The greying of Canada’s cities

Shifting demographics mean urban areas must stay energetic and vital.

Among its other charms, a new year holds the promise of another birthday for all of us. That includes the country itself. But the impending birthdays add up to one simple fact: the population of Canada is getting older.

A recent report from RBC lists this demographic shift as one of the great challenges the country faces in the new decade. Navigating the 2020s notes that the country is facing a “demographic time bomb.” By 2029, 25% of Canadians will be seniors. That’s a big increase over the 17% currently over 65.

This shift will lead to increased health care spending and job growth in that sector. But it also has big implications for cities. RBC notes that our aging population will affect the type of housing that gets built and real estate markets as large numbers of boomers sell their homes. 

The bank’s economists estimate as many as 500,000 homes could hit the market in the next 10 years. They see this as an opportunity to transform cities. “For example, multiple units could be built on a lot previously occupied by one dwelling. Just the kind of gentle increase in density that many see as a key part of the housing affordability solution in Canada’s largest cities.” The report notes that this is easier said than done, noting that it will mean altering “zoning bylaws and other restrictive housing supply policies,” which is always a contentious process.

The report also notes that affordability will continue to be a pressing concern. It predicts the rate of home ownership will fall in the course of the next 10 years. The push for affordable housing will also see the rise of “smaller housing markets beyond the more expensive cities.”

The aging population will also make immigration critical as a means of adding young workers to the economy. This is not a new trend, but it will take on added importance in the coming years. A recent editorial in The Globe and Mail notes that Canada is projected to have 48.8 million people by 2050.

The vast majority of new residents will settle in urban areas. In Alberta, 80% of the projected 2.3 million additional people will settle in the Edmonton-Calgary corridor. It places a premium on good urban planning and efficient public transit. 

It also sets up a kind of competition among cities to attract newcomers. That can only be a good thing. Cities striving to be places where people want to work and play benefits everybody.

January 9th, 2020

An aging population will change Canada’s cities.