Posted by: Andrew Pask | February 23, 2010

Vancouver 2032 – Here and Now

Setting aside the pavillions and light-displays, the sporting events and red tents… one of the best shows on the street right now is: people. And there are lots of them – streaming around Granville and Robson, lined up here, there, there and elsewhere, and streaking – red-dressed and flag-waving – throughout the Downtown core and into surrounding neighbourhoods. Regardless of your take on the Games, the sheer volume and intensity of the Olympic influx is undeniable.

The Games, of course, will be over in a matter of weeks – at which point the last Olympian and Paralympian will depart, and the city, no-smallish hangover in head, will try to get back to normal. The population “flood” will recede. But for how long? One of the interesting – and less-talked about aspect of these Games – is the fact that, from a demographic perspective, they act as a bit of a sneak preview of things to come.

According to Games organizers and City officials, Vancouver is currently witness to approximately 150,000 more people than normal – the tourists, media, dignitaries and athletes who are currently visiting our city for the 2010 Olympics. This is a big surge: assuming our 2010 population is somewhere around the 600,000 mark, we’ve grown, for this month, by a whopping 25%.

But Vancouver’s population continues to grow anyways. And over the last four census periods (stretching back to 1991), we’ve gained roughly 30-40,000 new residents every five years. Our rate of growth between the 2001 and 2006 census was 5.9% — which, while representing a decrease from previous years,  is reflective of the fact that our over-all population (in sheer numbers) continues to increase.

If you use these trends to extrapolate into the future (population projections being a tricky and inexact science to be sure) chances are we will see 150,000 more people in the city in just over two decades. The key drivers here in Vancouver will be the same ones that have characterized much of the current growth in Canadian urban areas: increasing immigration, increasing resettlement from rural areas to cities, increased life-expectancy (StatsCan just reported an increase in the life expectancy rate)… and the fact that cities like Vancouver continue to act as a magnet for a host of social, cultural, and occupational reasons. And these sort of factors will likely continue to be supported by a range of policy and land-use planning decisions that favour increasing densification and the sort of development patterns that enable it.

The Olympic crowds may not be a perfect analogy — and one hopes that the sort of population increase that 150,000 more people will bring will not be entirely concentrated in the downtown core… but you can safely bank on a large portion of it taking place in the peninsula neighbourhoods. Indeed, several new towers have been approved or are in process in the West End and the Downtown areas. Add to that the new North East False Creek project which, when completed, will provide homes for at least 7,000 new residents. Couple that with the planning work taking place around the City’s Heritage Area Height Review and… you get the picture. It’s a different sort of ‘own the podium’ (podium towers versus ‘going for gold), but the demography is close enough. Of course, there will be other hot-spots that emerge too. This past census saw sizeable population increases in Marpole, Arbutus Ridge, Renfrew Collingwood and elsewhere. And, depending on the policy directions taking by City Council over the next few years, there is the possibility for other hot-spots to emerge, or, indeed, a more evenly placed form of densification across the city.

All the more reason — and this is a separate discussion — to ensure that the city we build for the future has the sort of quality urban design, adequate public spaces, all-age amenities and other features that will enable us to ensure a high standard of liveability for all residents.

So when you’re walking the streets over the next few days and weeks, take note: the crowds presage the future of the city. And while we (hopefully?) won’t have a future that involves quite so much red spandex and facepaint, we will have celebrations and gatherings and surges into downtown that may just look and feel… a little like right now.

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