My six year residency in Waterloo for my undergraduate and graduate was overall quite positive. The negatives are easy to pinpoint – small town, one good club, one good lounge, few good restaurants, and a very new city – very little evidence of older settlements and a downtown of a few blocks that gets major competition from suburban malls and power centres.
The positives are a bit more subcutaneous but they are big. One is the attraction of strong human capital to the area – two innovative universities and one of Canada’s most successful colleges that have revolutionized co-operative education, RIM along with the dozens of other international hi-tech companies, a major insurance hub, among many others. They knew that this was the way Canada was going and made the right moves. Their manufacturing was strong earlier, but like most Canadian cities is steadily on the decline. In my findings, it’s due to RIM co-CEOs Lazaridis and Balsillie, as well as University of Waterloo President David Johnston. They embraced and implemented ideas related to intellectual property, improving the conversation between public and private, and really just trying to actualize forward thinking. It seems like a common idea, but who actually takes action on progressive policies and ideas, and quickly? To boot, they have a great city park, one of the country’s best independent movie theatres, and a mean dark lager.
Even environmentally, they have invested millions in (ground)water research, mainly because they realize they are a massively growing community that is 100km away from a Great Lake. Groundwater represents 85% of Waterloo Region’s water supply. They also implement urban growth boundaries so recharge areas stay intact and we don’t live in Mississauga. Their conservation authority is a national leader in watershed management.
Last year they were given an (evidently prestigious) international award for the world’s most intelligent community. Now c/o the new Perimeter Institute, a physics research think tank, next summer they are hosting one of the brightest minds in the world, Dr. Stephen Hawking. Here’s the Globe & Mail article.
All things considered, things are looking up for Waterloo Region. They just need to beat the iPhone, but that is looking less and less likely. Maybe they will just innovate again.
In my experience it has the reputation of being a geeky, sleepy, potentially boring place. But like anything, the city is what you make it, and there are tons of great things going on throughout K/W all the time. And for me, it felt amazing to be among a community of such bright, motivated, and yes geeky people. Geeks got skillz. God forbid people are fascinated by truly fascinating things and expressing it openly, and it not having to do with the Maple Leafs or your new Hollister necklace.