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East downtown Kitchener needs a Community Improvement Plan


The block shown here is quite typical of east downtown Kitchener. Heavy on automotive related retail and services while generally being underutilized and full of potential.

The good news for this block, bordered by King St. E., Madison St. S., Charles St. E. and Cameron St. S.,  is that a developer has purchased it to put up townhouses, condos and commercial space. It’s a great proposal for east downtown Kitchener and yet another sign that intensification downtown is happening as a result of the prospect of light rail transit.

The downside for the developer is that it falls just outside of the Downtown Community Improvement Plan where there are generous incentives to build. So in December, the two downtown councillors proposed that the community improvement plan for the downtown core be extended east just far enough for this block to qualify for the incentives.

I agree 100%!  I haven’t heard anything since but I presume that the proposal is moving forward as it should.

At the same time, I turn around to look the other direction further east down King.

further down King Street East

And I ask myself, what about the rest of east downtown Kitchener? Surely, it could use some love and attention too!

On the upside, the City of Kitchener has recently initiated a mixed use designation for the stretch of King St. East from Cedar Street to Montgomery (where it turns into Highway 8). That zoning is expected to create an urban streetscape is what many of us associate with the major neighbourhood arteries in central Toronto. They are pedestrian friendly and contain a mix of commercial, services and offices so that people can easily live, work and play near where they live. They make it easy to live a vibrant urban lifestyle that doesn’t require being dependent on cars.

The prospect of Ottawa Street receiving a similar designation from Weber St. E. near the Auditorium to Charles St. E. where there will be an LRT station is truly exciting. My dream of King and Ottawa becoming the new King and Victoria–in other words a newly redeveloped dynamic major intersection–appears to be possible. I’ll admit that is something I didn’t even dream about when I started and named this blog.

But still, I think it requires a bit of a nudge to help it happen sooner than later. That brings me back to the request to extend the Downtown Community Improvement Plan.

I understand and support the logic of that request. At the same time, I see it as a temporary, stop-gap solution driven by the need to meet a wonderful opportunity. By that I mean it really isn’t the best solution.

East downtown requires a Community Improvement Plan

The best solution to transform King Street East from an underutilized strip that is full of potential to a vibrant urban living experience is to develop a Community Improvement Plan for the same area  as what has been rezoned as mixed use.

Why? The new zoning doesn’t change anything. It only changes what is possible. When the possible becomes reality depends entirely upon the property owners. They need to want to seize the new opportunities. But until they do or until they sell, we are left with land that has potential greater than its use. That process can painstakingly take years or decades.

Community Improvement Plan Objectives

A booklet from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing outlines why a municipality might create Community Improvement Plan.

Through community improvement plans, municipalities can:

•  focus public attention on local priorities and municipal initiatives
•  target areas in transition or in need of repair, rehabilitation and redevelopment
•  facilitate and encourage community change in a co-ordinated manner
•  stimulate private sector investment through municipal incentive-based programs.

A community improvement approach is a flexible, comprehensive, coordinated and strategic framework for dealing with lands and buildings, which can address many physical, social, economic or environmental matters.

Over the years, community improvement plans have been used for a broad array of priorities aimed at rehabilitating and revitalizing targeted areas.

Take a walk from King and Frederick through east downtown Kitchener to at least Ottawa if not further. You’ll see plenty of evidence that a strategic approach to improving this area will assist it to be rehabilitated, redeveloped and rejuvenated.

So let’s seize that opportunity and then turn our attention further down King Street East!

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7 comments on “East downtown Kitchener needs a Community Improvement Plan

  1. Intersting perspective as always :) why you assume that tienhouses are going up due to LRT? I don’t see the connection myself.
    There is nothing in either downtown for myself or family. We need to get to Cambridge or out of city. I don’t see many opportunities downtown. Turning into a mini Toronto is also not favorable to myself or many in my age group or older. Suppose we can move to the surrounding hamlets ;)
    On a separate note – King and Ottawa ate a nigjtmare currently with traffic congestion. What are the plans for this – since is a main bloodline of people coming into the city?
    I am not excited about changes coming. I enjoy visiting cities that have centrally located transit such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal – but would never be willing to live within it. Ok maybe St Denis, Montreal ;)
    Can we recreate that?

    • Rue St. Denis is a wonderful example of a vibrant urban living experience!

      Downtown may not be for you but that’s far from universal. I spoke to a friend of my parents’ on the weekend and he could see the benefits of ditching his suburban house with all of its upkeep to live in the City Centre Condos and wander across King for a coffee and to shoot the breeze.

      If there’s nothing for you in the downtown core, I hope you let the city and KDBIA know what you would like in their recent consultation. If not, I expect it’s never too late.

      I attribute the townhouses, condos and commercial space to LRT because it’s a large project that is in close proximity to a proposed stop and near the Kitchener Market which is an area that is likely to become more vibrant as a result. It’s certainly the kind of project we can expect to see more of as we move forward with rapid transit.

      I don’t think we want to be Toronto but there are some aspects that we can make our own. Having more complete neighbourhoods that allow people the opportunity to live most of their lives near where they live is one of them.

      A final note is that Kitchener is no longer the city that my mother grew up in, that you grew up in nor the one that I grew up in. We’re bigger and more urban and we’re poised to continue growing. People who have only lived in Kitchener, especially those who grew up when it was much smaller, need to get their heads around the fact that the Kitchener of their youth no longer exists and we must make decisions based on the Kitchener of today and tomorrow.

      • I find the distaste for urban spaces curious, especially when those who speak out cite it as a generational or demographic issue. What specifically is it about urban spaces that warrants such derision? Is it planning? Accessibility? Aesthetics? The people?

        I’m genuinely curious because, as you indicate James, there are processes to make these places more inclusive to different tastes (that’s the de facto definition of urbanization, if you ask me).

        City centres are hubs of culture and community – something every city and town could use more of.

      • What I think it comes down to Marc is that people who grew up in a different, smaller Kitchener prefer that urban experience. It’s something that came out in the Compass Kitchener research too (that happened before I joined). I think it comes from not realizing how much Kitchener has changed and grown since that time. Or there’s a disconnect between thinking we can get bigger and stay the same. Kitchener-Waterloo is special because of how many people grow up here and stay. That’s a strength. But it can also hold us back when we need to make changes.

  2. IF I was a developer, had a few million $, and didn’t need a overnight return on the investment I would buy property for investment and/or build commercial & residential mix properties in the East End. It’s the most under-utilised but centrally located piece of land in the region. So, can anyone lend me a few million?

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