Posted February 6, 2009
Town & Gown

Waterloo Campus will be 'more a part of the city'
by University of Waterloo Daily Bulletin

Waterloo - University Avenue past the main entrance to the UW campus will be “a much more urban street” in the years to come, planner Joe Berridge told the UW board of governors on Tuesday as he spoke about the new campus master plan.

University Avenue, or Waterloo Regional Road 57, is a four-lane artery that runs the full width of the city of Waterloo. The segment between Phillip Street and Westmount Road has a large influence on the campus because UW has facilities on both sides of it, and the majority of visitors arrive on campus by driving along it or crossing it.

Berridge, who heads the Toronto-based firm Urban Strategies, described the present University Avenue as “free-flowing”. But he said redesign and clever choice of construction materials could give the road a more citylike feel — slower-moving cars, more space for pedestrians and bicycles — as the campus becomes more closely integrated with Kitchener-Waterloo.

The spiral-bound “Master Plan Update” presented to the board on Tuesday is developed from a plan that was created by Berridge’s firm in 1992 and approved by the board at that time. Local real estate agent Mary Bales, who has been serving as chair of the board’s building and properties committee, asked for — and got — board approval of the plan, though laughing that she’s approaching the end of her term as a board member and won’t be around when the time comes to deliver progress reports on how it’s working.

The committee’s sense that it was time for an update to the 1992 plan is “a measure of your success,” Berridge said. “The campus is getting quite crowded. It’s often hard to focus on the landscape rather than the buildings, but the context where the buildings are is very important.” He quickly took the board through eight “key moves” that are endorsed in the master plan:

• “Develop a north-south circulation spine through South Campus as a wayfinding device, a focus for enlivening open spaces and public uses, and to create a common space for all people on campus.” (“I’m delighted to see that the Grad House is right at the centre of it,” said systems design engineering professor Keith Hipel, recalling last year’s controversy over proposals to tear down or move the 19th century house that sits opposite the Doug Wright Engineering building.)

• “Develop a comprehensive network of landscapes and open spaces, and invest significantly and early on in key landscape initiatives on South Campus.”

• “Direct some new academic growth to the periphery of South Campus to improve connections to the City and preserve open space within the Ring Road.”

• “Create new campus gateways to the south, north and east, framed by prominent new buildings and enhanced open spaces, and with an improved sense of arrival for visitors travelling by car, transit, bicycle or on foot.”

• “Work with the Region of Waterloo to successfully integrate any rapid transit initiatives into the Campus Master Plan.” (Rapid transit is coming within a decade, Berridge reminded the board. A station will likely be constructed somewhere near the point where the existing CN railway tracks cross University Avenue.)

• “Create a new university mixed-use community with the redevelopment of the East Campus Hall lands and the renewal of Phillip Street.”

• “Develop a comprehensive pedestrian and bicycle trail network that seamlessly links South, North and West Campus, and improves connections beyond the edges of the University into the Waterloo Region.”

• “Implement a comprehensive transportation demand management program and begin to accommodate parking in centrally located structures.”

Discussion at the board meeting addressed the University Avenue entrance to campus, as Berridge pointed to a proposal for tearing down South Campus Hall and putting up new buildings nearby. “One aspect of being more a part of the city,” he said, “is that you’re going to get many more visits. We can use new buildings to architecturally define a new gateway.”

But Germanic and Slavic professor James Skidmore observed that for many people who walk to campus, the “gateway” comes sooner, and that trudging though a vast UW parking lot on the way to crossing University Avenue is “a deflating way to enter a grand institution”. The 1992 plan called for doing something about University Avenue, he said, asking whether the same appeal in 2009 will be any more successful.

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