Downtown Calgary among Canada's top five most densely populated city centres: census

Feb 10 2022, 7:10 pm

With a population density of 7,778 residents per sq km, downtown Calgary is one of the densest city centres of all primary downtown areas in Canada’s census metropolitan areas (CMAs), according to newly released Statistics Canada data.

Vancouver has the densest city centre, with 18,837 residents per sq km, closely followed by downtown Toronto with 16,608 residents per sq km.

According to the 2021 census, Montreal’s downtown ranks third at 8,367 residents per sq km, while downtown Calgary comes in at fourth. Hamilton, Ontario, came in fifth behind Calgary, with 6,939 residents per sq km.

By comparison, there are 28,668 residents per sq km in New York City’s densest borough of Manhattan, and about 130,000 residents per sq km live in Hong Kong’s Mongkok district.

Although the downtown Vancouver peninsula ranks as Canada’s densest primary city centre, it is geographically the smallest of Canada’s five largest urban regions. Downtown Vancouver is about 5.7 sq km, smaller than the downtowns of Calgary at 6.0 sq km, Edmonton at 11.5 sq km, Toronto at 16.6 sq km, and Montreal at 13.2 sq km.

And, downtown Vancouver’s rate of population growth is now falling behind the three other major Canadian downtowns.

Based on the latest census, downtown Vancouver’s population increased by 7.4% from 113,516 in 2016 to 121,932 in 2021, while downtown Calgary increased by 21% from 38,663 in 2016 to 46,763 in 2021, downtown Montreal increased by 24.2% from 88,169 in 2016 to 109,509 in 2021, and downtown Toronto increased by 16.1% from 237,698 in 2016 to 275,931 in 2021.

With 55,387 residents in 2021, Edmonton’s downtown population is larger than that of Calgary, but this represents a five-year decline of 1.1%.

According to Statistics Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic ended the rapid population growth that occurred in Canada’s downtowns from 2016 to 2019. Between July 2020 and July 2021, the downtown populations dropped by 3.1% in Montreal and 2.9% in Vancouver.

Over the year-long period ending in July 2021, the pace of population growth slowed in 38 of the 42 primary city centres in the CMAs across the country. In fact, the population declined in 30 of the 42 downtowns.

Downtown Toronto was an outlier as it saw a 0.4% population growth over the same year-long period despite the pandemic’s effects, but statisticians have noted this could be due to some homebuyers who bought their home prior to the pandemic may only have taken possession in 2020 or 2021.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, the allure of downtown living may have lost some of its sheen with more people working from home and fewer opportunities to indulge in cultural or entertainment activities,” reads the report by Statistics Canada, adding that other reasons for some of the exodus include more affordable housing and larger living spaces in suburban communities.

The downtowns of Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal have a substantially higher proportion of commercial office space when compared to Vancouver’s city centre, along with more retail uses, including major indoor shopping centres and cultural attractions.

In recent years, Calgary has been attempting to shift more of its downtown from office to residential uses, given that there is no end in sight to its office space glut as the result of the collapse of Alberta’s oil industry. This includes not only new residential buildings, but initiatives to convert vacant office buildings into housing.

According to CBRE’s office market report for the fourth quarter of 2021, there is 43.2 million sq ft of office space within downtown Calgary and an office vacancy rate of a whopping 33.2%.

In contrast, downtown Vancouver has 25 million sq ft of office space, with a vacancy rate of 7.2%, while downtown Toronto has 92.5 million sq ft of office space and a vacancy rate of 9.7%, and downtown Montreal has 45.5 million sq ft of office space and a vacancy rate of 13.7%.

There is currently no new office construction in Calgary and Edmonton. Vancouver’s city centre has 2.9 million sq ft of office space under construction, in contrast with 7.5 million sq ft in downtown Toronto and 625,000 sq ft in downtown Montreal.

The census also highlighted the varying availability of land for development in the large urban regions. The distant suburbs in Toronto and Vancouver’s CMAs had a population density of just under 500 people per sq km in May 2021, but in Montreal the figure was just over 300 people per sq km. The density was even lower in Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa, where there were fewer than 50 residents per sq km in the distant suburbs.

As for the secondary downtowns within the urban regions, the largest is the Vancouver suburban city of Richmond, which saw its city centre grow by 15.5% from 66,463 in 2016 to 76,795 in 2021. The Toronto suburban city of Mississauga ranked second, with its downtown population increasing by 7.6% from 59,395 in 2016 to 63,880 in 2021.

Canada’s top 10 densest primary downtowns

  1. Vancouver: 18,837 residents per sq km
  2. Toronto: 16,608 residents per sq km
  3. Montreal: 8,367 residents per sq km
  4. Calgary: 7,778 residents per sq km
  5. Hamilton: 6,939 residents per sq km
  6. Ottawa: 6,847 residents per sq km
  7. Halifax: 6,237 residents per sq km
  8. Winnipeg: 6,102 residents per sq km
  9. Victoria: 5,709 residents per sq km
  10. Quebec City: 5,673 residents per sq km

Canada’s top 10 densest secondary downtowns

  1. Mississauga (Toronto): 8,948 residents per sq km
  2. Burnaby Metrotown (Vancouver): 7,907 residents per sq km
  3. Richmond (Vancouver): 6,905 residents per sq km
  4. Surrey (Vancouver): 5,377 residents per sq km
  5. Brampton (Toronto): 4,109 residents per sq km
  6. Longueuil (Montreal): 4,042 residents per sq km
  7. Burlington (Hamilton): 3,992 residents per sq km
  8. Laval (Montreal): 3,110 residents per sq km
  9. Richmond Hill (Toronto): 3,010 residents per sq km
  10. Cambridge (Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo): 2,809 residents per sq km

Canada’s top 10 largest primary downtowns for population

  1. Toronto: 275,931 (+16.1% over 2016-2021)
  2. Vancouver: 121,932 (+7.4% over 2016-2021)
  3. Montreal: 109,509 (+24.2% over 2016-2021)
  4. Ottawa: 67,169 (+7.1% over 2016-2021)
  5. Edmonton: 55,387 (-1.1% over 2016-2021)
  6. Hamilton: 53,236 (+9.7% over 2016-2021)
  7. Calgary: 46,763 (+21% over 2016-2021)
  8. Victoria: 46,309 (+12.3% over 2016-2021)
  9. Winnipeg: 44,061 (+3.9% over 2016-2021)
  10. Kitchener: 30,018 (+10.8% over 2016-2021)

Canada’s top 10 largest secondary downtowns for population

  1. Richmond (Vancouver): 76,795 (+15.5% over 2016-2021)
  2. Mississauga (Toronto): 63,880 (+7.6% over 2016-2021)
  3. Burnaby Metrotown (Vancouver): 42,454 (+8.1% over 2016-2021)
  4. Surrey (Vancouver): 38,375 (+24.2% over 2016-2021)
  5. Brampton (Toronto): 26,433 (+4.1% over 2016-2021)
  6. Oakville (Toronto): 15,433 (+5.6% over 2016-2021)
  7. Burlington (Hamilton): 15,310 (+2.0% over 2016-2021)
  8. Waterloo (Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo): 14,299 (+31.2% over 2016-2021)
  9. Longueuil (Montreal): 14,672 (+2.5% over 2016-2021)
  10. Markham (Toronto): 12,906 (+32.1% over 2016-2021)

With files from Kenneth Chan

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