I’ve never outlined what I’m doing at Waterloo.  Since I’m bitching and moaning about it constantly, I should clarify the background.

For the next four months I will be working as a Research Assistant in the Distributed Systems Group at the University of Waterloo.  I make far, far less than a Starbucks barista per month.  The irony.

If I adapt to the research mindset I’ll continue with the Masters program at Waterloo.  I’ve been ‘recommended’ to the ECE graduate applications committee, but again, the letter I signed states that (and I paraphrase) a recommendation is not tantamount to a guarantee.  Waterloo wants to expand its graduate program.  Ontario politicians continually speak of the need for higher education.  I’m willing to return to a city I dislike (despise?) to get this higher education…  What’s the holdup?  Again, the irony.

A Masters program is 6 consequtive terms; two years of study and research.  I don’t know if I can handle living at Waterloo constantly for two years.

I just don’t know.


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  • Hey Allen. I understand that you despise Waterloo, but I would like to know why you hate this city so much more than other cities of similar size. Or is it just a generic hatred of all small(er) cities that are more than an hour away from a huge metropolitan area? Or is it just UW? I can certainly understand it being UW!

    ~ Rob

  • Good (and valid) question Rob. I’ve given this a lot of thought, especially after Paul brought up the same issues you did. I haven’t drawn conclusive answers yet, but here are some points that come to mind.

    I’ll start by saying that many of these comments can be applied to Brampton as well.

    I’m certainly not a fan of smaller cities. They’re most often suburban and typify many values, and attitudes I disagree with. For example, cities like Brampton and Mississauga are built around the “car for every task” philosophy I find distasteful. Smaller cities sprawl, a phenomenon that’s heightened in Canada and the US because of the availability of land. They tend not to have strong, vibrant central cores, because of their distributed nature and other factors. Smaller cities embody many features that I dislike intensely. If I don’t voice them it’s because I’ve found that Canadians and Americans (generalizing grossly) don’t share my views.

    I remember for example, that you don’t like major cities – didn’t you comment that you “hated New York”? Being surrounded by the energy in New York, the feeling of there always being this ebb and flow of humanity just outside your door, that, this is what I’ve always loved.

    Hitting closer to home, smaller cities are inimical to photography – especially of the type I do. I know that both here and in Brampton, wandering through street after street of cookie-cutter houses invites askance glances, (sometimes) outright hostility and, frankly, is a numbing experience. It’s also hard to do. The 10 km I walk in Toronto, San Francisco or New York is a wholly different experience than the same here or in Brampton. Perhaps one reason is that large cities have a better mix of commercial and residential. Smaller ones tend to favor isolating the two into separate zones. Feeling that my hobby is restricted doesn’t engender goodwill.

    The more that I think about it, access is a major factor…

    Stress is another factor, so “yes”, the university is a big deal. Yes, Comp. Eng. was stressful, but there’s all the ‘other’ stuff as well. Finding a place to live is one that really gets me. Who will I live with? What will they be like? I don’t want to deal with that anymore. On that note, a conversation with Kurt comes to mind. We were discussing this very matter, during which he said “I’d just like a place to come back to that’s my own. I don’t want to have to deal with anybody at home. It’s my space.” It’s a sentiment I understand.

    Another question is, is there something that interests me here, in KW? Professionally – there are plenty of opportunities. Outside that? No, not really. Two major interests I have are coffee and photography. Neither is well-represented in Waterloo. I would like to go to unique cafes (indeed find unique cafes) where people have a desire to brew and serve great coffee. What I have are Second Cup and Starbucks. Yes, it’s still hit and miss in Toronto (and SF also), but they’re there and walking from place to place is an intensely enjoyable experience. You don’t get the concentration of art galleries (especially contemporary art) in KW that you get in Toronto.

    There’s also the people. Both TPMG (Toronto Photography Meetup Group) and Flickr both have meetups in Toronto. Why there? Well – to answer that – consider why cities are so important. They concentrate different factors. There’s a critical mass of people, plenty of interesting subjects to cater to different tastes, a variety of neighbourhoods and atmospheres, proximity to major art galleries etc.

    That’s all I have time for right now…

  • Far too much for me to argue against…

    Some key points however:
    – you could get a place of your own in Waterloo. And it would be a whole lot cheaper than to do so in a big city. I have seen, and looked at a fair number of single bedroom apartments. More expensive than sharing, yes, but you’ll find that anywhere.
    – About New York, have you stayed in Queens at a low cost hotel? A little different than Manhatten for sure. Try walking around Brooklyn too, maybe eat at a McDonalds while you are there. I think I saw a lot of the underside of New York, and I love Toronto in comparison.
    – Big cities do sprawl. Only they have suburbs since they can’t grow within city limits anymore. As for vibrant city centers, most smaller cities had one a few decades ago, it is only more recently that they have been in decline. Uptown Waterloo/Downtown Kitchener are actually pretty strong from what I have seen comparing other cities of similar size.

    I will skip the whole photography aspect, as I am no expert. I think I could find some nice things to photograph here though.

    ~ Rob

  • (Sorry for taking space here Allen… feel free to cut shorter if you don’t want this on your blog)

    Random, but addressable things:

    Victoria Park in KW, and the bike path (the Iron Horse path, or whatever it’s called) have some nice photographic opportunities… also, when I went looking for a place to renew my license in Waterloo, I found a nice little community that looked nothing like the rest of Waterloo (and looked nothing like those new residential areas). Waterloo Park has it’s moments and places too.

    I can’t believe I forgot to mention this, but there’s a non-starbucks, non-second cup coffee place on King Street. I think it’s at the corner of Princess and King, or a block north or south of there on the west side of king. From the outside it looks like a pub, and I always thought it was, but inside, there’s people on laptops, reading, drinking coffee, etc, and this was at about 10PM at night when I walked by. It’s a small style coffee place you should check out. Yes, there aren’t a dozen of these sorta places in that small area, but it might have better coffee than that one place we checked out on Queen West ;).

    OH, you aren’t that far from Stratford… I don’t know what’s the easiest way to get there, but core is VERY nice, and I’m almost certain they have some coffee places there.

    I will agree with the “car for every task” nature of cities like Brampton, Missasauga, Waterloo, etc, and heck, before the RT and subway jutted into my neck of the woods, Scarborough, and before the number of bus routes increased, the area was DEFINITELY designed around a car for any task. Considering when I was born, the area just north of my high school was farmland, and not less than 5 years before my house was built, my neighbourhood was farmland, and whatnot, we have to keep in mind that suburbs EXIST because of automobiles. Without them, suburbs and small cities wouldn’t be as they are. So of course, cars will be kept in mind when they were designed. I’ll point out that the Queen West area we went through was not very appealling to me as an area. Too crowded, with rundown buildings, rundown homes, etc, etc. For me, if you’re in Toronto, you either have to be in the downtown core, or the cleaner suburbs… and I find the suburbs aren’t too different from a city like Waterloo.

    In response to Rob: Maybe you haven’t seen the underside of Toronto yet… Jane & Finch, East Scarborough, heck, the movie theatre I used to work at, Eglinton & Dufferin, the area where VoiceGenie is located, and many more places you probably haven’t seen yet… it’s the same as New York, or Chicago, or any big city… there’s the downtown core (Manhattan, the Yonge/Queen Street and surrounding area, and the area within the L-Track), there’s the poor neighbourhoods (what you saw, what I mentioned, and I don’t want to go into Chicago’s problems), there’s the REALLY poor neighbourhoods (ugh), and there’s the affluent neighbourhoods… heck, walk along Church Street in Toronto (I think church street) late at night and you’ll see tonnes of street walkers… and that’s PART of the downtown core.

    Big cities all carry a lot of flaws… smaller cities too… but hey…

    Other notes: I don’t find FINDING a place stressful, but I can see where Allen goes with “his OWN place to come back to”. It’s a whole different thing to come back to a place you consider yours than coming back to a place you know you’re sharing. For the summer, it’s definitely more cost efficient to pick up someone’s (usually discounted) sublet, then find a place of his own, but Allen, if you’re gonna be in Waterloo for another two years, consider a single place on your own.

    I have only one suggestion for the 10KM walk… starting at University and King walk south on King Street, and keep walking… I don’t know if it’s 10KM long from there, but you should hit some interesting places along the way.

  • Rob, Paul – thank you for your comments. I’ll address some points off hand.

    “Big cities sprawl”

    Yes, they do. The worst examples I’ve seen are Denver and Los Angeles. I’ve heard that Atlanta is far worse, with once 15 minute commutes now stretching into hours. San Diego, where I lived, was also grappling with the “plethora of suburbs” issue Rob mentioned. Even the GTA could, in previous years, be seen as one giant suburb of Toronto although this is no longer true. Incompetent city politicians, punishing business taxes, a moribund political structure and an (often) indifferent provincial government have all undermined Toronto.

    Finding a place in Waterloo will be cheaper than in Toronto. At the same time, I’d also have far fewer access to things I enjoy. That said, I am looking for a place of my own for the next two years. Alternatively, a two person place shared with someone else I trust is also a very attractive option. I’ve already started looking around.

    I’ve been to Queens. I’ve been to seedier areas of Toronto, San Francisco (which has a far worse homeless problem than Toronto) and dodgy places in Bombay. I have seen the underside of cities. I’ve transited through places I shudder to think of. But again, we have to take the good with the bad. All four cities we’ve mentioned have immense redeeming qualities as well. Does KW have redeeming qualities? Yes – notably a high concentration of tech companies and a willingness to innovate that’s refreshing.

    I have found interesting things to photograph, although it’s challenging. Part of the reason is where we students live. The university is surrounded primarily by housing, and let me tell you, when you’ve absolutely no interest in suburbia, photographing in it is painful. There is a reason my photostream is filled with pictures of San Francisco, Toronto etc. instead of those of Brampton.

    Paul mentioned a preference for the downtown areas or the “cleaner suburbs” of Toronto. It’s important to note that both these, as well as the seedier areas can coexist in a city. I, personally, didn’t mind Queen E. There are places I will avoid (Jave & Finch, East Scarborough) but that’s because I know I don’t have the…internal or external ‘presence’ to handle those areas.

    Paul – is it the tea place you’re speaking of? A little house run by an old German lady and her husband? If so, I’ve been there. Yes, I too, have walked around Waterloo ;~) I do plan to do the walk down King St. – which does have a better downtown than Brampton.

    So much to talk about…

  • I dunno… I didn’t go in :) It seemed pretty big and had the word “coffee” in it’s name…

    Queen E is good… Queen W is what we walked down ;) Queen E becomes the beaches area, which is pretty affluent. :)

  • Oops sorry. I meant to say Queen W. I’ve been down both and don’t either. In fact, I was back at Queen W. today. Just stopped by the MOCCA to see the CONTACT exhibition there…

  • Gwah, if I’d known you were in the tee-dot at all, I’d’ve invited you to MI3 at the Scarborough Towne Centre Coliseum… I enjoyed the predictable but action-packed film!