Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City growth stays steady

Officials pleased to avoid booms and busts, but more housing needed

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Winnipeg experienced middle-of-the-pack population growth among Canadian cities over the previous five years, further cementing the Manitoba capital's reputation for being immune to both booms and busts.

Between 2006 and 2011, the City of Winnipeg's population rose 4.8 per cent to nearly 664,000 from more than 633,000 five years earlier, Statistics Canada revealed Wednesday when it published the first set of findings from the 2011 census.

During the same period, the Winnipeg Census Metropolitan Area -- the city and 11 bedroom communities where more than half of the workforce commutes into Winnipeg -- saw population growth of 5.1 per cent, to 730,000 from 695,000.

This modest but significant population growth places metropolitan Winnipeg near the middle of the Canadian urban pack, right in line with steady-as-she-goes Montreal (5.1 per cent) and in way better position than recession-battered Windsor, Ont. (-1.3 per cent) but nowhere close to oil-rich Calgary and Edmonton (12.6 and 12.1 per cent) or potash-fuelled Saskatoon (11.4 per cent).

Although Winnipeg's growth lags slightly behind Conference Board of Canada predictions, themselves based on Statistics Canada figures, city officials are taking the moderate influx of humanity in stride.

"We would rather have modest, constant growth than erratic growth, any time," said City of Winnipeg economist Georges Chartier, who also manages the city's infrastructure planning. "We don't get into a boom situation, but we also don't have the negative consequences associated with busts."

Mayor Sam Katz said he was heartened to see the city's growth rate more than double the figure for 2001 to 2006, when the city grew 2.2 per cent. "We have healthy, moderate growth that definitely can be managed properly," he said, adding it is not valid to compare Winnipeg to oil-rich counterparts in Alberta.

On the flip side, this city may be ill-prepared if not outright unable to handle more vigorous population growth, thanks to its chronic housing shortage. Home prices continue to rise and apartment-vacancy rates have hovered around one per cent for several years, making it difficult for new arrivals, particularly immigrants and migrants from First Nations, to locate suitable housing within the city.

"We don't have the same safety valves in Winnipeg and the surrounding areas to alleviate some of the housing pressure," said Peter Squire, a spokesman for Winnipeg Realtors. "We're still playing catch-up to the population we have."

Chartier said he's confident the private sector will adapt to the situation, especially now that Statistics Canada has demonstrated Winnipeg's stronger growth.

"There is some pressure to increase housing construction, in particular multi-family units. People have to live somewhere and the housing market will react to that," he said. "The housing market is a bit cautious, after what happened in the (slow-growth) '90s. After 10 years of OK growth, there is more confidence in the market."

The 2011 census also revealed the fastest-growing areas of the city included the Amber Trails region of Old Kildonan, the Waverley West/Whyte Ridge area of Fort Garry and the east side of the Exchange District, home to recent condominium construction.

Squire said the city acted prudently when it opened up suburban greenfields to housing developments, given the demand for new single-family homes. But as greenfields grow scarce, the city must develop more housing in older neighbourhoods, where existing residents often resist the construction of multi-family housing, Squire said.

"The challenge moving forward is how you get infill through the NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) challenges," he said.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

City of Winnipeg

Population inside city limits. Does not take into account bedroom communities.

2011: 663,617

2006: 633,451

Growth, 2006 to 2011: 4.8 per cent

Growth, 2001 to 2006: 2.2 per cent

Density, 2011: 1,430 people per square kilometre

Winnipeg Census Metropolitan Area

Winnipeg's population, plus those of 11 nearby municipalities where more than half of the workforce commutes to the city.

2011: 730,018

2006: 694,668

Growth, 2006 to 2011: 5.1 per cent

Growth, 2001 to 2006: 2.7 per cent

Density, 2011: 138 people per square kilometre

-- source: Statistics Canada

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2012 A4

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