December 3, 2013

Surprise: Suburbs grow faster than cores

Well, not really – a surprise, that is.  Rates of change, almost by definition, will be faster in the newer parts of an urban region than the core.

You can read how we’re doing in a new report by Urban Futures – Suburban Futures:
A look at employment & population change throughout the Lower Mainland.

Here’s the essence:

Between 2001 and 2011 employment in the core grew by only ten percent (through the addition of 58,371 net new jobs), compared to 15 percent growth region-wide. Suburban employment, on the other hand, grew at two and a half times this pace, as employment in the region’s suburbs (the other 16 major municipalities outside of the historical urban core) grew by 25 percent.



In terms of population, the only core municipalities that experienced growth above the regional average of 17 percent were Greater Vancouver Electoral Area A (65 percent; 8,030 additional residents) and New Westminster (21 percent; 11,320 additional residents). All other core municipalities grew below the regional average of 17 percent, with all of the suburban municipalities growing more rapidly.


The report frames itself as a reaction to the absurd notion that we’re seeing ‘a death of the suburbs’:

With most of the region’s growth in employment and population occurring outside of the historical urban core over the past decade, reports of the death of the suburbs have been greatly exaggerated—at least here in the Lower Mainland.

Greatly exaggerated indeed.  One can make a better case that the core is in fact doing pretty darn good compared to the decline of cities elsewhere in North America.  More importantly, faster suburban growth is an expected and inherent part of our regional plan.  It’s supposed to happen that way.

The issue is how.  If the suburbs grow a la Motordom, without their own centres that offer choice in accommodation and transportation, the quality of life and the economy will suffer – region wide.

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  1. Most of what I’ve read about the “death of the suburbs”, or at least the idea of declining growth in the suburbs relative to the core, is based on a more recent time frame than what you’ve shown here. For example, in the U.S. the 58 metro areas with 1 million or more people increased 1.8% from 2010 to 2012. During that same time, the central cities for the metro areas grew 2.1% while the surrounding suburban areas grew by just 1.7%. Central cities grew faster than the suburbs in about two-thirds of the metro areas. That’s the first time in 80 years that the central cities, as a group, have grown faster than the suburbs.

    Metro Vancouver has experienced the same pattern according to estimates from BC Stats. Metro Vancouver’s population increased 3.0% from 2010 to 2012. During that same time period, the City of Vancouver increased 3.7% while the suburbs increased 2.7%.

  2. Putting this in percentage terms vastly exaggerates suburban performance. In absolute numbers, Vancouver is second only to Surrey, and basically tied on the jobs charts. It’s been almost 10 years since I lived in Vancouver, but if Surrey is urbanising in much the way Burnaby already has, then this data isn’t exactly “Suburbs, hoorah.” 60% of jobs growth and 56% of population growth has happened between Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey. It does perhaps show the importance of getting funding for Surrey light rail, though, to encourage more urban growth patterns there.

    And, as Garryo pointed out, the increased urbanism phenomenon is quite new, and while it will take a decade or more to find out if it has staying power, data from last decade, the most recent of which is 2 years out of date, doesn’t say much about the current “death of the suburbs” narrative.

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