Does having a dominant urban hub matter?

We have talked a lot on these pages about the importance of scale.  The top 10 urban centres in Canada are home to nearly 80% of all net population growth across Canada.

Talking to Rory Francis from the PEI BioAlliance this morning for the Growing Pains podcast, I was reminded of the importance of relative size.  He was talking about the importance of being close to most of the major assets – university, vet college, government, NRC, etc. all packed in a relatively small geographic area in Charlottetown. That’s not to say there are not bioscience assets and companies outside of Charlottetown but most of the ‘cluster’ elements are right there packed together.

Take a look at the following chart.  It shows the share of provincial population living in the largest urban centre in each province.  Winnipeg is at the top with 62% of the province’s population and Moncton is at the bottom with only 20% of the provincial population (by comparison the Toronto CMA is home to almost 20% of the national population).

This just underscores the complications associated with economic development particularly in New Brunswick where there is no single area with the bulk of population, government, infrastructure and institutional support.

Now the good news is that there is no evidence that secondary urban centres can’t thrive.  Regina is doing fine.  Edmonton is doing fine.  Ottawa is doing fine (as measured by five-year population growth).  But when many of the key institutions are provincial in scope but physically located in one community then the conversation needs to turn to how those institutions can effectively cover all regions in a province without being able to physically bump into everyone at the local coffee shop (post-Covid!).

1 thought on “Does having a dominant urban hub matter?

  1. I’m reminded of François Perroux’s “growth poles” concept, and how it was applied to regional econ dev decades ago. I’ll admit that I don’t know what the theory and evidence say about that today (i.e. spatial economics instead?).

    Would it be enough to promote (more strategically) the development of several growth poles, or are the opportunity costs RE: scale just too high – meaning some degree of centralization is necessary?

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