This article originally appeared in the Financial Post. Below is an excerpt from the article.
By Jack Mintz, December 1, 2023
Last week, I was in Edmonton. It is looking more like a doughnut every day. What do I mean by that? Urban cores are declining, with high commercial property vacancy rates, empty stores and fewer people on downtown streets — except for poor homeless souls milling around pedways and light-rail stations. Outside downtown, the suburbs still thrive, with car traffic brisk and malls filled with Christmas shoppers.
Edmonton is not the only urban doughnut. So are many cities, with downtowns eerily quiet, especially on Mondays and Fridays, as many employees work from home. As of April, Statistics Canada reports, 22 per cent of Canadians were working most of their hours from home. In Ontario, the number is a nation’s — highest 26 per cent. Last spring, Germany’s IFO survey found that Canadian employees were working an average of 1.7 days a week at home, the most in the 34 countries surveyed.
None of this should be a surprise. Video-conferencing enables Canadians to raise their families in cheaper houses with backyards in suburbs and smaller cities, rather than being stuffed into the $1-million, 1000-square foot, two-bedroom condos that these days are all you can get in a large city like Toronto. With fewer people commuting to downtown, it’s also no surprise that commercial real estate is slumping, or that many stores and restaurants that closed during the pandemic remain shuttered. By the end of last year, Canadian public transit ridership was only 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, although it has improved somewhat this year.