Visualizing Gateway Cities: Breathable BC

I’ve been playing around with visuals to help get across how Vancouver acts as a gateway for the rest of BC. I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile. But I was recently inspired anew by a) a good article on Metro Vancouver’s updates to projected population growth through 2050, and b) the fact that I really should be finishing my grading.

The CBC article by Maryse Zeidler, kicked off the discussion of Metro Vancouver’s growth projections by interviewing a recent immigrant, Melody Haskell, who decided upon moving to Metro Vancouver after a single visit (“I almost just wanted to stay after my original trip here. It was so beautiful”) and in conjunction with some basic human rights issues (“as a trans woman, she felt Metro Vancouver was far more tolerant than what she had experienced in the U.S.”). The latter rationale dovetails with my recent argument in favour of a Human Rights YIMBYism. Freedom of movement is a fundamental right, and cities are especially important for enabling rights to those marginalized elsewhere (I’ve spent enough time in Indiana to appreciate where Melody’s coming from). But I also want to come back to Melody’s exposure to Metro Vancouver, and how she wanted to stay after a single visit. Metro Vancouver’s growth projections will ultimately contribute to local housing policy decisions. And it’s tricky to do growth projections well insofar as housing is likely a major constraint on local growth. Lack of housing is probably keeping out many Melodies who might want to make a home for themselves in Vancouver as well as encouraging local residents to seek their fortune elsewhere. Should we add more?

My general take, based mostly in human rights, but also in a host of other reasons (e.g. it’s probably good for the environment!), is we should definitely be adding more housing in Metro Vancouver. But I think many in BC, especially outside Metro Vancouver, feel like the provincial government invests too much in the Metro area, channeling growth there, when they should instead spread investments and growth across our beautiful province. This assumes that Metro Vancouver competes with the rest of the province for growth, stealing it away from elsewhere. The alternative, of course, is that Metro Vancouver acts as a Gateway for growth, often absorbing it as a “first stop” but then directing it out toward the rest of the province. Once people arrive in Vancouver, they become exposed to the beauty of other parts of BC, and many will subsequently seek out and take opportunities to move somewhere else in the province.

The easiest way to examine this, of course, is to have a look at net intraprovincial migration flows. Is Metro Vancouver mostly on the receiving end, or the sending end of the rest of the province? The answer, of course, is sending: Metro Vancouver leaks people to the rest of the province like you wouldn’t believe. It’s been doing so at least since the area became a principal gateway for staging mining expeditions up the Fraser River during the gold rush in the second half of the 19th Century.

Concerning present-day patterns, here’s a very simple schematic attempting to illustrate Vancouver’s Gateway role into BC using 2018-2019 components of population change estimates from Statistics Canada (StatCan 17-10-0136-01).

Of course, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. So I went and gathered all the components of change estimated since the last census (2016) and set them to an animated GIF alongside (and matched to) estimates of population (StatCan 17-10-0135-01). I’m still mostly interested in Metro Vancouver’s Gateway role here, but I wanted to place intraprovincial migration in context of other components of population change, showing how each contributes to growth (or decline). I start with migration from outside BC, international to the left and net interprovincial to the right. Note the table I’m using here doesn’t break down net interprovincial migration into its component streams, which is a shame, but you can see more of my attempts to visualize flows including component streams (or Metro Flows) in a different post. Next I turn to births and deaths and their joint effect on what demographers sometimes call “natural growth.” Finally I add in net intraprovincial growth. These components of population change are all taking place simultaneously, but I pull them apart here to demonstrate their independent effects on population change, and also because I think it’s cool to make it look a little like BC is breathing.

click image to blow up

Most international migration to BC flows through Metro Vancouver. It’s Canada’s Gateway to the Pacific, and accounts for most of Vancouver’s growth. But a smaller stream of international migration also flows to other parts of BC. Nevertheless, the rest of BC gets more growth than Metro Vancouver from interprovincial migration (e.g. all those folks from Alberta who retire to Vancouver Island). Metro Vancouver’s growth is further bolstered by local births – many the children of immigrants – exceeding local deaths. The reverse pattern holds for the rest of BC, where deaths now exceed births, leading to population loss. Fortunately for the rest of BC, Metro Vancouver breathes new life into local populations through its massive net intraprovincial leakage of residents to the surrounding province.

Effectively migration from Metro Vancouver generally accounts for a little over one third of the growth of the rest of the province. That’s how Metro Vancouver operates as a Gateway specific to BC, as well as a broader Gateway to the rest of Canada.

What does this mean about provincial priorities? I think there’s ample reason to believe that investments in Metro Vancouver’s growth will contribute to growth across the province. The bigger the Gateway, the more people can move through! Flipping that around, constraints on Metro Vancouver’s growth will likely constrain growth across the rest of the province. Right now the scarcity of housing across Metro Vancouver is a problem for all kinds of reasons – and we should be welcoming a lot more Melodies – but local housing constraints are also likely limiting peoples’ exposure to the rest of BC. I think everywhere in the province has a stake in making Vancouver a bigger, more inclusive (and more sustainable) Gateway.