Over 50,000 people moved out of Toronto in the 12-month period up to July 2020 according to Statistics Canada. The first choices for those getting away from the urban sprawl of Toronto was the nearby city of Oshawa, just 40 minutes east and the flourishing area of Waterloo-Kitchener, around an hour west. And the reason for this mass exodus? A healthier lifestyle mainly.
The one thing that was keeping people in Toronto was work and once that stopped being a problem, families, newcomers to Canada and young families went on the hunt for a lifestyle that evaded them downtown and quickly found that other nearby cities such as Waterloo, offered just as much vibrancy and opportunity with more access to open space.
Health and wellness leading the search
We all had time on our hands during lockdown and most of us used this as a time of reflection as to what was important to us as people and not just workers. Personal health fast became the most important consideration with regards to the decision to move away from Toronto; first and foremost we wanted to protect ourselves and our families, avoiding crowded environments but also not knowing how long we’d be restricted to our homes or condos with little room to move, the ability to be able to exercise and enjoy outdoors as much as possible became a real driver for change. Many will also admit to struggling with lengthy lockdown periods indoors and the way it took a toll on emotional and mental health and wellbeing; our homes were never designed as live, work, school and gym combined, after all. Cities like Waterloo with endless job opportunities, more backyard for the money and accessible green space were the first to benefit from the movement towards suburbs.
Self-care in the form of green space
Remote working, although it came with many advantages and overall is more preferable for most, it also meant that we were pretty much confined to a small space, working 24/7 and city-dwellers were deprived of much-needed access to nature for unwinding and taking a breather. It really hit home how valuable it was to have access to outdoor space, particularly those with reduced exposure to air pollution. There are many reputable organizations that have studied the connection between green spaces, physical health and mental health. Although they can’t always agree on what constitutes a green space, they mostly concur that a certain amount of time spent outdoors is beneficial to health and in some countries, this sort of therapy is in fact being prescribed to patients with mental health conditions. An article in ‘The Conversation’ reported that people who spent two hours of time in nature each week were able to report consistently higher levels of health compared to those that don’t.
Dr. Mathew White of the University of Exeter talks about the value of urban green spaces in decreasing mental distress and increasing life satisfaction.
One of the many draws of a city like Waterloo is the balance between work and play as it offers endless job opportunities, more backyard for the money and accessible outdoor amenities and conservation areas, which is why it was one of the first cities outside Toronto to benefit from the influx into the suburbs. Having said that, it was consistently named one of the best places to live in Ontario prior to the pandemic.
What are the Waterloo outdoor amenities on offer?
For families there are up to 20 mixed-use city parks featuring splash pads, hiking trails, forests, picnic areas, campsites, animal farms and soccer and other sports facilities.
Waterloo park is the biggest city park and covers 111 acres, many of which are available to rent. The park is known as the jewel of Waterloo city and with good reason. It boasts so many sports and general amenities it would be hard to complain and the city has committed to investments of over $10 million to add even more attractions including a new beach and boardwalk area around the lake.
You only need to venture a little further to explore the ample conservation areas on the doorstep. Laurel Creek conservation park is a beautiful rural area right on the outskirts of the city and offers further space to get away from it all. Whatever the season, activities like kayaking, hiking, boating and skiing have everyone covered or simply relax and take in the wildlife.
Not a green space but important for social interaction nevertheless is Waterloo Public Square. The square plays host to many groups and performers organized in conjunction with the city so that in normal times it’s a hive of musical and festival activity for the whole community to enjoy. In winter time the square becomes a skate rink, free for all to use as weather permits. Exercise is also known to increase endorphins and lift stress and there are plenty of indoor and outdoor attractions in and around Waterloo to get you moving all year round.
Finding the live-work balance
There are many great cities outside of Toronto you could make home and achieve the right balance of urban and rural to take care of your personal health and wellbeing. Waterloo is one of the best in our humble opinion for the diversity of events and amenities, top employers with remote work policies and the multitude of outdoor spaces, many of which are within walking distance or a short car journey away.
Some of those that made the move away during the pandemic spoke to CBC about their experiences of leaving a place they loved and for the most part, they’ve been happy with the extra cash and creative space it's given them. It seems the only difficulty in moving into the suburbs has been meeting people and feeling part of a community as they once did in the city; something that COVID-19 perpetuated for sure. It remains though that no one has to now be in Toronto to advance their career and as we emerge from the pandemic more dispersed, Waterloo is ready to welcome even more newcomers.