Statistics Canada has started releasing some of the results from its 2021 survey and there is a new classification that is now being used in its analysis of Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs). Instead of organizing city regions jurisdictionally, it is now using a new functional classification that is based on travel times to downtown.
This has resulted in five new geographic categories: Downtown, Urban Fringe (<10 min to downtown), Near Suburb (10-20 min to downtown), Intermediate Suburb (20-30 min to downtown), and Distant Suburb (over 30 min to downtown). Below is chart from a recent Globe and Mail article that summarizes these classifications, but keep in mind that percentage growth is different than total population growth (the next chart from New Geography covers this one).
This is more granular than their previous approach, which used to be fairly binary: city core vs. the suburbs. But at the same time, it reflects a very suburban and monocentric view of cities. Downtown is in the middle. People generally need to drive to said downtown for things like work and entertainment. And so how long does it take to do that?
Though in all fairness, this lens is our reality. When you apply the above classification and look at Canada’s 41 largest metropolitan areas, only 4.7% of us live in a downtown and only about 28.5% of us live in what is presumably an urban setting (downtown + urban fringe). And the numbers are actually less urban in a CMA like Toronto, where 11.5% live in the urban core (downtown + urban fringe) and 88.5% live in the suburbs, whether near or distant.
However, one could argue that we are at least becoming slightly more urban. Only 11.5% of Torontonians might currently live in the urban core (2021), but 16% of our growth from 2016 to 2021 went to it (see above chart). Of course, this is an incremental kind of shift. About 84% of our population gain also went to the suburbs, with the vast majority of it going to distant suburbs (a 30 minute commute in Toronto is nothing after all).
As Wendell Cox points out in this recent New Geography article, Canada remains a suburban nation.