According to census data released last week by Stats Canada, people are moving into New Westminster at a faster rate than they are moving into B.C. and Canada.
In 2016, the city’s population count was just shy of 71,000 people. That is an increase of 7.6 per cent from 2011. New West’s growth outpaced provincial and national rates by two points. The city’s population is expected to hit 100,000 in 15 years, according to provincial projections, but it is unclear that the city is prepared to welcome its future neighbours.
City planners, according to Jonathan Cote, Mayor of New Westminster, need to find ways to prepare for growth without creating tension in current residential neighbourhoods.
The number of housing units in New Westminster for the last five years increased at a slower rate than its population. Census data report that number of private dwellings in 2016 increased by just 6.9 per cent from 2011. The effects of that scarcity on housing costs have not yet been studied.
New West is dense
Part of the problem is the amount of land available in the city. The geographical footprint of the City of New Westminster is tiny. It is just 15.6 square kilometres, and most of it is developed, and is already fairly densely populated.
In fact, New West is the second most densely populated city in B.C. Only Vancouver has more people living in a square kilometre than the Royal City.
Surrey has room to grow
A comparison of census data from Surrey tells a different story of growth management there. Surrey is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation. From 2011 to 2016, its population grew 10.6 per cent, while the number of occupied dwellings increased by 11.2 per cent.
With more than 300 square kilometres of land in the Surrey, there is space to build homes and support new businesses. Fewer people live in each square kilometre of the city. Census data show that in 2016 Surrey had 1,636.8 people living in a square kilometre.
Seeking public comment on the Official City Plan
“Densification and heritage preservation are polarizing issues,” Mayor Cote said, and residents in the city are quite vocal about the direction they want that growth to take.
A draft of the Official City Plan was released for public comment last week. Over the next two weeks residents can share their thoughts online and in person about how they want to see New West grow.