Toronto’s population passes Chicago: The good and bad of a growing city

Matthew Coutts
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew

If anyone in Toronto woke up this morning feeling an added air of gravitas, perhaps it is due to the city’s growing status as a North American super city. A booming population has Canada’s largest city now bearer to the continent’s fourth-largest population.

The Toronto Star reports that Toronto officially became North America's fourth largest city, passing Chicago in the latest census results. Toronto had been the continent’s fifth-largest city since it amalgamated with satellite cities in 1998.

But as of the most recent official censuses, Toronto's official population of 2,791,140 moves them ahead of Chicago, at 2,707,120.

North America’s largest city remains Mexico City (pop: 8,851,080), with New York (8,175,133) and Los Angeles (3,792,621) rounding out the top three.

So, what is the big deal about moving up the chart? Here is the good, the bad and the other of Toronto's growing population.

The Good

Never overestimate the power of bragging rights. Growing cities often receive higher exposure and an economic boon from the international attention.

Toronto’s population is growing by about 38,000 a year, well above Chicago’s average of 11,000. And a growing population usually translates into bigger economic opportunities. An example, Toronto currently ranks first in North America for ongoing construction projects.

"These population figures are another sign confirming Toronto's steady growth," Mayor Rob Ford said in a statement. "Toronto is a desirable location for people to live and work. We are attracting people from across North America and other parts of the world."

The Bad

Having more people is great, but if that number isn't reinforced by job growth, the success story could be short lived.

The city's economic development committee noted last month that the region's economic output increase barely matched the population growth, which could cause issues in the future. Meantime, the city's unemployment rate grew last year and remains well above the national average.

“We need to focus on creating more jobs,” said Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of the economic development committee, told the Star. “We have to make sure people can find work; we have to make sure people have housing.”

Throw on top of those concerns the fact that congestion has already left Toronto with North America's longest commute times. With growth comes growing pains. It's right there in the name.

The Other

Like it or not, a growing population means changes to Canada's electoral boundaries. The booming Toronto area is slated to receive 15 new federal ridings, although only one of those is recommended for downtown Toronto.

Suburb cities like Brampton and North York will be sliced into more pieces to ensure proportional representation. This is a reminder that, while Toronto is growing, so are its suburbs — those cities are not considered in its population. Compile all the cities in the Greater Toronto Area and it comes out to something like six million people. That would be the third-largest population in North America.

Perhaps it is time to consider another round of amalgamation?