Canada is a highly urbanized country. In 2020, nearly three quarters (71.8%) of Canadians lived in one of Canada’s Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs). Additionally, in 2019/2020 the average population growth rate within CMAs was +1.3% which was two times larger than the growth rate observed in the rest of Canada (+0.6%).
Understanding the dynamics of Canada’s urban population has become the focus of many studies ranging from access to health care (Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2006), exposure to environmental pollutants (Marshall, Brauer and Frank, 2009), access to jobs, commuting, and travel behaviour (Savage, 2019), immigration settlement patterns (Zuberi, Ivemark and Ptashnick, 2018) and population growth (Gordon, Hindrichs and Willms, 2018). These studies all attempt to understand Canada’s ever-changing urban populations. The COVID-19 pandemic also created new dynamics between urban and rural regions and inside urban regions, notably in regards to migration trends.
Due to the diversity and complex distribution of Canada’s population within urban regions, there is a growing demand for analysis of urban subpopulations in Canada. One important area of interest is the downtown neighbourhoods of Canada’s major urban centres.
In Canadian cities, downtown neighbourhoods typically consist of areas containing highly concentrated commercial, residential, cultural and historic buildings relative to other parts of the city (Canadian Urban Institute, 2013). These neighbourhoods are often defined by informal boundaries constructed by public perception, rather than formal administrative boundaries (Canadian Urban Institute, 2013). When formal downtown neighbourhood boundaries are present, these boundaries are often derived from city-specific zoning bylaws or represent business improvement areas. These formal definitions of downtown may exclude other important neighbourhoods which are pertinent to understanding the dynamics of these important geographic areas. The subjectivity of defining downtown neighbourhoods presents significant barriers to researching social and economic trends within these areas.
Currently Statistics Canada does not provide a geographic unit representative of downtown neighbourhoods within its Standard Geographical Classification. This is a data gap given the important role these regions play in our increasingly urban nation.
There is a clear demand for the development of a standardized method to develop geographic boundaries representative of Canada’s diverse downtown neighbourhoods allowing for comparison of these areas across Canada. This article aims to identify the principal downtown neighbourhood for each of the 36 CMAs in Canada as well as the five of the largest CAs. These boundaries would enable in-depth analysis of current and emerging social, and economic trends within downtown neighbourhoods across Canada. Moreover, these boundaries would allow for more effective dissemination of essential statistics by Statistics Canada.
Cities are constantly evolving and changing. In recent years Canadian cities have been adapting to meet challenges presented by urban sprawl, the decentralization of work, remaining competitive in an increasingly globalized economy, and meeting housing demands presented by immigration and interprovincial migration. The effect that these challenges are having on cities is often most evident in downtown neighbourhoods. Many Canadian cities have introduced downtown revitalization plans designed to combat these challenges by attracting new businesses and professionals, while creating more diverse, dense and resilient cities (City of Toronto, 2020; City of Montréal, 2016; City of Regina, 2016). While these strategies have been successful in some cities, others have suffered significantly from declining manufacturing and resource sectors, decentralization of work and aging populations. The outcomes of these negative effects are often expressed through declining downtown neighbourhoods within these cities. Given the relationship between the welfare of downtown neighbourhoods and the prosperity of cities, there is a need for standardized geographic boundaries representative of Canada’s diverse downtown neighbourhoods (Canadian Urban Institute, 2013; Hernandez and Jones, 2005).