Bright Lights, Big City, Bigger Metro Area

The young are generally drawn to the central cities of big metropolitan areas in North America. That’s where the bright lights can be found! The action! The scene! And also most of the universities, the majority of metropolitan rental stock, lots of the jobs, etc.

Vancouver is no exception. As revealed in previous posts looking at net migration patterns, the City of Vancouver really draws in the young people, both from the surrounding suburbs and further abroad. Then many of those young people gradually have kids and settle down into the surrounding suburbs again. Others remain, renewing the population of children and middle-aged stalwarts in the city. For the metro region as a whole, just how many people remain in the central city as they age and how many move out to the suburbs might not matter a great deal. But for a variety of municipal purposes (including the vitality of school districts), these patterns can matter a lot!

So is Vancouver weird in its age distribution with respect to what proportion of people live in its central city?

One issue in answering this question is the relative size of the City of Vancouver relative to the metro area as a whole. The City of Vancouver, in 2016, reached just over 630,000 people. But the metro area (CMA) of Greater Vancouver is much larger, reaching nearly 2.5 million people. In other words, the City of Vancouver is at the centre of a fragmented metro area much larger than itself. This is quite different from the situation of many other central cities where their boundaries contain large portions of their own suburbs (like Edmonton or even Toronto), obscuring the mobility of the young. Ideally we’d want to compare Vancouver with other metropolitan areas with central cities of about the same size to get a feel for how weird we might be.

Cascadia to the rescue! Let’s look to our sister cities to the south. The City of Portland’s population, at just over 610,000 in 2015, is quite comparable to the City of Vancouver. The Metro population of Portland, at just over 2.3 million, is also nearly the same. For good measure, let’s also throw in Seattle, with a city of similar size (just over 650,000), but a significantly larger metro area (3.6 million).

So how does the proportion of various age groups residing in the eponymous central cities compare across these three metropolitan areas?

Cascadia-AgeGroupCentralCity

There’s definitely a pattern here. Central university cities within much larger metro areas tend to concentrate young adults. They also concentrate the elderly, though to a lesser extent. But they consistently lose those in middle age (and their school-aged children) to the more suburban parts of the metropolitan area.

Overall Vancouver looks a lot like Portland and Seattle to me. This despite quite different housing markets and housing stock. If anything, what stands out is that the City of Vancouver seems to be retaining MORE of its school-aged children than its similarly positioned neighbours to the south. And it’s also attracting a greater proportion of the elderly.

What else have I learned? Cascadian comparisons are actually pretty cool! Bring on the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative!

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