The city is calling on community members to help craft a neighbourhood strategy so it can help residents create a feeling of community.
Recruitment is underway for up to 40 residents who will form an advisory panel to offer in-depth input on the strategy, expected to be complete in 2018.
Beth Rajnovich, project lead, said the city wants to find ways it can help residents gain a greater feeling of community.
“Our goal is to look at ways the city can help the community create more vibrant, connected, lively, engaged neighbourhoods,” she said. “So getting people out and meeting their neighbours, being more neighbourly, having more fun within their own neighbourhood.”
The strategy has five themes: increasing social connections, improving neighbourly behaviour, fostering inclusivity, building a sense of belonging and enhancing placemaking (a people-centred approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces).
Waterloo currently has neighbourhood associations and a neighbourhood matching fund that help support these types of goals, but the landscape is changing and in several previous, unrelated city studies, the city heard from residents a desire for more neighbourhood support.
Rajnovich said the city is conscious of demographic changes such as more people living in condos and new Canadians coming to the community.
Coun. Jeff Henry said the strategy needs to be flexible.
“Certainly one of the most important things we can do is really build that broad understanding of the diversity of our neighbourhoods both horizontal and vertical … to understand what tools do they need,” he said.
One example of how the city might be able to support neighbourhoods is to assist with the permit process or other city approvals when a neighbourhood wants to host an event, he said.
“We’re not as responsive as we could be and as helpful as we could be on that,” he said.
Public input will be part of the strategy development process.
Coun. Mark Whaley has a clear vision of the kind of neighbourhood atmosphere he would like to see come out of the plan.
He wants a “throwback experience” that echoes the carefree days of his childhood in the 1950s and 1960s.
“At the time, children lived very carefree lives,” he said. “We spent all our days outdoors, there was safety in numbers … so the parents had a sense that they could open the doors and not worry about us much until the sun went down.
“(Neighbourhoods) were alive. I go around neighbourhoods today and I never see kids out at all.”
He’s hoping the plan will encourage people to get out in the neighbourhood. A recent trip through a local park was an eye-opener when Whaley saw so many people looking at their smartphones.
“What I’d like to achieve somehow is to get people unplugged and plugged into what’s around them,” he said.
One possibility is to encourage a neighbourhood watch system, Whaley said, so parents feel safe unleashing their children into the neighbourhood.
About $342,000 is budgeted to develop the plan. Any cash to implement it will have to be approved by council at a later date.