Last night I left the office and jumped in my car. It was absolutely freezing, almost 20 degrees below. I started to drive home, with snow blowing across the roads and everyone going slow. But my car warmed up, and in 10 minutes I was home.
On the way home it got me thinking. What if it was 2018, and I had decided to take the LRT to work instead? I would have had to walk 15 minutes to the station, wait outside for 5 minutes for the next train, and then take the train for 10 minutes to where I live. A three times longer commute with 20 minutes spent in a blizzard. And as I turned into my driveway, I said to myself: is this really the future we are excited for?
6 months ago I had a pretty visceral reaction to the LRT, going before council and on radio shows to speak out against it. Since then I have had time to reflect: why do I feel so strongly? What is it about the LRT that makes me so upset?
The snow storm made it clear. That to me, the LRT represented an admission that our future was going to be worse than our present. That one day instead of taking a warm, 10 minute car ride through traffic-less streets, I would have to fight my way through a blizzard for 15 minutes, wait outside in the cold for 5 minutes, and then finally be able to get on the train.
And it wouldn’t just be snow. Hot days, cold days, snowy days, rainy days. All those days where I would have to get to the station, reminiscing the whole way about the days where I could commute in comfort in one third the time.
And yet, I understood. Most people think Waterloo is about to grow. I actually think it is about to explode. Tech is increasingly becoming the most dominant part of the global economy, and as a result tech talent is becoming the most precious and rare resource in the world. And through some incredible stroke of genius, the UW co-op program, by forcing students to take 6 four month co-op terms before they graduate, has literally created the best source of tech talent in the world. And step by step, the world is noticing. Google opens an office. Square opens an office. Motorola opens an office. Why? Because when you discover the best diamond mine in the world is in some small city in Canada, you want to open shop right beside it to make sure you get first look at every stone that comes out of it.
As a result, I think the region’s growth will only accelerate. I have experienced exponential growth at Kik, and it is a wild thing. Every time you look at the numbers it makes the numbers from 6 months ago seem like a joke. You can’t believe they were so small. And yet, 6 months later, you will look back and feel the exact same way. And so all you can do is try your best to prepare.
This is why I understand. The LRT is simply Waterloo trying to do its best to prepare. Because one day traffic will be a mess. We will need transit. Buses won’t work. Subways will be too expensive. So the only remaining option is to get trains. And we have to start sometime, so we might as well start now.
And honestly, that reasoning does make a lot of sense. It is our only option. But the part that disappoints me is that it commits us to a world where our commute takes 3 times as long and is a heck of a lot more uncomfortable than it is today. Where our future is so much worse than our present.
So what do we do? To me there is only one possible solution where our future can actually be better than our present as Waterloo grows: walking. If I could live, work, and play all within walking distance, and if that walk could be completely outdoor in the summer and completely indoor in the winter, then our future would be better than our present. We wouldn’t have to battle traffic in our cars, or wait in the cold for the train. We would simply walk. Walk to work. Walk to the grocery store. Walk to the restaurant, outside in the summer. Inside in the winter.
This is what I and others have been working on for the last 6 months. To design and build a development that allows live, work, and play all within walking distance. Outside in the summer. Inside in the winter. A walkable Waterloo.
We hope to share more soon.