As they are two of Canada’s largest and fastest-growing city-regions, it is important to understand the dynamics of residential growth in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and Metro Vancouver and how these trends relate to growth management and transportation policies in each jurisdiction.
The Toronto City-region
The GTHA experienced a tremendous amount of growth in the past 10 years (2001–2011), accommodating more than 1 million people and adding over 450,000 new dwellings. In this decade, growth was achieved by using land more efficiently than was the the case in the 1990s.
Although the dwelling growth was geographically split between the existing urban area and the new urban expansion areas, the vast majority of the net population growth was accommodated in single-detached homes through greenfield development. Greenfield development also accommodated larger households than those added to existing urban areas.
In keeping with Canada-wide trends, average household size continued to shrink in existing urban areas where apartments, which include condominiums, in buildings higher than five storeys continued to be the predominant housing form added through intensification.
Our findings show that the composition of the GTHA’s dwelling stock has not changed much in the past 20 years. The largest proportion of its dwelling types remains single-detached homes, followed by high-rise apartments.
One major finding of this study is that although the GTHA experienced an overall gain in population and dwellings, certain established urban areas in Durham, Hamilton, and Halton and in the fast-growing municipality of Brampton experienced net population loss, even while they added population and dwellings in greenfield areas. The population loss contributed to a further decline in household size in the existing urban area, lowering the region’s average household size between 2001 and 2011.
The good news story is that urban growth centres accommodated the vast majority of the GTHA’s intensification-related population gain. Three-quarters of this population growth went to only three of the GTHA’s 17 UGCs—the City of Toronto Downtown Core, North York Centre, and Mississauga City Centre. Markham and Scarborough centres, although relatively small, experienced the most significant transformations. But to put this growth into perspective, this intensification-related growth in UGCs accounted for only 13% of overall net new population gain in the GTHA.
Finally, very little of the region’s population growth was located near frequent transit corridors or near GO train stations.
Growth continued in the Vancouver region, but slowed down between 2001 and 2011. Metro Vancouver maintained its goal of developing as a compact region by increasing its urban footprint by only 4% and directing 75% of new dwellings to the existing urban area.
Although Vancouver’s average household size is declining, as it is across Canada, there is a greater balance of household size in new greenfield developments relative to the existing urban areas than observed in the GTHA, and there was much less population loss in existing urban areas. Metro Vancouver’s housing stock composition has diversified over the last 20 years, reaching a greater balance between single detached dwellings, attached dwellings such as townhouses and semi-detached duplexes, and mid- and high-rise apartments and condos.
The Vancouver region’s commitment to the integration of land use and transportation as part of its overall growth management strategy is evident by the amount of new population and dwellings locating near urban centres and frequent transit corridors.
Table 12 provides a summary of our findings.
Table 12: Comparison of growth metrics, GTHA and Metro Vancouver, 2001–2011
Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton
Population change (%)
Dwellings change (%)
Urban Area change (ha) (%)
Less than 5 Storeys
5 or more Storeys
Change (% of regional growth)
Change (% of regional growth)
Frequent Transit Network
*Totals may differ from earlier totals due to the dwelling type data breakdown.
In the following conclusion, we discuss what these findings mean to the evolution of long-term growth management policies in each region.