As bureaucrats and city councillors consider tweaks to the Southwest Brandon Secondary Plan, one fundamental aspect of it stood out to us.
The plan, which would control and shape how the city grows to the south of Maryland Avenue and west of 26th Street, has drawn a few critiques from both nearby residents and developers.
Such plans always do; it is the nature of compromise. But so far it seems like planners and decision-makers have been willing to make adjustments where needed.
What stood out to us was the scale of the project. According to city planners in charge of the plan, the new neighbourhoods in southwest Brandon will eventually house an estimated 6,000 additional Brandon residents — although full build-out of the plan is expected to take decades.
And southwest Brandon is only one of two secondary plans currently envisioned for civic expansion. The North Brandon Gateway Secondary Plan encompasses the huge swath of land between First and 18th streets, north of Braecrest Drive. That plan, according to the city, is expected to someday house about 8,000 new Brandonites, again with full build-out anticipated in 20-30 years.
So that means that Brandon is preparing for about the year 2040, and is readying for a population bloom in that time of about 14,000 people.
That would bring Brandon to a population of 60,000 — and that’s not counting the thousands more who already live just outside the city’s boundaries. It also doesn’t account for possible growth anywhere else in the city. Surely there will be plenty of new apartment buildings, condominiums or homes built in current neighbourhoods.
Could Brandon hit 70,000? 80,000? More?
At first blush, it seems implausible. Statistics Canada found that Brandon’s population increased a staggering 11 per cent between 2006-11, but we are unlikely to be able to sustain that growth. In 2011, we were found to have 46,000 residents. Starting from then, surging an additional 14,000 people before census year 2041 would be more than 30 per cent growth in the next 30 years.
That’s less than one per cent a year, when compounded.
But, even in the recent past, Brandon has been much more stagnant than that. The 1996 census showed Brandon’s growth was just 1.6 per cent over the past five years. And the 2001 census showed even worse growth of 1.4 per cent since ’96. All told, Brandon grew barely 1,000 people during the entire decade of the 1990s.
Demographers warn that sluggish growth like that — or even decline — is likely in the future. As societies become wealthier, people tend to have children later in life, and to have fewer children total. Statistics Canada has noted since 2001 that Canadian babies are “no longer a major factor” in the growth of the population. Instead, this country has relied on immigration.
Brandon is an exemplar of that wider trend. Our stunning population growth in the last census can be directly attributed to the opening of the Maple Leaf Foods plant, and its requirement for imported labour. Will that be repeated in years to come?
Immigration has changed this city — and for the better — but we very seriously doubt that Brandon is in line for a second Maple Leaf plant. Perhaps we can leverage some of the current Bakken boom, but we’re on the fringes of that field and oil doesn’t last forever. Counting on oil or immigration to fill our city seems uncertain.
Another factor in Brandon’s growth has been our destination as a retirement destination for small rural Westman towns. Many of our largest, newest buildings are seniors’ residences, assisted living facilities and personal care homes.
But that, too, is not a plan to build a growing city. A recent Statistics Canada report projects that the aging of the population will only accelerate until 2031.
“In 2026, the first of the baby boomers will reach the age of 80, an age when mortality is high,” the report notes. “As a result, the number of deaths will increase significantly.”
That is a trend to which Brandon is extremely susceptible.
The report closes with a sober assessment: “Without a sustained level of immigration or a substantial increase in fertility, Canada’s population growth could, within 20 years, be close to zero.”
Brandon is doing excellent work in planning for growth.
How are they planning to attract it?