In a previous article we discussed Winnipeg’s reputation as a sprawling, low density city, but how bad is our density really?
In researching density across Canada and the World, we discovered the Global Human Settlement Layer, an open, academic dataset of census data compiled from across the world providing information on global settlement patterns. The dataset was created by the European Commission and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University. The images were captured from the interactive map of this data created by Duncan Smith, University College London.
When examining this data we find that by far, the most common density cohort for Winnipeg is 2-4,000 people per square kilometer, making up 57% of the city’s population. How does this measure up to some other cities across the country and North America?
Edmonton has a very similar density to Winnipeg with 61% of its population living in a density cohort of 2-4,000 people per square km.
The same density cohort proves to be the most popular in Calgary as well with 54% of the city’s population live in a density cohort of 2-4,000 people per square km. Calgary, however, shows a higher percentage of people living in the density cohort of 4-6,000 people per square km, more than both Edmonton and Winnipeg.
Vancouver, British Columbia
While the largest density cohort for Vancouver is also 2-4,000 people per square km, accounting for 30% of the population, we can see that a much larger percentage of the population lives in much denser cohorts than any of the three previous cities. Overall, Vancouver’s average population density is 3,400 people per square km as compared to Winnipeg’s 2,300 and Calgary’s 2,500.
The city of Toronto shares a similar density to that of Vancouver with an average of 3,400 people per square km. Its most popular density cohort remains the same as all the cities we have listed thus far, however, with 28% of its population accounted for in this cohort. These numbers apply only to the city itself and do not factor in the Greater Toronto Area which we could expect to see significantly lower density overall.
Taking a look to a major city to our South, we find that Minneapolis is the only city on this list with the density cohort of 1-2,000 people per square km coming in as the most popular. Winnipeg’s overall density is 50% higher than Minneapolis.
Portland is often viewed as a great example for planning and development and as we can see, stacks up slightly less dense than the city of Winnipeg with an average of 2,000 people per square km as compared to Winnipeg’s 2,300.
What does this tell us?
The above data suggests that Winnipeg is a reasonably dense city. While it is helpful to use tools like the GHSL to see how Winnipeg is stacking up next to other major cities, we can’t forget a couple important factors when we are considering these implications. Firstly, we must understand the specific context of Winnipeg and while we can certainly look to other cities for inspiration, we must never assume we can replicate what another city has done within the context of Winnipeg. Second, we can’t fail to give importance to what people want and where they want to live. While there can be economic, social and environmental benefits to living more densely, we need to keep in mind how people want to live and the context within which they are currently situated.