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Peninsula's population on the rebound

Urban planning expert Ren Thomas explains how generational divides and immigration are changing Halifax housing
(stock photo)

It may come as a shock to learn that the population of the Halifax peninsula was considerably higher in the 1950s than it is today.

From 1956 to 1996, the number of people living on the peninsula has shrunk by almost half as suburban sprawl was taking North America by storm.

Population of the Halifax peninsula over time

"As manufacturing jobs started to relocate to suburban areas, so too did those workers," said Ren Thomas, a professor at Dalhousie University's School of Planning.

But the shrink in population on the peninsula cannot be fully explained by suburban sprawl.

"I suspect the decrease in Halifax's population at the time reflects the fact that it hasn't been a major immigrant reception centre for quite some time," Thomas said.

The percentage of Nova Scotians who were immigrants was stagnant at around 5 per cent for the decades during the Halifax peninsula population drop-off. Recently, it has almost doubled. As of 2021, about 9 per cent of Nova Scotians are immigrants.

How many Nova Scotians are immigrants?

"Our immigration rate in Halifax has increased, and so has the number of international students we are attracting. These groups have very different housing patterns, with recent graduates staying central and larger families, such as refugees, living farther out to access larger and more affordable units," Thomas said.

According to Thomas, housing in Halifax has also seen a generational divide.

"The Gen-X and Millennials prefer central city neighbourhoods where they can easily walk, bike, or take transit to access everything. New immigrants in most of our cities tend to go right to the suburbs now, as they have contacts in those locations," Thomas said.

We don't know what percentage of new immigrants choose the suburbs over downtown. However, we know in recent years the areas closer to downtown Halifax are growing much faster than suburban communities more than 20 minutes away.

Halifax population growth rate by area, 2016-2021

Recently Nova Scotia's housing minister designated nine areas in the Halifax region to develop up to 22,600 new residential units to address the housing crisis. None of the developments will be downtown, but the city's core is still full of cranes, replacing old single unit housing and retail spaces with new apartment and condo buildings.

Only one of the nine areas is about a half hour away from downtown, the Sandy Lake project, which could bring 6,000 units to the Sackville area.

Ryan Bellefontaine

About the Author: Ryan Bellefontaine

Aspiring data journalist, economic analyst and political commentator.
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