Community building unites us in improving quality of life

Waterloo Chronicle Article – March 18, 2019

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be a columnist.  I plan to use this space to explore ways that together, as a city and a community, we can grow as a place where everyone feels like someone really cares. 

I believe that if we truly cared more about one another, then we would care to drive through neighbourhoods at or below the speed limit; that we would want to be the house with the ice-free sidewalk;and that we would see sharing our roads with all road users as an expectation.

I grew up on a crescent in Woodstock, Ontario.  I remember so vividly the “make shift” BBQs that organically occurred, where lawn chairs, children and adults migrated into a neighbours yard.  These get togethers fostered a strong sense of safety and well-being.  We knew when our neighbours were traveling and if we needed to shovel their driveway.  We knew when someone was sick because they had not been seen walking around the block.  We knew if someone had received bad news or a death in the family; then food was made with love and delivered to show both solidarity and support. 

Loneliness and isolation is a growing concern in Canada and we need to find ways to see, hear and talk to one another.  

In 2018, City of Waterloo Council approved the city’s first neighbourhood strategy. This plan “encourages neighbour interaction, empowers residents to lead and commits the city to an enabling corporate culture.”  I am so encouraged by my new colleagues on council who, during the budget conversation, said we need to support this work, fund it and make it happen.  

What excites me the most about the neighbourhood strategy is that it was developed by neighbours for neighbours.  While there is certainly, a role for the city related to implementation, the strategycreates a vision for resident-led neighbourhood community building. Essentially, this strategy encourages the city to support volunteer capacity building and then “get out of the way”.  We need to let those leaders do what they do best and strengthen their neighbourhoods through organizing neighbourhood specific events for people to gather , share experiences, meet one another, make new friends, and learn new things.

On March 4, council approved the Uptown Public Realm Strategy.  I hope residents have a chance to look at this document.  Many citizens participated in building the strategy and it speaks directly to how uptown can continue to transform with a clear focus on creating places and spaces for people to be.  I firmly believe that we need to find ways to interact with each other in such a way that people feel apart of a bigger community.  It is my hope that through implementation of the uptown public realm strategy Waterloo willcontinue to view uptown as a unique place that fosters togetherness, encourages people to go out, walk a dog and enjoy the sunshine. 

Most importantly, I hope uptown, like our neighbourhoods, will be a place where we can find a way, everyday, to pause, see one another, say hello and demonstrate how much we care.

Diane Freeman, P.Eng., FEC, FCAE, Councillor, Ward 4, City of Waterloo 

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