Commentary

Who’s Your City? Growing Older Or Younger?

Image: iStock photos.

David Campbell writes a blog about economic development in Atlantic Canada called It’s The Economy, Stupid.

I put together a few slides on the state of urban centres in Canada for a conference recently. There are 150 or so across the country so it can be a little hard to distil the data into something that is meaningful. The tables below are an attempt to categorize urban centres based on two important criteria – population growth and age of the population. Of course, to be more thorough we could add the structure of the economy, concentration, industries at risk, etc. but as a high-level snapshot, I think it is quite interesting.

I group the 150 urban centres into four quadrants – fast-growing and young, fast-growing and older, slowly growing or declining and young, slowly growing or declining and older.

As a caveat, I use the terms ‘young’ and ‘old’ loosely. At 51, I don’t particularly find 60 as ‘old’ but for convenience, I use the term.

Among the top 50 fastest-growing communities, as measured by population growth between 2013 and 2018, and those that are young (defined here as 70 or less people aged 60 and older for every 100 under the age of 20 – i.e. considerably more young than old), all are located in western Canada. What’s going on in Squamish, BC?  – second-fastest growth rate and one of the youngest populations in Canada. None east of Manitoba. Makes you stop and think about the future.

The urban centres that are slowly growing or declining and young, provide an interesting contrast. There are only three that fit these criteria – again all in the west – all in Alberta. The point here is that it is great to have a young population but high dependence on a single industry can overcome a demographic advantage. Can these communities take advantage of the young populations and foster new industries?

The fast-growing and old group is an interesting one because it looks like they are positioning themselves as retirement communities. Wasaga Beach in Ontario expanded its population by a very fast 19 per cent between 2013 and 2018 but it now has 251 over 60 for every 100 under 20. Almost all of this growth has come from interprovincial migration. Again there is an interesting geographic view on this.

All of the Ontario urban centres are in southern Ontario within a two-hour drive (without traffic!) of Toronto. There is one in Quebec, east of Montreal and the rest are all in British Columbia – and not just in the periphery of Vancouver. It looks like Canadian retirees are gravitating to southern Ontario outside of Toronto and other big cities and smaller urban centres in B.C.

The fourth quadrant, the one that is most concerning, is the slow growth/decline and old quadrant. There are no communities in this group west of Ontario. They are all in Atlantic Canada, smaller urban centres in Quebec and places in Ontario that haven’t transitioned their economies particularly well in recent years. Elliot Lake is a bit of a warning for those in the fast-growing/old quadrant.

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