Where does Toronto rank in terms of density globally? The answer might surprise you

Posted on January 12, 2018

Density–the word elicits impassioned responses at community meetings, crops up frequently in reports from Toronto planning staff, and makes headlines (including the one for this article).

But just how dense is Toronto? A new report suggests that compared to population densities in dozens of cities around the world, not very.

“Of the 30 cities analyzed, Canada’s largest have low population densities relative to international counterparts,” reads the Fraser Institute Report titled Room to Grow: Comparing Urban Density in Canada and Abroad.

Toronto ranked 19th out of 30 select global urban centres, sandwiched between Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

To calculate density, the report divides a jurisdiction’s population by its land area and controls for factors such as the amount of rural land—this could skew numbers—in an effort to arrive at more accurate city-to-city comparisons.

“Land area and population estimates used in this study only represent urbanized
areas, allowing for more direct comparison,” the report from the Fraser Institute, which describes itself as “an independent non-partisan research and educational organization based in Canada”, states.

By this measure, Toronto’s density measured 4,512 inhabitants per square kilometre, falling far short of the densest jurisdiction on the list, Hong Kong. There, density clocked in at 25,719 inhabitants per square kilometre.

The report provides further context on Toronto’s density ranking: “Chicago, New York, and London are 1.03, 2.45, and 2.48 times as dense as Canada’s financial and media centre, Toronto.”

“Toronto and Chicago are both located along the shore of a Great Lake, were permanently settled at similar times in history, are important financial and logistical hubs, and have a similar number of inhabitants,” according to the report. “Yet, Chicago, whose population has actually decreased since the mid-twentieth century, is 3.1 percent denser than Toronto,” it continued.

Though smaller in terms of population, Vancouver was the densest of the five Canadian cities included on the list, which also featured Calgary, Mississauga, and Ottawa. Vancouver took the number-13 spot with 5,493 residents for every square kilometre.

However, when stacked up against a similar stateside example, the Fraser Institute appears to suggest the city still has more room to grow.

“Vancouver shares North America’s West Coast with San Francisco. Both are geographically
Constrained port cities with important tourism and lifestyle sectors,and they occupy a similar land area. Yet San Francisco has 140,000 more residents than Vancouver, making it more
than 30 percent denser,” the report notes.


Graphic:  Fraser Institute