The paradox of quality of life improvements: light rail transit as a catalyst of displacement in Waterloo Region

Authors: Brian Doucet*, University of Waterloo
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Social Geography
Keywords: gentrification, displacement, neighbourhood change, mobility, light rail transit, Waterloo Region
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Better public transport should bring about enhanced quality of life and mobility improvements, particularly for those without regular access to a car, or who rely on an infrequent bus service. But what happens when one of the key rationales for a new light rail transit (LRT) line is to serve as a catalyst for new investments in residential and commercial development? And what happens when this line runs through some of the poorer neighbourhoods in an urban region, that now find themselves in central positions within this new transportation network? This paper explores the ways in which Waterloo Region’s new LRT line is already shaping, and will continue to shape neighbourhood change, gentrification and displacement as it re-orders the economic and social geography of one of Ontario’s fastest growing and most economically dynamic regions. Opening in December 2018, the line is already stimulating higher-end residential developments, particularly in neighbourhoods that have a mix of housing stocks, including more affordable rental housing, sheltered accommodation and rooming houses. This paper marks the start of a long-term examination of the impact of the LRT on neighbourhood change and utilises a variety of methods, including pre-opening interviews with key stakeholders from local government, economic development, housing associations and community organisations, visual observations and media accounts of changes already taking place. It will contribute, to a deeper conceptual understanding of the causes and concerns surrounding displacement, as well as much needed research into the complex and often contradictory relationship between gentrification and mobility.

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