the public recently had an opportunity to weigh in through Shape DTK 2020, an effort by the Downtown Kitchener Business Improvement Area and the City of Kitchener to gather community input as they develop a strategy to guide the evolution of the downtown core.

More than 750 people responded to an online survey. Nine roundtable discussions sessions heard from stakeholders in the retail, food and hospitality, technology, development and other sectors. Two hundred people participated in a community forum held at THEMUSEUM on Jan. 17.

“It was important to ask the community and the stakeholders what you think downtown Kitchener might look like in 2020,” says Linda Jutzi, executive director of the Downtown BIA.

“We are compiling all the results. The feedback and ideas we get from the community will be outlined in a discussion paper that will be shared publicly. The report will clarify the community’s collective aspirations for the future of downtown. From that we will develop new priorities, strategies and action plans to act on those ideas.”

It was clear that the residents attending the community forum are passionate about the downtown and how they want to see it progress in the coming years.

“What I like best about downtown … is having access to everything I need within a 20-minute walk,” says Anna Beard, who’s lived in the area since 2015. She particularly likes the proximity of transit, fresh local food and entertainment.

“I’d like to see the core intensify more through smart urban development. It would be nice to see a mix of affordable housing, midrise units, and highrises that focus on mixed use. I’d also like to see us keep protecting those communities that are more vulnerable. Community and social services need to be in the core where they’re most accessible. That means we need to keep the core livable for those who need those services,” says Beard.

For Ren Navarro, who just moved to Kitchener from Toronto a few months ago, the key plus of downtown is its positive vibe. “I like the feel of community, the inclusive and welcoming nature of the establishments. I also love that there are no big box stores in the downtown area,” she says. “Thumbs up for independently owned stores, restaurants and bars.”

One development Navarro would like to see is pedestrian-friendly spaces, similar to the pedestrian Sundays in Toronto at the Kensington Market. “They close down a large street for the day. Either shut the street down once a week, or create a permanent pedestrian street. Ottawa has a couple of those,” says Navarro.

While BIA staff are still compiling the feedback from the forum, Jutzi said she’s not surprised by the commonalities of the themes that were important to the participants, such as an emphasis on attractions, events and activities and a strong sense of community.

Ward 10 Councillor Sarah Marsh said that the input will be very valuable in guiding the City’s plans. “Collecting input from a broad range of members of the public is extremely important to our decision-making process,” she said. “In addition to wide-reaching community engagement through this forum and online surveys, we are holding several smaller conversations with groups of stakeholders. All of the feedback will be collected into themes, and will be our foundation for developing our 2017-2020 strategic plan for the downtown.”

For downtown residents like Beard, it’s important to retain and build on what makes the place special. “Kitchener is gritty and passionate and alive. It has a beat to it you can’t find anywhere else.”