Last year, I sold a house in Kitchener’s “Quailridge” subdivision. Quailridge is a Kitchener subdivision name from the 1990‘s, a name that never caught on. Property developers and city councilors sometimes miss the mark. But that’s OK, neighborhood names often find themselves despite what they’re called. Actually neighborhood names can be very fuzzy and elastic (more on this later).
There is an awkward art to neighborhood naming and as we “go local” and residents identify more and more with their neighborhoods and less with their city, region and province, we might want to rethink the way neighborhoods are named. Further to that, neighborhoods change, evolve, rise and fall with economics, transportation, education and industry. Their names and identity can hold on long after the fact or can change in less than a generation. Some, like Westmount are steeped in history. Others like Conestogo, Deer Ridge or Hidden Valley are up and comers. Whether or not they take hold, and live up to their images will be decided in time.
One thing is true though, with Waterloo Region growing so fast, naming neighborhoods is more important now than ever.
For example, I live in Uptown Waterloo. I’ve lived here for less than a year, but Waterloo has been very good over the last decade about branding Uptown as Uptown and now it is. Twenty years ago it wasn’t. It was a very different city centre twenty years ago. But now it is and I identify with it. I am an Uptown Waterloo resident. I meet people all the time that are Stanley Park, Laurelwood, Victoria Park or East Bridge residents. We all feel we are part of our neighborhoods.
I read an article recently that asked the question, “Why does it matter so much that residents feel a sense of neighborhood identity?” A growing body of research that’s been gaining momentum over the last decade suggests that strong feelings of connectedness to place on a smaller scale has a strong relationship to how secure individuals feel about their place in the world.
There is money involved as well.
In real estate, we love statistics. Every week in the news there is a report that tells us that sales are up over the same time last year by (say) 6%. Actually in Waterloo Region house values rose by more than 6% per year for over a decade. But what is hidden in the statistics is that some neighborhoods appreciated at a higher rate that others. The homes in Laurelwood, I would say, have increased in price better than the regional average. The homes in another area of town (perhaps Huron Park) increased at a much lower rate.
Knowing that Clair Hills is next to Laurelwood, a real estate agent, will market his listing as such. His marketing material might say things like “in Waterloo’s Laurelwood-Clair Hills area of town”. Suddenly the boundaries have become elastic (and the price has gone up).
Neighborhood associations have been quietly gaining strength in many parts of Waterloo and Kitchener and that’s a good thing. We are “going local”, creating neighborhoods and this is great for society and our communities.
As far as I’m concerned, the neighborhood name isn’t as important as the sense of neighborhood itself. I feel that we have to become part of our neighborhoods (in any way we want) for our own sense of place and for the greater good of our neighbors, not to mention our property values. If you care more about your neighborhood, it will show.
The article I was reading talked about how South Central LA was rebranding itself as the less stigmatized, South LA. No one wants to buy a house in South Central LA.
Closer to home, we have new neighborhoods on the rise and old neighborhoods in decline. We recently created the Innovation District (near the Tannery). I think that neighborhood is sure to catch on. Williamsburg is another new one but it’s called by most people, the name of the developer – Activa and that makes no sense. Finally, if you know where Highway Market neighborhood is, you’ve lived here a long time. Highway Market closed up two decades ago. I think the name still has a decade left in it and then it too will fade into history.