We moved to KW almost exactly 16 years ago. We didn’t know anyone here or anything about the place. We landed in Toronto and rented a car and drove up King Street and laughed and laughed.
“We are going to live here?” It was a joke. We were moving from Taipei Taiwan, a city of 5 million people. A city with nightlife and a subway system and restaurants. KW was sleepytown, a boondoggle, a backwater. We were moving from a vibrant, booming asian city. We had our doubts that we were going to be happy here.
And, truthfully, it took us a couple of years to adapt. Of course, KW a decade and a half ago was a much different place. Much quieter. Much less international. It had an older demographic.
It has changed a lot in the last 16 years.
So what is it like to live in Kitchener Waterloo?
1) You still need a car. In Taipei, a scooter and a subway pass is what you need. In KW, we were just not big enough in the year 2000 to even have a decent bus system. That’s changed and is changing. The Grand River Transit was founded in 2000, but didn’t really get going until five years after that. With the LRT coming, and with the intensification of the downtown cores, maybe in a few years you won’t need a car.
2) The ethnic communities were smaller. We used to drive to Toronto once every couple of months to eat in a great Chinese restaurant and go grocery shopping for specialty food. That’s changed too. We have become much more multi-cultural.
3) You’ll get lost for the first couple of years. The roads weave and wind seemingly at random. North, south, east and west don’t mean anything. And the two cities are jammed together, but no one knows where the dividing line is.
4) We are surrounded by farming country.Visit the weekend farmer’s markets. Trust me on this.
5) It is safe. I’m sure there are a couple of dodgy areas in town, but I never feel unsafe walking around anywhere, anytime.
6) Vibrant city centres. Both Kitchener and Waterloo city centres have revitalized a lot in the past decade and a half. Day life and night life have improved greatly. Also, most of the festivals and events that we enjoy are between 10 and 20 years old only. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like living here in the early1990’s
7) Growth. Last week I podcasted about how the smaller towns near Waterloo Region are actually shrinking. That must be kind of depressing. Waterloo Region of course is growing fast. We are prosperous. There is a lot of opportunity.
8) The near world is near. If you want to go skiing, or to Toronto or to Ontario’s west coast (Lake Huron), everything is close.
9) I almost never leave the region. We have everything here I need: a Jazz club, good restaurants, live music venues, bike paths, dog parks, golf courses, coffee shops, night life, festivals and events, great schools, good employers…