David L.A. Gordon with Chris Willms & Shuhong Lin
SURP, Queen’s University

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Executive Summary

Although  Canada is a suburban nation, mid-sized cities are different. We can now compare all of Canada’s mid-sized metro areas to structure and growth trends throughout the nation. Two-thirds of the country’s total population lives in some form of suburb  and it has been known for some time that the structure of many of Canada’s mid-sized metropolitan areas are strongly dispersed.

The purpose of this working paper is to update and add national context to the “Suburban growth and downtown decline in Ontario’s Mid-Sized Cities” 2017 Evergreen Working Paper. The 2017 Working Paper was based upon 2006 and 2011 census data, while this working paper updates the research using the 2016 census data that was released in late 2017.

Our research found that within Canada’s mid-sized metropolitan areas, 88% of the population lived in transit suburbs, auto suburbs, or exurban areas, while only 12% lived in active core neighbourhoods. While big metropolitan areas across the nation have a slightly higher proportion of population in their active cores, significant structural differences exist within the suburbs.

The mid-sized metro areas had much higher proportions of Exurban residents, presumably because commuting into downtown is easier from their rural areas compared to exurban residents of big metro areas, who must contend with more congestion after they reach the edge of the built-up area. As well, most big cities have sophisticated transit systems and a greater share of population living in Transit Suburbs, while most mid-sized metro areas had lower proportions since far fewer people commute by transit in mid-sized cities.

The population growth patterns of Canada’s mid-sized metropolitan areas are quite different from the biggest cities. The total population in Active Core neighbourhoods for Canada’s mid-sized metropolitan areas increased by less than 1% from 2006 to 2016, compared to 11% for the big metro areas, though much regional variation exists and many mid-sized cities experienced decline.

The population of Canada’s mid-sized metro areas grew by 11% from 2006-2016, while their Auto Suburbs and Exurbs grew by 12% and 16%, respectively. Auto Suburbs across the nation, whether a big or mid-sized metro, accounted for 75% of all population growth. However, Exurbs in Canada’s mid-sized metros accounted for an additional 22% of population growth. In contrast, exurban growth was only 7% for the bigger metro areas.

So low density, auto-dependent suburban sprawl increased at the same time that downtown populations decreased in many mid-sized Canadian regions.



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