Sunday, April 13, 2014

7 reasons Kitchener Waterloo doesn’t suck, as the Cities Journal says we do.

Making the rounds on facebook and other social media recently is an article titled “Top 17 Cities and Towns to Move Away From In Canada”. It’s a bunch of crap, a real pants load, the story, the website, the presentation. 
I’m not happy because both Kitchener and Waterloo are on the list. I love my chosen city (cities). I don’t like it when they get bad press, especially this kind of misinformed, erroneous, attention-seeking post from a newly launched website that apparently is put together only to generate ad revenue for its small team of website developers who are not profession journalists, that’s for certain. 
I shouldn’t be writing this post at all. I should be doing what I do when I get an anonymous negative comment on my website - ignoring it altogether. But it bugs me. I need to vent.

What they say about Kitchener  

Yet another Ontario community makes the list of places to flee. Located in the southern part of Ontario, Kitchener’s cultural identity has its roots in industrial drab. Industrial artifacts make up much of Kitchener’s community decor.
Despite a significant industrial presence in the city, Kitchener is one of the worst areas in Ontario to find work, and those who do find work there often end up living substandard lives due to the high cost of living. Although the city has many high end retail, dining, and entertainment options, many residents find their presence depressing because they can’t afford to enjoy them.
Many community celebrations involve substantial consumption of beer, making them unappealing to those seeking family friendly entertainment options.
Kitchener also has the dubious distinction of being known for assaults on gay people as well as on other minorities. Those who value diversity generally head for more enlightened pastures.

What they say about Waterloo

Ontario certainly seems to the front runner among the provinces for unpopular places to live. Larger than neighboring Kitchener, Waterloo has managed to hold onto over 98,000 residents, making it the largest city discussed here. Besides being close to Kitchener in kilometers, apparently it also has other traits in common.
Known as the “Hate Crime Capital of Canada,” residents and visitors are twice as likely to be verbally or physically assaulted for differences in sexual preference, religion, or skin color. As a sleek, modern city with several universities and various technical companies, Waterloo should be able to do better on the diversity scale.
Sadly, it’s becoming known as a place to stay away from, and young professionals are steering clear.
Although it seems that plenty of opportunity exists for educated people in Waterloo, the unemployment rate continues to rise. The high cost of living also provides an incentive for residents to seek more sustainable cities.

Allow me to retort

Industrial drab
The Cities Journal story claimed that Kitchener’s industrial artifacts make up much of Kitchener’s community decor. I’m actually sorry to say that simply is not true. Kitchener lost many of its historic buildings a generation ago through greed, neglect and the occasional fire. The old factories like the Breithaupt Block and the Tannery recently have been converted into trendy work spaces for our tech start-up industry and Kaufman Footwear and other former factories have been converted into urban chic condominium living. 
Although it is true that Kitchener has some boring architecture (what city doesn’t?), Buildings like City Hall, the School of Pharmacy and even Centre in the Square are pretty awesome.

One of the worst areas in Ontario to find work
Wrong. In March, the unemployment rate in Canada was 6.9%. In Ontario it was 7.3%. In Waterloo Region 6.5%. If the unemployment rate is any indication of the ability to find work then based on these statistics, Waterloo Region is easier than the average Canadian and Ontarian city.

We drink beer
Oktoberfest of course is what the article is referring to. Being held since the early 1970’s it is the largest Bavarian festival outside of Bavaria. Although beer drinking is central to the idea of the celebration, events like the Oktoberfest Thanksgiving Day Parade is in my opinion the best parade of the year, and a fabulous family friendly event. Fashion shows, bicycle races, dog shows, car shows, talent contests, every imaginable event seems to have somehow attached themselves to Oktoberfest, so now after 50 years it is certainly more than a big piss-up.

Who’s bigger?
The Cities Journal article states that “Larger than neighbouring Kitchener, Waterloo has managed to hold onto over 98,000 residents, making it the largest city discussed here”. 
According to Wikipedia, in 2011 Kitchener has a population of 219,153 and Waterloo 98,780. That wasn’t very hard to find out, was it? This article is so poorly researched it’s embarrassing. And, all of the arguments are statements without any back up at all.

Hate Crime Capital of Canada/Assaults on gays
The Cities Journal said that Kitchener Waterloo were the “Hate Crime Capital of Canada and that we had high incidences of “assaults of gays”. I hadn’t heard that  before. Is it true? Could it be true where they have so many other facts wrong?
Turns out that back in 2009 Waterloo Region was ranked #1 (just like a real estate agent) for police reported hate crimes. Hate crimes are terrible and should be punished severely, so without getting defensive about them here are some reasons. 
1) A lot of cases are graffiti related
2) The majority of hate crimes are committed by youth and young adults. With two universities, one college and a vibrant tech industry, we are a very “young” city.
3)Waterloo Region Police Services has a dedicated hate crime unit. We are more likely to recognize and classify hate crimes than cities without such units.

High cost of living
One of my favourite blogs, the Huffington Post recently published a post titled “Canadian Cities Where an Average Income Will No Longer Buy You a House”. In more than a quarter of Canada’s largest cities, average-income families can no longer afford to buy a house. Although the Cities Journal story says that we have a “high cost of living”, Kitchener-Waterloo is not on the Huffington Post list of cities where an average income can’t buy a house. Since housing is most peoples largest expense, I think I can safely say that the Cities Journal article is wrong (again). What data are they using to justify their statement? None. It’s just a statement.
As a realtor, the complaint I hear most often by people moving here isn’t our high cost of housing (or living) it’s our high taxes. People moving from the Toronto area or the east coast are flabbergasted by municipal taxes of $5,000 or $6,000. That just isn’t right. 

Wrong, wrong, wrong
There is a lot wrong with the Cities Journal article. It says we have “several universities”. Since when is two several? It says, “young professionals are staying clear”. They’re not. Our city is getting younger, not older. The whole article, in fact the whole website is poorly written and deeply flawed. 

Edit: The story “Top 17 Cities and Towns to Move Away From In Canada” has been removed from the Cities Journal website. Ha!

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