What are the implications of these trends for cities and urban development? It is, in fact, possible to interpret many of the broad trends in urban form over the postwar period as the direct outcomes of social and demographic change. The exploding baby-boom population, spurred on by cheap fuel, mass-produced automobiles, and rising prosperity, produced the massive shift to suburban development. The subsequent baby-bust population, characterized by smaller households and an increase in childless families, stimulated the inner-city apartment boom of the 1960s and 1970s. Parallel changes in attitudes and family sizes also combined to bring about the widespread gentrification of the 1970s and 1980s. The modest echo-boom in family population and continued shrinkage of household size have simultaneously generated both suburban expansion of single-family subdivisions as well as inner-area condominium development during the 1990s.
For a more detailed assessment of the varied implications of these social trends, see Table 1. The demographic transition and the shift to smaller and non-traditional households have changed the mix of demands for housing and services. The aging of the population that followed the declining fertility rate from the 1960s onward has created bubbles of demand that track the huge baby-boom population through the life course. That group, at present aged 35 to 55, is driving the demand for suburban, often upgraded, housing, and will do so for the next decade or so.
The increasing importance of immigration not only makes conventional population forecasting exercises, as noted earlier, much more uncertain, it means that the location of growth is often less responsive to local factors. New immigrants, by definition, know less about the geography of housing and employment opportunities and constraints within the Central Ontario Zone. Therefore, they tend to use kinship networks to obtain information on jobs and entry to the housing market, and tend to follow well-established migration chains in their location decisions.
The increased social and ethno-cultural diversity that is associated with recent immigration has transformed the resident population and added immense vitality and human capital to the Central Ontario Zone, but it has also added stresses and tensions. Those stresses are reflected in the everyday activities of service agencies and public institutions, perhaps most obviously the school system and medical facilities. There is also clear evidence that new and distinctive cultural communities have developed throughout the Central Ontario Zone, although primarily still within the urbanized core. As a consequence, the overall level of residential differentiation (more provocatively, segregation) has increased, particularly in the newer suburbs. This concentration is not necessarily a matter of policy concern, and indeed for certain groups it has many positive features in creating more positive and supportive living environments for new residents.
The same cannot be said for the low-income disadvantaged population. One consequence of the combination of trends outline above - in demography, household fragmentation, labour market restructuring, and immigration - has been a polarization of the distribution of income, increased levels of poverty, and the emergence of new and relatively intense geographical concentrations of disadvantaged populations.11 Most of these are located within the older urbanized cores, notably in Hamilton, Oshawa, and Toronto, and in the older suburbs. But others are appearing as smaller pockets in the mature suburbs, and in cities, small towns, and rural communities scattered across the Central Ontario Zone, from Brampton and Mississauga to Brant, eastern Lake Simcoe, and the eastern counties. There is no longer one location, or even one source, of lower-income populations.
Looking to the future, it is likely that both demographic structure and an aging population will slow the growth rate of the Central Ontario Zone. Fertility rates show no sign of increasing; the proportion of the population in the high fertility age cohorts will continue to shrink; and, most important, the level of immigration will remain uncertain. It will be difficult for the federal government to maintain the recent level of immigration, at 225,000 to 250,000 annually (or 150,000 to 200,000 net), without a significant change in entry standards, let alone expand that level to meet the stated policy goal of 300,000 a year, because of increasing global competition for skilled immigrants. Nor do we know where these immigrants will come from, or what their attributes and attitudes will be. It is as likely that the rate could be reduced, by policy, as in Australia, or by circumstances, as it is that it will increase. If the rate does decline, or if there is a concerted effort by federal and provincial governments to distribute future immigrants more broadly across the country, the impacts on urban development in the greater Toronto area and the Central Ontario Zone generally will be substantial.
The proportion of the population over 65, or of retirement age, will also increase dramatically, especially after 2011, and will subsequently reach 25 to 30% within the following decade or so. This will shift the focus of housing, social services, and health as dramatically as the young baby-boom population did some 40 years ago. It will also, among other impacts, reduce the level of residential mobility, increase the level of social dependency, increase the demand for community-based care and special needs housing, and decrease the demand for traditional suburban housing.
The key question is: where will this large aging population locate? Will they "age in place," thus requiring more diverse and flexible housing forms within existing communities, or will they relocate? And, if they relocate, where will they go? Most will likely age in place, increasing the demand for suitable housing within their own communities. For those who do move, the two obvious and extreme alternatives are to relocate to apartments and condominiums in inner city areas, or to ground-level housing in small towns and rural settings in the outer suburbs, the hinterland, or beyond. No one, of course, knows the answer. As a group they will probably follow all three courses, but in what proportions is unclear. On balance, and based on past experience, they are more likely to move out to less expensive, greener and less congested locations. The Toronto CMA has a net migration loss to the rest of the country in the over-65 age category. This will in turn lead to a further decentralization of population within the Central Ontario Zone.
The continued fragmentation of households into smaller units, and the rise of non-traditional types of living arrangements, will have somewhat different but equally important implications. At the most obvious level, these trends will increase the range of housing and tenure types in demand, but should offer greater flexibility in where these households are housed. Some may be attracted to inner-city locations, even to older brownfield sites, by the pull of urban amenities. For family households, however, there is no evidence of a shift in values regarding housing locations. Indeed, recent CMHC surveys indicate that younger households still retain a strong preference for ground-level housing with some associated space, at a reasonable price, and in lower-density settings. In other words, they will continue the search for lower-cost and more spacious housing in locations that also offer environmental amenities, good services, and reduced levels of pollution and congestion.
The challenge of getting to and from work in a decentralized urban setting seems to be a second-order concern, or at least an acceptable cost, for many residents of the new suburbs. As a result, the challenge of matching housing and job opportunities, and providing the infrastructure necessary to support a decentralized but nonetheless multi-nucleated urban form, will continue to grow.