How Toronto’s population will change over the next 50 years

In partnership with the Martin Prosperity Institute, we bring you a semi-scientific glimpse into the future of Toronto. Here, what’s in store for the city’s population

How Toronto's population will change over the next 50 years
Photographs by iStock

The 21st century is no longer young or new. Its early years are behind us, and Toronto has settled into its new identity: a hot mess success. We grapple over how to clean city streets and air-condition crowded subways and lay an inch of new track toward Scarborough, whether above or below ground. Even now, Toronto can’t keep up with its own growth. By 2066, the future will have shaped the city in ways we haven’t imagined.

Over the next 50 years, the city will continue to grow at a thrilling rate, as the population doubles and the density rises dramatically from some 4,000 people per square kilometre today to more than 7,700 in 2066. Our biggest challenge will be where to put everyone. The condo cranes will never leave the skyline but become movable fixtures within it, marching outward from the core, colonizing suburbia to its furthest reaches. By 2066, downtown Mississauga will be nearly as dense as downtown Toronto is now.

Toronto will be even more polyglot than it currently is: the proportion of residents born outside Canada will rise from roughly one-third to nearly half. Their arrival will require massive investments in public education, from elementary school through university. Birth rates will drop, but the number of kids in the city will rise from 930,000 to over 1.7 million because of increased immigration. The TDSB will have to reinhabit its abandoned schoolhouses, and begin integrating classrooms, labs and gymnasiums into new mixed-use condo towers.

If we don’t fix our public infrastructure now, it will buckle under the weight of the new arrivals. The city’s landfill will run out of space in little more than a decade. Water levels in Lake Ontario, the source of the city’s drinking water, are projected to drop by half a metre. City hall is already concerned about its aging and increasingly overworked sewer system. And yet, given our slow pace, it would take council another 50 years just to decide on the location of a new sewage treatment plant, to say nothing of getting it built.

Developers will have to step into the breach. Mark Fox, a U of T professor who specializes in urban systems engineering, suggests that condo towers might feature their own waste water treatment systems, with water from sink and shower drains treated on-site and then recirculated back through the toilets. The filtered water would be discharged directly into Lake Ontario via storm sewers, and the biosolids (or sewage sludge) carted away and sold for fertilizer.

Fox imagines that condo developments, at least those on the scale of CityPlace, will create their own district energy systems, with a small incinerator converting garbage into energy, heating homes with trash in much the same way Copenhagen does today. Rooftop turbines would capture the rush of wind-tunnel energy created by rows of new skyscrapers, effectively taking new towers off the conventional power grid.

That’s the paradox of Toronto’s future: as the city gets bigger, smaller solutions are the only ones that can keep pace. The water and waste and energy systems we rely upon now were conceived more than a hundred years ago, for a city that no longer exists. Toronto cannot be retrofitted for its future. It will have to be neo-fitted instead.

Toronto of Tomorrow: People
In 2066, the population of the GTA will be 13.1 million

In 50 years, the GTA’s population will double. (The city’s population, currently at 2.9 million, will increase to almost 5 million.) Nearly 10 per cent of new Torontonians will cram themselves into the core, a sliver that accounts for only three per cent of the city’s land mass. Among the other big growth zones: north Scarborough, Willowdale, and Yonge and Eglinton.

27% of the population will be senior citizens

Last year marked the first time in history that there were more senior citizens than kids in Toronto. By 2066, millennials will be in their 70s and 80s, and there will be nearly twice as many seniors as kids. Their sheer numbers will shrink the workforce from 70 per cent of the population down to 59. As the average life expectancy increases from 82 to 86 years, seniors will command most of our health and long term care resources. And for the first time, the number of deaths in Canada will outnumber births, which means immigration will be our only source of population growth.

47% of the population will be from somewhere else

Cities will be home to 71 per cent of Canada’s immigrant population—in the GTA, that number will shake out to something like 6.6 million, nearly triple the current figure. Until now, the bulk of our immigrants came from Asia. As jobs and education in China and India become better paying and more plentiful, the influxes will come from Africa and the Middle East, which will account for 54 per cent of new immigrants in 2066. A good number of them will be international students, and, with any luck, we’ll be able to retain them after they graduate: the federal government is currently pushing through legislation that helps foreign students attain permanent residency.

Created in partnership with the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

More of Toronto of Tomorrow

What Toronto's transportation network will be like in 50 years

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Eventually, we'll have a transit system that really works


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