News / Vancouver

Throughout Metro Vancouver, higher density equals more school kids

An analysis of public elementary school enrolment over the past five years shows some areas booming while others decline

Metro Vancouver five-year student enrolment change, 2011/12 -2016/17 school years. Blue dots represent more than 25 per cent decrease; light blue dots between 10 to 25 per cent decrease; purple dots between 10 per cent decrease to 10 per cent increase; pink dots between 10 to 25 per cent increase; red dots more than 25 per cent increase. White dots inside coloured dots represent annexes.

Andy Yan, SFU

Metro Vancouver five-year student enrolment change, 2011/12 -2016/17 school years. Blue dots represent more than 25 per cent decrease; light blue dots between 10 to 25 per cent decrease; purple dots between 10 per cent decrease to 10 per cent increase; pink dots between 10 to 25 per cent increase; red dots more than 25 per cent increase. White dots inside coloured dots represent annexes.

A look at where public elementary school enrolment is growing and shrinking in Metro Vancouver once again tells a story of how low-density single family neighbourhoods are changing.

“If you look at the history of planning in the city of Vancouver, the public elementary school was this keystone of the community, and that’s really changing,” said Andy Yan, an urban planner and director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program.

“A lot of that change is driven in changing household number of children and affordable and adequate housing for families with children.”

Yan’s data analysis covers five years between 2011 and 2017 and shows that there has been a general enrolment decline in Vancouver’s pricey Westside neighbourhoods, where even modest houses are now valued at between $2 million and $5 million.

Those are also the areas that also lost 2,100 residents between 2011 and 2016, a demographic trend that alarmed City of Vancouver planners and prompted a loosening of zoning restrictions in the city’s single family home neighbourhoods.

Meanwhile, public elementary school enrolment has grown in Vancouver’s downtown, in Fairview Slopes, and in areas like Mount Pleasant, Riley Park and South Cambie. Those are areas that have seen new housing development, and offer in-between infill housing like duplexes and lowrises.

Vancouver and Richmond have seen declining overall enrolment: Vancouver at 0.4 per cent and Richmond at 3.5 per cent. New Westminster has seen a whopping 12.2 per cent increase, Langley has gone up 10.9 per cent and Surrey continued its rapid enrolment growth of 8 per cent.

Looking at Surrey, Yan again sees a tale of the declining popularity of the single detached home.

“Families with children are locating in the Cloverdale, South Surrey, Newton area,” Yan said, areas where ground-oriented housing like townhouses and stacked townhouses have been proliferating.

“Really where you see the public elementary schools growing a lot are in these neighbourhoods that perhaps, two or three generations ago would have been single detached, but then certainly are not because of changing land economics.”

School districts like Vancouver and Richmond have had to consider closing schools, but Yan warns against losing “our silverware from previous generations of Vancouverites.”

Yan believes the region’s public schools should continue to be viewed as the nexus of neighbourhoods, and suggests that schools should anchor new family-friendly development in a way that builds community.

“I’d like to see considerate, family-oriented density that isn’t about the production of 400-square foot bachelor suites but family-sized units that people can raise children in,” he said.

“What we could consider is how development in these areas could help feed these pieces of public infrastructure.”

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