What you want in downtown Kitchener. Be specific.

The City of Kitchener is developing a new plan for the downtown core. They are looking for input into what we want to see that will make it a vibrant place where we’ll spend more time. They are looking for detailed ideas because there is a huge difference between I want more stores or I want to see stores that sell games or even I want stores that sell crokinole boards and accessories.  Be sure to take this opportunity to tell them. There is a survey that can be completed relatively quickly (especially if you’ve given the specifics some thought) and a link to send thoughts by e-mail. The deadline is Dec. 6. So if you haven’t given your input yet, get cracking!

I’ve completed the survey and what follows is what I’ll submit by e-mail. Agree with me or disagree with me, don’t let me speak for you. Share your specific ideas for the future of downtown Kitchener.

While I found the survey good, there’s more that I’d like to say as a part of this consultation.

A vibrant core

Downtown Kitchener is more than just King Street. On the one hand, I like that the maps on the consultation website show what is commonly considered the downtown core. I’m concerned though that King Street is getting a disproportionate share of attention and resources. A small town can rely on a vibrant main street but a city of Kitchener’s size must have a vibrant core–meaning a network of interesting streets. More attention and resources must be paid to streets like Charles and Duke (especially considering they will be on the LRT route) and cross streets like Queen, Ontario and Water. There should be a sense of wanting to know what is around the corner.

One aspect of King Street needs to be addressed sooner than later. The award-winning streetscape stops at Frederick/Benton but according to the consultation maps, the downtown core goes to Cedar Street. The streetscape should be extended that far to show visually that the east section is a part of the downtown core.

New stores and restaurants

I think the downtown business improvement area is on the right track in looking to make the core a shopping destination by attracting retailers, restaurants and bars that you don’t find elsewhere in Waterloo Region now or are likely to in the future. By this I include, as they do, small local chains that only have a small number of locations. This strategy combined with keeping some of the grittiness and artistic flair that exists downtown will make it a place that people want to go to because of its unique nature.

Here’s where you should let the decision-makers know what types of products, services, retail concepts would attract you that are not found anywhere else or are part of a small local chain.

I know that I’d like to see some quality second hand furniture shops or antique stores. Or even some stores with new furniture or decorating products that are either modern or suit eclectic tastes. It’d be great if the range of restaurants reflected our cultural diversity and included as Cameron Dearlove suggested an Indian restaurant. I’d also love to see a first run movie theatre–perhaps one run by the Princess Cinema folks and would qualify as a small local chain!

Food stores

One part of the survey that I found a bit awkward was asking if I bought fresh meat, vegetables, cheese daily or weekly (excluding the Market or major supermarkets)). It’s hard to answer yes if they don’t exist. But yes, I think specialty food vendors would be a great addition. Downtown Kitchener could use for example a great cheese vendor like Alex Farm Products that helps make the St. Lawrence Market, the Danforth and Bayview Village shopping destinations.

The number one need is a full service grocery store. I understand that the problem is that not enough people live in the core to justify one. But I’m hoping with the Arrow Lofts underway, the City Centre condos on sale and other projects announced or being planned, that we’ll soon have enough people to justify one.

I’ve also been told that the logistics of a store make locating one in the core difficult. That may have been the case in the past, but I don’t think it’s the factor it used to be. There are many urban grocery stores in Toronto in places where you wouldn’t have found them before like at the base of condos or in the heart of Ryerson University. Major Canadian grocery store chains have figured out how to make these type of stores work such as the Sobey’s Urban Fresh stores or the Metro stores located in downtown Toronto.

Make the Kitchener Market a true public place

Sitting in Cynthia Nitikin’s sessions on what makes a public place great (hosted by the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council), I got to thinking about public places in Kitchener that could use a boost. At the top of my list was the Kitchener Market. In particular, I started to look at it from the perspective of Nitikin’s Project for Public Spaces (PPS) concept of the Power of Ten which describes what makes a public place successful. PPS says, “At the core of the Power of 10 is the idea that any great place itself needs to offer at least 10 things to do or 10 reasons to be there.” Right now, the market doesn’t have the power of ten and that is why it is less successful than it could be as a public space.

I suggest:

  • Making King E. between Scott and Cedar a permanent pedestrian mall
  • Eby Street between Charles and Duke could also be made into a pedestrian mall
  • Each street could be given the look and feel like outside Kitchener City Hall
  • If not permanently limited to pedestrians, they could be closed for that purpose from May 1 – October 31.
  • Tear out the shrubs in front of the market building and put in a tiered cafe–with service from inside the market building and serving alcohol. (In the winter, potted evergreens and lighting could spruce up that area)
  • Signage that can be seen when travelling along King St. is needed (maybe some arches at each end of the pedestrian zone) for the Market District and some specific to the Market itself.
  • Allow the Market’s International Food court vendors and other restaurants along this stretch to set up street food stands like what the Mexican restaurant did at City Hall last summer.
  • If successful, allow other downtown restaurants to offer street food in this area (or elsewhere downtown)
  • Then allow independent food trucks to be present in this pedestrian zone or wherever else they wanted to go in the city.
  • Have live music happening outside the market during lunch hours and after work every day from May – October. And evenings Thursday to Saturdays.
  • In the summer, there should be an art exhibit sale on in front of the market on long weekends from May to October and all of July and August similar to what you see in Quebec City and other cities. The Box Art exhibit showed me it was possible.
  • The empty storefronts would make an excellent place to store art overnight and could even be used to hold an ongoing indoor version during the cold weather. Another option is that these spaces be rented out to arts groups until a long term tenant can be found.
  • I think it’d also be great to have buskers in this area at least Thursday to Saturday evenings and weekends.
  • The Marketplace inside the Market is a great facility but suffers from the lack of a roof. That should be a short term priority.
  • Make Market Lane and Market Village part of this reinvigorated district.

Some of these suggestions could be accomplished with little if any money by next summer on at least a trial basis. Others will need to be phased in and worked into budgets.

An added bonus is that King & Eby would no longer be a central point for sex workers to hang out.

King & Francis

I was inside the Little Bean one day looking out at a wall of shrubs. The public space on the other side of the shrubs was inaccessible and the cafe itself is hidden by the bushes. Maybe at one time that public space made sense but it has never seemed to work and now it seems to work against what could make it a successful place. I’m all for green spaces and would love to see more but this space should be given a makeover so that the green assists making the space a place where people want to hang out instead of getting in the way.

Is that specific enough?

I’m sure that I could go on if I thought about what I’d like to see downtown and brainstormed some more but I think that’s where I’ll stop. I hope by doing so that I’ve inspired you to give some thought to what you would like to see in Kitchener’s downtown core. Feel free to share some of your ideas here–but more importantly share them with the city’s consultation. And by December 6!

11 thoughts on “Specific ideas for the future of downtown Kitchener

  1. Great post.

    I’ll add what I’d like to see – and what I’d like to see go away.

    I know, I know, unrealistic, but if I can just get back on my usual soap-box for a bit, I just want to say that it is just wacky that cars can park on the sidewalks. I don’t understand how the Design Exchange gave the city an award for that. I support your suggestions re: pedestrian malls, but the actual sidewalks need to actually be for pedestrians. Isn’t this a safety hazard?

    The Public Utility building is so beautiful: I don’t want to cast aspersions on the current tenant, but that building deserves to house a public, community-based group. The Kitchener Youth Advisory group, the Crime Prevention Centre, a satellite library location, a resource centre, or an arts group, something like that.

    Matter of Taste and Coffee Culture type shops that allow folks to linger and enjoy their refreshments as well as friends are good too.

    I would like to see more upscale and mainstream shops – but no fast food chains and please, that #WRAwful “fight” shop has to go (and the “massage” parlours and, with respect to my inked friends, how many tattoo shops does Kitchener need?). I think a downtown grocery store is a good idea. Whole Foods, please! And a downtown LCBO too.

    The Eaton’s Lofts need attention. Clearly.

    Re: King & Francis – I love sitting in that little parkette. More greenery, please.

    I will head on over to the City consultation site and leave my remarks there too. I hope others follow your lead, James, and offer their ideas too.

    Thanks again.


    1. Thanks for sharing your ideas here! Be sure to send them to the city’s consultation too as you said you would. December 6 is just about here.

      With regards to King & Francis, I want green space too but as it is I seldom see anyone making use of that space. So I would see the Little Bean patio spilling out onto that space. My guess is that it could be a big hit–especially if it featured some live music at appropriate times and volumes. I’d love to see the space retain lots of green trees and bushes. It’d make sense to me that this space also be an extension of the new streetscape which could include the trees and bushes consistent with what is already being used.

    1. Great! I’m glad your voice on what you want in downtown Kitchener has been heard.

      Thanks for sharing the e-mail address! I recommend people also do the survey on the site and use the e-mail to elaborate on ideas not easily covered in the survey format.

  2. Hi James,

    I think these ideas are brilliant. Well done. Grocery stores should be a HUGE focus – not just for those that live downtown but those that work there and want to pick something up on the way home to the burbs.

    I think there should be more of a focus on the “multicultural residents”. It would be great to see more stores like the chinese grocery store there at the market. Cultural people are committed to their food and we all benefit from their food as well and VOILA, you have more CULTURE in the core. To be honest, the Kitchener market is more multi-cultural then the st.jacobs market and it would be great to expand on that idea in some way.

    There’s my quick two cents. I think it would be fun and in many ways, it’s already happening in downtown kitchener. If we can just get it happening at the market itself, that place would be busting at the seams with people on a daily basis and then with more people, will come more stores, programming, etc., etc.

    1. Thanks Daisy! I think your point that people working downtown could also make use of a grocery store is an important one that should be considered in whether one is feasible.

      I think your idea of having cultural food stores at the Market is a great one too and would build nicely off of the international food court that is already there.

      1. Absolutely! I love that foodcourt for it’s international vibe. Would love to see more of that! I wish André was at the discussion – as he used to work at MMMC Architects. He really loves the market. It would be great to see more businesses working in there like MMMC.

        Anyways, thanks for your vision. It`s really great! You`re doing some great work here. Well done!

  3. I’d like to hear this thoughts too James, as his “unofficial UnSecretary”, I’ll help him get on and do that! I’m interested myself! 🙂

  4. We need a full service grocery store? What about Central Fresh Market? We use it all the time and it’s great! The downtown also contains Natural Foods and Shoppers which sell many different types of foods. And there is T&J’s seafood. I probably shop at the market once a year if I can remember to get up early Sat morning…..


    1. I’m not alone in looking for a grocery store Ted. According to a presentation I saw a week ago, it was the top requested service. Central is great but a bit too far west of the downtown core to meet the needs of people living and working in downtown who prefer to shop for groceries with only a short walk and without getting into a car or on transit. The other options you mention are great for special needs or pick up a few items but don’t replace a supermarket.

      The market is open till 2 I think so you can sleep in and still go if you want!

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