Waterloo, like hundreds of other small North American cities, experienced a golden moment when its main street bustled, when its architecture was comforting brick, and its people were employed and churchgoing and filled with optimism. But this proved transitory; the city grew on the fringes, and the schools moved to the edges, followed by residential and commercial development. Big boxes stores sprouted on farmland, and the main street crumbled. Industry withered, jobs disappeared, and young people fled to the big city. ...... One key to Waterloo’s success has been the integration — economic, geographic, and cultural — between the universities and the city. Like the engineering and computer faculties, the architecture school is integrated into the community. “We are involved in almost everything,” Rick Haldenby says, “every major committee in Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo. We’ve advised on virtually every major development in the region.” Kuwabara suggests that the [University of Waterloo] architecture school is the best in the country.
Waterloo went from manufacturing center to talent production cluster. As a result, the urban core was dramatically revitalized. Waterloo is a Rust Belt exception.
The magic of failure is really a fluke of geography. A major research university is located in the heart of a city and becomes the engine of economic redevelopment. Put the University of Michigan at the center of Detroit, you get Pittsburgh.