Andrew Ramlo

Unprecedented Demographic Change

Over the next three decades, communities in the Lower Mainland will experience change of an unprecedented character. Some of this change will be demographic: a number of communities will experience significant increases in their populations, while others will see their populations grow more slowly or even decline. All communities, though, will see the faces of their residents change dramatically over the coming years. Change will also be economic: some communities may see traditional employment sectors decline either in absolute or in relative terms as new industries and sectors grow. The degree to which community planning anticipates, responds to, and directs these changes will be key in determining whether a community’s visions and goals will be achieved in the coming years.

Current estimates show that the Lower Mainland region, from UBC to Hope, comprises roughly 2.7 million residents, and is projected to grow to 3.3 million by 2021, 3.8 million by 2031, and 4.2 million by 2041. Thus, the coming three decades would see the region grow by 1.5 million residents, or by 56 percent. Discussions of population growth, however, can mask the landscape of change that will characterize the region over the coming decades. For example, perhaps surprisingly, recent estimates show that over the past five years (2006 to 2010), Port Moody was actually the fastest-growing municipality in the region, growing by 18 percent or almost 5,200 new residents.

In terms of absolute growth, Surrey added the greatest number of new residents, with more than 49,000 people welcomed into the community. The City of Vancouver grew more slowly than the region as a whole between 2006 and 2010, increasing by seven percent (versus eight percent regionally) as it welcomed 43,000 new residents. In the coming years, growth in our outlying municipalities will continue to characterize the region, as development in older municipalities focuses more towards infill rather than larger development projects.

While our communities will experience various levels of growth, one thing is clear – all will age significantly. Every part of the region (and the rest of Canada) will see growth in the number of older residents that will far outweigh the number of younger residents. While the coming three decades would see the region’s population grow by 56 percent, the population over the age of 65 is projected to grow by more than 180 percent, or 630,000 more seniors.

Complementing the demographic trend of a greying population, migration will see the region grow more diverse in terms of its cultural and ethnic composition; more grey hair will be accompanied by a growing diversity of languages and cultures. Recent projections compiled by Statistics Canada show that by 2031 almost 60 percent of the region’s residents would be part of a visible minority, significantly more than the 40 percent recorded as part of most recent Census (2006).

It is interesting to note that the City of Vancouver itself has already seen its visible minority population become the visible majority: the 2006 Census showed that 51 percent of the City’s population self-identified as being part of a visible minority. The neighbouring City of Richmond, at 65 percent, has one of the largest shares of its population as a visible minority in Canada.

Housing is another area for which the geographic and demographic landscape of change will have significant implications. The lifecycle pattern of maintaining a home, which peaks in the older stages of the lifecycle, will combine with our aging population to result in upwards of 670,000 new dwelling units being added to the region’s housing stock in the coming three decades. Consider that a 56 percent increase in the regional population would require that the housing stock grow by more than 60 percent, while trends in housing preferences would see almost 60 percent of these additional dwelling units being added in ground oriented formats.

Finally, we cannot forget about economics and jobs. From an economic perspective, one concern is that our changing demography will reduce the available supply of labour to the point that it will constrain the ability of our economy to grow. With the demands of an aging population on the economy increasing, there will be a need for continued economic growth in order to pay for the range of pension, health care, and other social programs that an aging population requires.

At the local level, changing patterns of employment growth will continue to characterize the economic landscape. While municipalities try to balance the ratio of jobs to their resident labour force in order to create as many opportunities as possible to live and work in their communities, commuting patterns will continue to diversify. For example, for the first time the 2006 Census reported that there were actually more commuters from the City of Vancouver to Richmond (22,880 people) than there were in the opposite direction (18,530).

As part of its planning process, the City of Vancouver is currently undertaking the development of a comprehensive physical plan for the City that will address many of these issues. This represents an opportunity to help shape the framework within which these changes will be managed, and to envision how the City might evolve in the coming years. Considering the process through which these physical plans are developed, it is of fundamental importance that strategic discussions focus on the “how” rather than the “how many,” as the City and the region will experience much more change than growth in the coming years. Thus, while it has become convention for community planning to be equated with managing growth, it is essential that planning be conducted within the wider context of managing the growing diversity of change.


Andrew RamloAs a planning consultant and demographer, Andrew Ramlo is well known for his uncanny ability to forecast future demographic and economic changes in Canada’s diverse regions and markets. As Executive Director of Urban Futures Incorporated, Andrew works with many of Canada’s leading investors, retailers, and developers, as well as many of the country’s most rapidly changing municipalities, public agencies, and crown corporations.

As a Director of the Urban Futures Institute Society, Andrew has contributed to a broad base of publicly-available research on topics ranging from the changing dimensions of Canada’s labour force, pension plans, and health care, to urban planning, community development, and regional economics. Andrew is regularly quoted in the media thanks to his informative, accessible, and lively insights. Andrew was also recently recognized as one of Business in Vancouver’s Top 40 Under 40 business professionals.