Downtown Toronto’s pace of population growth triples, outpacing suburbs’ as Echo Boomers flock towards urban centre: report
By: Megan O’Toole
Toronto has reached a “substantial turning point” after five years of massive growth in the downtown core, says a new report that also raises questions about whether the localized condo and employment boom will be sustainable in the decades ahead.
The report by TD Economics, to be released Tuesday morning, cites a dramatic surge of young professionals into the core over the last five years.
The pace of population growth has tripled since the previous three census periods and — for the first time in decades — outpaced the suburbs.
“This is a turning point for the city,” report author Francis Fong said.
“We’re on our way; we’re not there yet.”
The report finds that “Echo Boomers,” the children of post-war Baby Boomers, have increasingly eschewed the suburbs for proximity to transit, workplaces and amenities.
Recognizing the opportunity, more employers have started setting up shop in the downtown core, reversing a decades-long trend of businesses opting to locate in outlying municipalities to avoid the high costs of downtown real-estate, the report states.
Since 2009, 4.7 million square feet of office space have been built in Toronto, compared with 3.9 million in the surrounding suburbs.
“If we look at the previous few decades, so much of the development of the city was driven by the Baby Boomers; what they wanted, what they demanded,” Mr. Fong said.
“Now, [their children] want to be close to transit, they want to be close to restaurants, they want to be close to nightlife.
“They want it all … It’s a selling point for businesses to locate here if they want to be able to tap that talent pool.”
The data is not surprising, Mr. Fong says, considering other generational shifts: Echo Boomers are far more likely to switch jobs or careers than their parents were.
Because of this increased movement, “it’s a practical choice to be in a transit hub.”
Since 2000, the report adds, nearly 50,000 condo units had been built, sold and occupied south of Bloor Street; by late 2011, an additional 90,000 had been approved throughout the city, mostly planned in the downtown core.
The growth presents a number of challenges, not least of which is transit: “Rising population density, specifically along transit lines, will put serious pressure on the city’s already-strained road and public transit infrastructure,” the report notes.
There is also uncertainty as to whether the current trends will hold.
On one hand, Baby Boomers may begin downsizing and shifting yet more of Greater Toronto’s population to the core.
On the other hand, as Echo Boomers begin raising families, some may opt to return to the relative quiet and big backyards of the suburbs — leading to a downtown bust.
“We don’t know what those Echo Boomer families will demand,” Mr. Fong said.
“Will we see another wave out into the suburbs? It’s possible.”