That’s the second lowest rate of downtown population growth among all cities in Canada with 100,000 or more people. Red Deer, Alta., which saw its downtown population shrink by two per cent, was the only city registering a lower growth rate in the 2021 census.
The trend doesn’t bode well for reaching a goal established by the City of Regina last year to have 10,000 more people living downtown in 25 years, and stands in contrast to data showing downtown population increases drove significant growth in many other Canadian cities over the past five years.
“I think being second last, and actually losing 300 people downtown is deeply disturbing,” said Regina Mayor Sandra Masters when asked about the trend Wednesday.
“I think we set a target and didn’t hold ourselves accountable to that target many years ago when it came to an official community plan. We haven’t adjusted policies, we haven’t thought about coordinated efforts to focus on downtown revitalization.”
Masters pointed to Halifax, which led all cities in downtown population growth, as an example to be emulated.
“If you look at Halifax, they’ve had major infrastructure investment from their pier to their downtown arena to a new library a couple of years ago,” she said.
“They’ve done some infrastructure announcements in their downtown which makes it enormously attractive to live there. Let’s not kid ourselves, being a harbour also is a benefit, but it’s a matter of how do we beautify downtown, how do we make it safe, how do we invest in catalyst projects and how do we incentivize developers and streamline some of our permitting and heritage conservation policy and just incentive development in our downtown core.”
Regina’s primary downtown population density, meanwhile, is 2130 people or square kilometre — 34th among large cities.
Both of Saskatchewan’s major urban centres did see growth overall over the five-year intercensal period.
Regina’s census metropolitan area (CMA) grew by 5.3 per cent over the same period, from 215,106 to 226,204.
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The Saskatoon CMA grew by 7.7 per cent, from 247,201 to 266,141.
The combined growth of all CMAs with 100,000 residents or more was 6.1 per cent.
Saskatoon, meanwhile, saw its downtown population grow by 2.7 per cent, ranking the city’s downtown growth rate 34th out of the 42 Canadian cities with 100,000 or more people.
Ana Hidalgo, who lives in Saskatoon and is a geography and planning sessional lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan, says both of Saskatchewan’s major cities have work to do.
“I think some elements in Saskatoon are there, but we’re still working and right now there are many projects,” Hidalgo said.
“We have to think of how affordable downtown living will be for people. A lot of cities, like Vancouver and Toronto have a lot of people living downtown, but also not a lot of people can afford to live downtown in those cities. We really want to know who we want to bring downtown so we can build the right infrastructure so people can live affordably.”
Hidalgo also lived in Regina for a number of years.
“When you think of the downtown, you think of buildings, kind of cold-feeling sidewalks and walls. If you want to bring people, and hopefully families who have kids, you really need to make it vibrant,” she said.
“If you look at downtowns in Regina and in other cities, they don’t have a lot of elements — they don’t have enough vegetation, for example. We know all the benefits vegetation offers to us and that we can offer a healthy environment because of it. What we have is pollution and noise, and wind because of the buildings which can be blocked.”
Hidalgo said ideally, urban design should create “character” with which people can identify.
“When choosing a neighbourhood to live in, you really need to feel like the neighbourhood feels like you. If you’re a part of a family, you want safe, wide sidewalks where you can walk or go biking,” she said, adding that character usually isn’t found in parking lots.
As a province, the census shows Saskatchewan’s population grew 3.1 per cent, from 1,098,352 to 1,132,505, during the intercensal period while nationally, Canada’s population grew 5.2 per cent from 35,151,728 to 36,151,981.
According to Statistics Canada, stagnant immigration along with out-of-province migration spurred at times by low oil prices and high unemployment likely contributed to Saskatchewan’s relatively slow growth.
The province recorded one of the highest rates of population growth in the country in the 2016 census.