You have heard lots of discussion about the need to sacrifice farmland in northeast Edmonton to meet the needs of a population projected to increase from 812,000 to 1.2 million people by 2040 requiring 146,000 new housing units. But here is the part of the story you haven’t heard about the demographic shift.
• The City’s Growth Coordination Strategy indicates we already have enough land approved for development to meet the next 25 years of housing demand.
• City economist John Rose said in December 2012 that Edmonton region could reach 1.5 million people within a decade if the working-age population keeps rising at its current pace. But in a year-end interview with media, he noted that “most of the people coming to Edmonton are in their prime working years, from their late 20s to late 40s, and many want to live in apartments, condos and townhouses rather than traditional suburban bungalows”(1).
• Financial post columnist Jason Heath also noted the demographic shift where “the Baby Boomer is likely to sell the 3,000 square foot, 4-bedroom home they raised their family in and instead opt for a 1,500 square foot condo before long”(2). Rod Carrick in the Globe and Mail agrees “Now, as they start entering retirement, boomers aren’t buying houses any more and the younger generation isn’t large enough to pick up the slack”(3).
• A report from Great West Life Realty Advisors in 2010 concluded that economic, demographic and social shifts in Canada are re-shaping housing preferences increasing the popularity of multi-family and apartment living. The report notes that the younger generation seems to have less interest in automotive use, making “apartment living in dense, walkable and transit-oriented urban areas a more natural fit for their lifestyles.” And while population growth may continue through immigration, as the report points out, many immigrants also grew up in dense urban environments (4).
• Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner for the City of Toronto, described four shifting demographics that are impacting both housing and the way Toronto is developing: family size is decreasing, people are living longer, 19 to 35 year olds are choosing to live downtown and are not moving to the suburbs like previous generations and more people are choosing to live alone. She also described the largest cohort as being the 19 to 35 olds. They are avoiding the suburbs for quicker commute times and are seeking housing close to amenities, workplaces and transit and situated in mixed use communities(5).
• In that same presentation, Keesmaat indicated that what had the greatest impact on curbing urban sprawl in the Greater Toronto Area was a land use policy decision, i.e. the creation of the Greenbelt, NOT a market decision(5).
• If we are going to densify the urban core, mature neighbourhoods and new neighbourhoods with mid to high density condos, we will need some condos that are family friendly. Otherwise we will have very unbalanced and unhealthy neighbourhoods. Condos with two or more bedrooms, access to private outdoor space, superior soundproofing, and sufficient bulk storage will be needed so that we have a variety of household sizes living in all parts of the city (6).
The proposed Horse Hill Area Structure Plan would convert prime farmland into more low density residential and retail development. Such urban sprawl is hardly “smart growth” in a time of major demographic shifts and a re-ordering of housing preferences among both the boomers and the younger generations.
1. Kent,Gordon (2012) Edmonton’s working-age population is on the rise city economist says. Edmonton Journal, December 19.
2. Heath, Jason (2012) How house prices depend on demographics Financial Post, Octobr 30.
3. Carrick, Rob (2012) Canada’s housing market : a victim of demographics Globe and Mail December 10.
4. Great West Life Realty Advisors (2010) Drivers of apartment -living in Canada for the twenty-first century, September.
5. Jennifer Keesmaat, Placemaking and the Politics of Planning. City-Region Studies Centre: Regional Planning Speakers Series
6. Elise Stolte, Kids Help Balance a Community advocate says, Edmonton Journal September 19. 2011.