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Census 2016: Whither the Regional Growth Strategy

Each week I will be blogging about a different (and interesting) application of GIS that everyone can relate to. This week I was going to blog about site selection and retail market share. But instead, to celebrate #Census2016, I thought I would look at Census population growth and Metro Vancouver's Regional Growth Strategy.

Why I want to do this, is to highlight the implications of forecasting for planning decisions and to underline the importance of timely data analysis.

Some background (Stolen from here):

  • Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping our Future, the regional growth strategy, represents the collective vision for how our region is going to accommodate the 1 million people and over 500,000 jobs that are expected to come to the region in the next 25 years.

  • Metro 2040 was unanimously adopted in 2011 by 21 municipalities, TransLink and adjacent regional districts. It contains strategies to advance five goals related to urban development, the regional economy, the environment and climate change, housing and community amenities, and integrating land use and transportation.

Of the five goals today I am going to focus on this one:

  • Containing growth within a defined area and channeling it into vibrant, livable Urban Centres

Per table 2 of the strategy, Metro would like to see 29% of new dwellings built by 2021 in Urban Centres (Metropolitan Core, Surrey Metro Centre, Regional City Centres and Municipal Town Centres). Of that new growth, almost equal amounts were targeted for Metro Core and Surrey Metro Centre (22,000 and 18,700 new homes built between 2006-2021 respectively). In total, the RGS was targeting 112,700 new dwellings in all Urban Centres between 2006 and 2021. What I wanted to find out is how well along are various jurrisdictions with respect to their RGS targets!

What I did

  • Downloaded all the Census data for Metro Vancouver for 2011 & 2016;

  • Downloaded all of the nice land use datasets from Metro Vancouver's excellent open data portal;

  • Connected the dots to get totals for various land uses; and

  • Ran some density analyses to get an idea how area population density has changed at a regional level

The Upshot

  • Density has changed significantly in the last five years. Check out the maps below (moving the sider to the Left will show 2011 population density and to the right will show 2016 population density):

Show me something better...

OK, so that's how density looks like, but what about growth and change. I prepared a second map to show that below: White outlines are Urban Centres and Designated Frequent Transit Areas. Red colors mean gains in population density from 2011 and blue colours mean losses.

Population Density Changes in Metro Vancouver 2011-2016

In terms of density increases, Orange and Dark Red show increases of greater than 5 and 20 persons per hectare respectively. You'll note some big time growth in the Metro Core (Ie Downtown Vancouver), UBC, Coquitlam, parts of Richmond Centre and a little bit Surrey's City Centre. However, there is a ton of growth outside of Urban Centres including all sorts of development in Central Surrey, South Surrey,Langley, Northeast Coquitlam and North Delta.

Even more interesting is where there has been a drop in population. Check out Richmond, Vancouver's West Side, the District of West Vancouver and 1970s ring suburbs in Surrey, Burnaby, Delta and the Tri-Cities. Now I am willing to bet that Andy Yan has already started to look into into dwelling price appreciation and population declines in Metro Vancouver. It certainly seems like property speculation is bad for Families. (If Andy doesn't do this analysis, I will get to it in a post in the next few weeks...)

Metro Vancouver Targets: Winners and Losers

This is where it gets fun. I went and took a look a look at the Metro Vancouver dwelling growth targets for Urban Centres. Based on Metro's targets dwelling growth in City Centres should be 112,700 units by 2021. If we extrapolate backwards then expectation would be for 75,133 units to be build between 2006 and 2016. Using current Census numbers it looks like only 62,600 units were added in these areas. So in terms of targets, we get an A- at 82% of the way there! Hot take: Urban intensification in Metro Vancouver is almost meeting targets!...

But, wait there's more! Conveniently Metro has targets for both Downtown Vancouver and Surrey. By 2016 in Downtown Vancouver Metro Vancouver is targeted to have a total of 102,667 units - an increase of 14,667 over 2006. Based on the Census it looks like Downtown Vancouver added an astounding 31,189 units since 2006. Hot take: Downtown Vancouver crushes urban intensification target!

South of the Fraser it's a different story. By 2016 in Surrey City Centre is targeted to have a total of 20,767 units - an increase of 12,467 over 2006. Based on the Census it looks like this area added an a measly 3,683 units since 2006 (only 30% of target). Hot take: City of Surrey gets an F for urban intensification!

For most of us in the know, this is not a huge story. Surrey still has quite a big market for greenfield development and those products are still reasonably affordable. Presumably the urban infill market will heat up in Central Surrey in longer term.

In any event, I'll be blogging a bit more about population changes in the coming weeks and months. Next week's blog is a valentines special so get excited! As always if you have any comments, suggestions or fixes email me at aaron @


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