February 15, 2012

Fun with the Census: Where’s the densest place in North America?

These days it’s possible for media to take vast amounts of information – the census – and to create reader-friendly interfaces like these.

Global News has generated 2011 Canadian census-tract maps for population and density here.


The New York Times produced an interface for the 2010 U.S. census, with many more layers, here.


So what better time to check out the veracity of the belief that the West End is the densest residential area in North America.

Here’s the densest census tract downtown: 28,078.8 people per square kilometre.



The densest census tract on Manhattan that I could find: 200,764.2 people per square mile (or 77,545.1 per square kilometre).



The West End is not even close.  However, the overall density of Manhattan is 26,832 – less than the West End’s densest part.  So the myth has some basis in fact.

But how about in Canada?  Nope: both Montreal and Toronto have significantly higher pockets of density.  In Montreal, the student ghetto just east of McGill, at 30,117.2 people per square kiometre:


In Toronto, not surprisingly in St. James Town, Canada’s densest census tract (that I’ve found), at 60,915.4 :


Though I don’t have data to back this up, my impression is that all these various locations cover a good part of the economic spectrum, from Upper East Side New Yorkers to refugees in St. James Town.

Another interesting factoid that I came across: the population has fallen by a few percent in most census tracts in the West End.

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  1. The tiny census tract south of Joyce station is the most densely populated in Metro Vancouver that I could find at 39951.5 people per square kilometre.

  2. It’s interesting to see declining population around the other skytrain stations in East Vancouver. The population is also declining or stagnant around Cambie.

    The densities in many of the tracts near Commercial, Nanaimo, and 29th Avenue are unremarkable for residential neighbourhoods in East Vancouver .

  3. Good catch, mike0123! Shows how incredibly bad the zoning is around those stations – it’s hard to believe that the Expo Line has been around 26 years but Nanaimo and 29th Ave are still suburban wastelands.

    One can only hope that the Cambie stations on the Canada Line don’t suffer the same fate, but given neighbourhood opposition to dense development I’m not holding my breath.

    1. I never understood Vancouver’s obsession of ultra densifying downtown while doing absolutely nothing in East Van – specifically around the 3 stations (Commercial, Nanaimo and 29th Av).

  4. there is a development coming along at Joyce in the densest census tract http://www.wallcentrecentralpark.com/ which will contribute to bring some Manhattan like density.

    Consider that 200,000 trip lost 1mn or so in Nanaimo, for the benefit of noone…and consider the economic toll of it (use same logic as road-congestion: time cost money).
    …at some point one should consider to close down Nanaimo skytrain station.

  5. Ah, but I bet downtown Vancouver wins for the highest density of yappy Shih-tza-poo purse dogs. In fact, perhaps they account for the slight drop in human density, the aurally sensitive having decamped for a neighbourhood with more coyotes.

  6. I’ve been going over this for an urban studies project at Concordia. Here is a link for the the densest census tracts in Canada: http://www.globalnews.ca/pages/topicNew.aspx?id=6442578231.

    As you will see, the densest tracts are in inner suburbs of Toronto. The densest downtown area in the country remains Montreal. The west end of Montreal’s downtown (near Concordia) has several blocks of wall-to-wall highrises, complemented by mid-rises and brownstones. As you pointed out, there is a similar phenomenon east of McGill in an area known as Milton-Park/McGill Ghetto.

    Both of these neighborhoods reached these densities in the 1960s and 1970s (and were actually even denser during that period). For this reason, they also have a very high level of street-level commercial activity.

    Where Toronto’s densest neighborhoods tend to be towers in the park on the edge of the central city (predominantly single-use residential), Montreal’s densest are the extension of an older tradition of downtown high and mid-rise living (similar to New York and other northeastern city: mixed-use). This is made possible by the concentration of offices, retail, and institutions in the central city, which are more scattered in other Canadian cities.

    Toronto and Vancouver have recently known an explosive condo market, but new projects are often designed for a high level of car use, which Montreal’s 1960s boom projects were not.

  7. how do you know st jamestown is refugees lol? its not official refugees, but a lot of lower-mid income immigrants

  8. If I remember correctly, the Lower Eastside of Manhattan was infamously about 10 times denser in 1900 than 2000, way up in the 100s k per sq. mile.

  9. There’s a census block in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, that had 600808.88 people per square mile in 2010, and a census tract in Queens, NY that had 208,124 people per square mile in 2010 .

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