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The Globe and Mail

Echo Boomers in their 20s and 30s are reshaping downtown

The Toronto skyline photographed from a condo balcony in Toronto June 8, 2012

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

In the last five years, the population of Toronto's downtown core has more than tripled, fuelled by demand from the so-called Echo Boomers who want to live and play close to their workplaces, says a new report from TD Bank.

The explosion in density in the heart of Toronto is also in sharp reversal of a three-decade-long trend by Echo Boomers' parents, who fled the downtown in the early 70s eager to buy larger, more affordable homes in the suburbs.

"There's been a surge in construction of mixed-use communities in Toronto, which is attracting a more youthful, urban crowd who don't want a long commute," says the report's author, Francis Fong. "They want to be close to their jobs, surrounded by great restaurants and night life. They want the whole nine yards."

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Echo Boomers – individuals born between 1972 and 1992 – are now the largest age group in Canada, adds Mr. Fong, who began researching the demographic shift in Toronto's downtown at the end of last year.

The TD report says this work force is highly skilled and highly educated. Those skill sets are also attracting businesses, which for years had tended to locate in the suburbs to avoid high commercial real estate costs. Offices are returning to the urban mecca, says Mr. Fong, so they can tap into this growing labour pool.

Since 2009, 4.7 million square feet of office space has been built in the city of Toronto, compared with 3.9 million in the surrounding areas of Halton, York, Peel, and Durham. "I would expect that trend to continue, but what happens when the Echo Boomers start having children? Will they want to raise families in condos, or will they follow their parents to the outskirts? It's a question mark, but if they move out of the core, their parents – who want to downsize – may move back in. It's going to be fascinating to watch what takes place," says Mr. Fong.

The Echo Boom generation currently makes up close to half of the downtown core's population, but only represents one-quarter of the entire province's population. The median age in the downtown core is mid-30s, while in the rest of Ontario it's above 40.

Mr. Fong says the gentrification of once-tired neighbourhoods in the core has also sparked a massive increase in condo construction. According to a recent city of Toronto report, 40,000 condos have been built in the core south of Bloor Street since 2000. As of the end of 2011, more than 90,000 additional condo units have been built or approved within the city, most in the core.

Naturally, the influx of people to Toronto's downtown will put greater pressure on public transit, roads and infrastructure that is already overburdened. The city, says Mr. Fong, is going to have to act – and act quickly – to keep up with demand. But he adds "growing pains are an inevitable part" of Toronto evolving into a world-class city.

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