"Planned developments will add another 5,250 people to the area within the next few years"
The first tower of the 100Victoria condo project is already visible through the trees beyond his peonies and his veggie garden. Within a couple of years, the towers of Garment Street, Charlie West and other condo projects in Kitchener's booming downtown will also crowd the sky.
Kitchener's downtown is undergoing what downtown city councillor Frank Etherington calls "a development tsunami."
"I think it's a good-news tsunami for the city," he rushes to add.
"It's probably the most transformational time in the downtown's history, just because of the numbers of people coming" says Cory Bluhm, who heads the city's economic development department.
Right now, about 2,500 people live within the downtown proper, the area from the railway tracks near Victoria Street to the market, between Joseph to Weber streets. About 9,000 people live within a kilometre of the core. But planned developments will add another 5,250 people to the area within the next few years.
The boom is significant partly because it's not clustered in just one area, said Brian Doucet, a planning professor at the University of Waterloo and an expert on gentrification. "From the market to Google and Sixo (the major development planned for Wellington and King), you can see that it's happening and will continue to happen in the future. It represents a different kind of downtown."
Rising housing costs in the downtown
Joe Mancini of the Working Centre also welcomes the downtown growth. He still remembers the late 1980s and early 1990s, when downtown Kitchener was struggling with empty storefronts and a drug problem.
But though he welcomes the new liveliness in the core, he sees the supply of low-cost housing dwindling: the cheap housing is gone from places like 48 Weber St. W., the Mayfair, Tommy's Place, the Station Hotel and the American Hotel. "You walk by lots of buildings and you see the buildings have been renovated. It's important because the buildings are being preserved, but generally the rents are much higher than they were."
More and more Working Centre clients list addresses that are further afield. With good transit connections, they're still able to access downtown services, but Mancini says it's important to ensure there's some cheaper housing in the core.
There's some evidence to back up the impression that downtown housing is costing more. A rental survey by a team of University of Waterloo researchers led by planning prof Dawn Parker found that rents along the central transit corridor were, on average, seven per cent higher than elsewhere and that units in highrises were generally more expensive.
The research also suggested smaller, one- and two-bedroom units may be oversupplied while there aren't enough medium-sized units of about 1,500 square feet that would appeal to families.
That trend is worrying to some. John Neufeld, the executive director of the House of Friendship, doesn't want to see the downtown become "all sanitized. It's not just for the rich and the privileged. I think a downtown needs to be a place for all."