Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Mapping Little Ginny: Do parents want to raise their kids in downtown Toronto?

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Aug 22 2012

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday made headlines last month when he said, pretty much, that kids shouldn't live in downtown Toronto.

His exact quote: “As far as raising your children downtown, maybe some people wish to do that. I think most people wouldn’t.” And then: “I mean, I could just see now: ‘Where’s little Ginny?’ ‘Well, she’s downstairs playing in the traffic on her way to the park!'”

In the wake of Holyday's outburst, Torontonians did a great job pointing out just how wrong-headed the deputy mayor's comments were. It was pointed out that, though there are a lot of different ways to define “downtown”, it seems safe to assume that, however you define it, kids live there and aren't routinely known to play in traffic. Plus: come on, have you seen the number of strollers on some downtown streets these days?

Less frequently mentioned, but still true, is that very few children today are named Ginny.

Despite the general uselessness of Holyday's comments, he did get me wondering about the demographics of Toronto and youth in the city. Especially given the shifting population of the city.

Map: Youth Population in Toronto
Based on 2011 census figures for federal ridings in Toronto, the map above breaks down the percentage of the area population that was 14 or under in 2011. A darker shade of green means more kids.

Immediate conclusion: very few children live downtown. In Trinity-Spadina, the percentage of the population under 14 is less than half that of the rest of the city. In fact, most parts of the old City of Toronto fall below the amalgamated city average. For the most part, kids are clustered in Etobicoke and Scarborough—the suburbs—just as Holyday predicted.

Maybe the deputy mayor was right. People don't want to raise their kids in the heart of this city.

But let's look at the data another way. While it's true that the downtown area of this city still doesn't have a lot of kids as a percentage of the population, the trends over the last five years show a different story.

Another map:

Map: Youth movement in Toronto (youth population growth)
In this one, we're looking at absolute figures, showing which areas of the city have more kids (again defined as 14-and-under) living in them now than they did in 2006.

As a whole, the City of Toronto got older between 2006 and 2011. The median age in this city is now 40.4, up from 39.2 in 2006. City-wide, the under-15 population declined by 2%. But certain areas of the city bucked the trend. Leading the way was the downtown core in Trinity-Spadina, which saw its youth population increase by 6%. Parkdale-High Park, which most would consider at least downtownish, was up 4%.

At the same time, supposed kid-friendly suburban areas are showing steep declines. Scarborough is down sharply, especially as you move north. The same is true in Etobicoke, with a decline showing even in Etobicoke Centre, Holyday's stomping grounds and presumably the kind of place he thinks people want to raise their kids.

The data isn't consistent enough to draw sweeping conclusions—families are still flocking to Willowdale, for example, and hell if I can figure out what's going on in Davenport—but there's enough here to challenge some ingrained assumptions. It's clear that many young families do want to settle downtown and raise their children, even with unsubstantiated fears that their kids might end up playing in traffic.

The trend is clear. Little Ginny is downtown. And she's doing all right.

This post was originally published at on 2012-08-22T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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