WR & Howe: Building Inclusive Downtown Cores

Are we building a downtown Kitchener for everyone? A place where people from a wide range of demographics feel comfortable?

At the rate that condo developments are popping up, I’m concerned that we may already have missed our opportunity. The newest is a whopping 30-stories at Duke and Frederick. But I am not aware of a single new affordable housing unit in downtown Kitchener.

At least one new apartment tower is proposed near the Kitchener Market. But who will be able to afford the rent? 

Waterloo’s core is already arguably serving a more privileged clientele. And downtown Galt with the Gaslight Condos is following the same trends.

Intensification of our cores is great. That does not mean that intensification is always great.

Downtown Kitchener is moving quickly towards being a wonderful place to live for young single people or a childless couple. Of course to afford it, you’ll need to work in tech, the public sector, be a professional or retired with a good income, leaving out a large population of people who still need a place to live downtown.

We can do better but we need to be intentional about it. How we intensify should be a key issue in the municipal election as it heats up in the fall.

A vibrant core is a place where everyone can feel welcome. It is a great people place and offers opportunities for arts, leisure and recreation that don’t require you to spend money or have money.

I consider downtown Kitchener to be a walker’s paradise where you don’t need to own a car. But people with low incomes without cars are having an increasingly tough time finding an affordable place to live. They should be able to walk to their jobs in the stores, restaurants and support services but can’t if there isn’t affordable housing in areas of high density. Instead they will need to move and buy a car or invest time and money to use transit.

Instead, we should be building affordable housing into new developments using Section 37 of the Planning Act that gives municipalities negotiating power such as increasing density by adding affordable units. Our municipalities should also be seizing the new inclusionary zoning powers granted by the province that requires a certain percentage of units in an area to be affordable. And since not everyone can buy a condo, we need to have rental units where the rent is geared to income.

We want downtown cores that are built for children and families. That means more units with three bedrooms. That means places to play and be free to be a kid. A core area built for kids works for everyone.

We also need to build our cores so they are liveable for our older citizens. Simple things like shorter crossings at intersections and more time for pedestrians make a city age friendly and suitable for more than your average healthy young adult.

The people elected in October have an important role in whether our core areas are built for all of us or for the select few. When the new term starts in December, they will set priorities based upon their interactions with voters. If they hear you care about this issue and know it affects how you vote, we can intervene just in time.

Let’s intensify by building communities with vibrant people places where everyone can enjoy the benefits of living in the core.