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Immigrants Choose Suburbs

Study raises questions for governments about how to integrate newcomers into Canadian society

Newcomers to Canada are more likely to settle in the suburbs than in the downtown areas of large cities, which previous generations of immigrants called home, a new study shows.

In Diversity and Concentration in Canadian Immigration: Trends in Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver, 1971-2006, researcher Robert Murdie analyzes information from the 2006 census and compares it with historical data. He finds that Toronto and Vancouver now attract a large proportion of Asian immigrants who tend to favour the suburbs, whereas Montreal’s newcomers are more likely to hail from Europe and Africa and live in the city centre. Canada’s three largest cities attract 70 per cent of all newcomers to the country, a far higher share than in previous decades.

According to the study, the presence of family, friends or other people from the same ethnic background is the most important factor for newcomers choosing a city in which to live – far greater than the availability of a job or educational opportunity. Murdie, a researcher with the Centre for Urban and Community Studies at U of T’s new Cities Centre, says many immigrants now choose to live in the suburbs because housing prices in downtown Toronto and Vancouver have soared out of reach and because lower-wage jobs have dispersed to the suburbs. Murdie says the study raises questions for governments about how best to integrate newcomers into Canadian society. The shift in immigrant origins from European countries to Asia and Africa has created challenges for service providers and municipal authorities in accommodating ethnic, racial and religious diversity. These challenges are concentrated in the three biggest metropolitan areas. Murdie wonders whether some immigrants would find it easier to settle and adjust to Canada if they chose smaller communities, where there is less strain on services.

He cautions that Toronto’s “inner suburbs,” especially, require “appropriate settlement services, adequate and affordable housing, educational opportunities and skills training” to avoid the social tensions being experienced in some Western European cities.

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