The Rise of Willis Way


Uptown Waterloo is well into its transformation, replacing a derelict mall stub and its parking lot and redeveloping the western side of King Street. Erin and I have been through the area a few times and while the construction is a pain to navigate around, we’re already seeing substantial improvements.

Nowhere is this most apparent in the sudden emergence of a street life for Willis Way. Willis Way was previously a short, one-block street running beside a parking garage, offering very little for the pedestrian save for a quicker journey to Waterloo’s City Hall.

As part of the transformation on Waterloo’s uptown, Willis Way was extended across King Street, through the area that used to be occupied by the derelict section of the Waterloo Town Square, to Caroline Street. It has to do some fancy footwork to get around the remaining structure of the Town Square, but it is here where the designers have achieved their greatest success.

The mall itself established a new entrance off of Willis Way, but then added a number of storefronts that open out onto the street rather into the mall. The City of Waterloo also added attractive street furniture and young trees. Everything was done very well, at a human scale, and the result is a very pleasant new downtown street, a valuable addition to Uptown Waterloo.

There’s a gourmet pizza place on the block that Erin and I have frequented a number of times. Basically, it’s just pizza with higher quality ingredients. It’s a good lunch for two for under $15. There’s a Thai place and a crepe place. But it’s the built form that attracts us. Previously, attempts to build new urban form into place has been a hit or miss task. Witness Waterloo Town Square itself — a product of that sixties and seventies ethic of planting suburban malls into downtown spaces in order to desperately try to revive moribund blocks. These experiments often failed.

But the new Willis Way development has had another effect on us. After lunch at the pizza place, Erin and I often take a stroll within the mall itself. By consolidating its stores and renovating, and addressing the street, it has proven to be an attractive space in its own right, and at last a real contributor to Waterloo’s uptown experience.

Good job, guys. Uptown Waterloo has come a long way since I first saw it, back in 1991.


The shot at the top of the blog is of Willis Way, looking east towards King Street. This is of Willis Way, looking west towards Caroline.


The storm sewer grates do have an image of a fish on them, though we are several miles of any lakes of any significant size. Is this in memory of Laurel Creek, which lies buried beneath, perhaps?


The corner of Willis Way and King Street, as seen from King Street, looking south. We’d thought that the building on the corner was going to be an LCBO store, but that’s opened up further south on the block. No idea what’s going into this prime location.

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