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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Vancouver Neighbourhood Population Change, 1971-2006

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Cities are constantly transforming. Although we often focus on the most visible signs of change—new buildings and reconstructed public spaces, for example—it is often the hidden aspects that have the greatest impact on the fundamental workings of the city. Population shifts are one such issue. Because the latter is quite localized and occurs as a result of the complex interaction of a variety elements (land values, zoning decisions, and demographics, to name just a few), one is hard-pressed to get a good sense of how and where populations are shifting over time.

With this in mind, I created a series of data graphics a few years ago, based on census data, showing  population changes across Vancouver neighbourhoods between 1971-2006. At the time, it was easier to create static images and arrange them sequentially, and although it was immediately clear that creating an animation would be much more powerful, I never had the time to execute….until recently, when a peer asked me about the information and jogged my memory around my initial desires.

The animated gif below is the result.  The information is self explanatory. Although I need to update the information to include the most recent census data, it is still quite effective at showing the overall pattern over the three decade period.


As a broad pattern, the bias towards East Vancouver densification is blatantly clear, with exception of Kitsilano and Fairview. I’ve explained in past pieces how this ‘density discrimination’ has been—and continues to be—literally written into the local zoning codes and its relationship to the wealth distribution across Vancouver. So, I won’t elaborate on that here.

A more subtle observation are the ebbs and flows within certain neighbourhoods. Looking closely, one will notice that the population within Sunset, for example, increases until 1991, then dips in 1996 before increasing again in 2001. It is difficult to say definitively why these fluctuations occur, however, population dips are quite common among gentrifying neighbourhoods, as smaller (often wealthier) households buy houses that either held larger households and/or ones with a number of renters.

One sees this process frequently in formerly working class neighbourhoods that have grown in popularity, such as Grandview-Woodland (between 2001 and 2006), where houses that were once divided into a number of rental units or held larger families are bought by dual income households, and renovated to accordingly. In these cases, counter to what is commonly assumed, densification sometimes serves to simply bring populations back up to earlier levels. Food for thought.

Erick Villagomez is one of the founding editors at Spacing Vancouver. He is also an educator, independent researcher and designer with personal and professional interests in the urban landscapes. His private practice – Metis Design|Build – is an innovative practice dedicated to a collaborative and ecologically responsible approach to the design and construction of places. You can see more of his artwork on his Visual Thoughts Tumblr and follow him on his instagram account: @e_vill1.



  1. Fascinating stuff! One wonders how this information could be used when planning transit, notably the Broadway subway, with a new federal government commitment to our cities. It would be interesting to track the density increases over the next 30 years as well, notably with the far less affordable housing prices we have today and the impact of the subway.

    (BTW, I believe the areas labeled Downtown and West End need to be switched.)