Waterloo Region Industrial Redevelopment

I’ve now worked in the high-tech industry in Waterloo Region for over fifteen years now. I’ve worked for companies that were small, and just starting out, to some of the larger tech companies in the region, as well as the world.

Waterloo region used to have a strong industrial base, but over the years, manufacturing has moved overseas. With this shift in manufacturing, some unique properties have gone into disuse.

Among the redeveloped builds that I’ve had the opportunity to work in include 72 Victoria St, which started renovations back in 2000, 151 Charles Street, also known as the Tannery, and now 51 Breithaupt St, also known as the Breithaupt Block.

Instead of the sterile drywall and ceiling tiles in other office buildings, these buildings all featured open beam and brick construction. The character and history of the building are open to view. There is something very comforting about being able to look up to see the structure of wooden beam rafters above me, or to see a wall of old brick.

A brick wall in the Breithaupt Block building in Waterloo region
A brick wall in the Breithaupt Block building in Kitchener. It’s unique. Not every “brick in the wall” is the same. They have a character that more modern buildings cover up.

It’s interesting to see how the region has grown over the past twenty years, and how the downturn in manufacturing has changed to a rise in information technology companies. Looking at the construction of the LRT in the region, it’s easy to get annoyed at the traffic problems it’s causing. Getting from one side of King Street to the other side isn’t as easy today as it was before the construction started.

There are still derelict buildings in the downtown core, and others, such as the Mayfair Hotel, which have been torn down due to structural integrity problems. Some of these buildings, such as the Rumpel Felt building (constructed in 1913, with additions in 1942, 1961, and 1968) have been vacant for nearly a decade. The Rumpel Felt building closed in 2007.

A view of the Rumpel Felt building, a brick industrial building in downtown Kitchener
The Rumpel Felt building is a now vacant industrial building in downtown Kitchener

Others, like the MacIntosh Dry Cleaners, have closed more recently, within the past year.

The Macintosh Dry Cleaners was a family run dry cleaning business operating in Kitchener since 1934 for 81 years, but has closed in 2015 due to lack of business.

The fundamental dynamics of the region have changed. While we are no longer an industrial city, we still have a strong industrial heritage. Redevelopment plans don’t need to include tearing down these older buildings. Redevelopment of existing buildings maintains a connection to the history of the region, as well as providing a creative place to work.

This has been a successful strategy as well, with the tech hub at Communitech, the University of Waterloo’s Velocity incubator, and a number of great startups like Vidyard, and D2L in the region.

Joining Google

A few weeks ago, I received an offer of employment from Google. I’ll be working in the Google Waterloo office, currently located in the Tannery building in downtown Kitchener. It’s a pretty cool office, which I’ve visited several times now for various interviews and meetings.

I’ve worked for small and medium-sized companies before, but before this, the largest company I’ve worked for was Research in Motion (since renamed to BlackBerry), although they’re not as big as they were at their zenith. Google will easily surpass that, but it seems that the culture is in many ways, more like some of the smaller companies that I’ve worked for.

Yesterday was the last day at my current job. While it’s sad to see it go, new opportunities await. Automation control software can be quite challenging, but there isn’t as much emphasis on user interface and user experience as I would like. Still, in the end, it’s a big change.

Here’s to the next chapter! I’m rather excited.

A LEGO android

The High Tech Job Sector in Waterloo Region

As dire as news coming from Research in Motion is these days, Waterloo Region has a large number of technology companies actively hiring. We’re really fortunate to have such a variety of local companies here in the Region, and the support of Communitech.

Tech Leadership Conference 2012
Photo from Communitech Photos flickr page

Communitech also has a tech jobs website, http://www.waterlootechjobs.com. This past month, I attended the Waterloo TechVibe Recruitment Event, where a number of local companies were recruiting. How did that work out? After the event, I was in different stages of the interview process with six companies, before accepting a position at Desire2Learn.

I was really impressed by the variety and quality of companies we have in Waterloo Region. We are far more than just the headquarters of RIM. From radiology workflow solutions at Medicalis, to financial account management at Arius Software, to cross-platform mobile voice solutions such as Fongo, the market is definitely hopping.

While it’s true that when people think of Waterloo Region technology companies, RIM is often the first company that comes to mind, there are also local Google offices, as well as OpenText.

While many companies in the region are in the mobile space, such as Kik and enflick, we also have good representation in the medical and financial services fields.

So while the wind may be out of the sails at RIM, the economic outlook for Waterloo Region is still very good, as noted in a recent article in the Waterloo Region Record on a report by the Conference Board of Canada. Will job cuts at RIM hurt? Without a doubt. But the benefit is a more diverse region, where smaller companies are not struggling to find the talent that in the past several years has been going to RIM.

Waterloo Region also has great support for technology startups. Communitech has their Hyperdrive program, Waterloo has the Accelerator Centre, and the University of Waterloo has a Velocity incubator. All of these programs offer entrepreneurs with space and access to established mentors, to help build their businesses. While these don’t provide large employment numbers now, they do provide opportunities for those in the region.


Waterloo Region Transit

After the recent municipal elections, the Region of Waterloo’s transit plans are scheduled for review. After all, Rob Ford is cancelling Light Rail in Toronto. We should do the same here. </sarcasm>

I don’t believe that anyone is really suggesting that we should stop our light rail plans because of anything Toronto is saying or doing. A large part of the controversy appears to be due to the funding from the provincial government, which was less than expected. With the remaining expenses to be carried by the Region, local residents are crying foul, especially those in Cambridge, who would be getting rapid bus transit while Kitchener and Waterloo would get to ride the shiny new rails.

The alternative now being reconsidered, is rapid bus transit for all three cities. Those backing this plan suggest that ridership levels will be insufficient to support light rail, and that increased bus transit is more flexible. While it may be true that ridership will need to grow, I remain doubtful that rapid buses would have the desired effect of building up the city core.

An important question is how either project will affect transit through the rest of the cities. Rapid light rail is obviously limited to the central core. It can not be rerouted, although in the future additional lines could be built. What we can help for is the bus lines to be rerouted to feed into the central rail spine. Ideally, a bus will also go near my home, instead of a half hour walk away. I have doubts about the ability of rapid buses to alter the bus lines. Without the increase in urban densities, will rapid buses be able to build ridership fast enough to outpace traffic densities?

Evaluating professors and lecturers

As a part time undergraduate student, I’ve had several years taking courses at the University of Waterloo. Just a course or two per term, except for that soul-sucking term where I briefly managed three courses. Hello full-time student tax credits. When
selecting courses part time, there is often a number of factors considered.

Does it fit my schedule? Does it match my interests? Does it fulfill any course requirements? Do I have the prerequisites? What do I know about the professor? Will this course be offered again soon? Here are some of the thoughts I have on some
of my former professors, and the courses they taught.

Continue reading “Evaluating professors and lecturers”

Waterloo Region Transit

Last month, there was a little commuter challenge in the Waterloo Region, in which Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr, Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran, and 570 News announcer Mike Farwell traveled by Hybrid car, bus transit, and bicycle between Waterloo Town Square and Cambridge City Hall, where they were met by Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig. The results were mostly unsurprising. Transit by car is clearly the fastest, completing the journey in 33 minutes. The trip by bus completed in just under an hour. What did surprise me was that the cyclist arrived only fifteen minutes after the bus.

With the recent announcement by the federal government, promising up to $265 million dollars for the regional rapid transit plan, involving rapid light rail, I think it’s worthwhile mentioning that some areas of Waterloo Region don’t have bus service at all. When I attempt to use Grand River Transit’s trip finder to plan a trip, entering my location can’t even find me a bus that goes nearby. Using Google Maps, I find out that the nearest bus route is a half-hour walk from my house. I’m inside Kitchener city limits, and this walk would be along developed streets. It’s not like I’m walking through the woods to Grandma’s house here.

The remainder of the route would still take another hour to an hour and a quarter to complete a trip to the University of Waterloo, near where I work. I can complete the drive in under a half hour, less than the time required to walk to the nearest bus stop. Waterloo Region council can talk all they want about how awesome the rapid light rail will be, and how it will encourage higher density development along the core of the region, but until a bus route comes near my neighbourhood, I won’t be using it. Waterloo Region is still very much an automobile oriented community, and tossing money at light rail is not going to be the quick fix that some members of the community is suggesting.

What the rapid light rail plans can provide is a fast central corridor, which will supposedly build up the core of the cities. The city then needs to work on bus lines that link up to the rapid light rail line as quickly as possible. If a bus could get me from my neighbourhood to the light rail in a reasonable amount of time, the regional transit system could then start to become competitive, at least in my mind.

Current Reading

A quick overview of my current reading projects.

The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, by William St Clair

As can likely be guessed by the title, this is an academic study of reading habits throughout the Romantic period. It actually goes further than this, with a thorough examination of how intellectual property laws were developed to support the printing industry, and how this affected book prices, print runs, and general availability of books through the Romantic and Victorian ages. There are roughly three hundred pages of appendices containing tables of print runs and unit price of various works of interest throughout the period. It’s a very complex study, and I’ve only read a few chapters so far, but I’ve been quite impressed so far. The impact of intellectual property is especially relevant today, especially when one considers the Google Books settlement. I’m certainly oversimplifying the importance of this book, I just haven’t read enough of it yet to fully grasp whats going on.

The Last Man, by Mary Shelley

I’m reading the Bison Books edition from 2006, which aside from a few minor alterations, exactly follows the text of the first (1826) edition. I’ve only read two chapters so far, and I intend on taking notes while reading this. I can see some similarities already with Frankenstein, as Lionel starts out a rough savage, to be later educated in the classics. The opening chapters focus on the wilderness and freedom of youth, which I expect to recur as the novel progresses. It should be a most interesting novel.

Campus Chills, edited by Mark Leslie

I read several of the stories in this anthology when it launched, and I’m finally getting around to finishing it off. The best stories so far have been ones deeply rooted in a particular location. Three of the stories were written by Waterloo graduates. Julie E. Czerneda’s “The Forever Brotherhood”, James Alan Gardner’s “Truth-Poison”, and Douglas Smith’s “Radio Nowhere” all take place on the Waterloo campus. I was fortunate enough to attend the book launch in October, and all three read excerpts from their stories. Kimberly Foottit and Mark Leslie wrote “Prospero’s Ghost” which takes place at McMaster. “Different Skins” by Michael Kelly takes place on Philosopher’s Walk at the University of Toronto.

The story I liked best from this anthology is Douglas Smith’s “Radio Nowhere“, which has recently been posted on his website. While all the stories give some view of the supernatural, hauntings and horror, “Radio Nowhere” also carried a great melancholic sense of guilt and  loss. It’s a great story.

I’m reading some other books at the moment as well, but they’re currently on hold while I focus on these.