Barrie’s growth is happening at a ‘measured and reasonable pace’, says mayor

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“It’s still a relatively concentrated population compared to other metropolitan areas,” says a Statistics Canada analyst

Barrie’s growth over the past five years has been below the provincial and national averages, but the next five years may paint a somewhat different picture.

The 2021 Census results show the City of Barrie has grown 4.5% since the 2016 Census, to 147,829 residents.

Meanwhile, other communities in Simcoe County are booming, with New Tecumseth (28.3%), Bradford West Gwillimbury (21.4%) and Wasaga Beach (20.3%) among the top 25 municipalities in at least 5,000 inhabitants with the highest rate. population growth rate between 2016 and 2021. Innisfil also experienced a significant population increase of 18.5% to 43,326 people.

With housing starts having doubled in Barrie over the past year and more developments underway, including large apartment and condominium complexes, as well as more land to build on, Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, expects continued growth to continue.

Much of the development will be concentrated in the downtown area, an area that has already seen healthy growth, observed Karl Chastko, an analyst at Statistics Canada’s Center for Demography.

“Despite the pandemic, the population of downtown Barrie grew by 4.5%,” matching the city’s overall growth, he said.

This makes it the 21st most populous city center in the country and the 32nd most densely populated city center.

Meanwhile, many city residents live within a 10-minute drive of the city center.

“It’s still a relatively concentrated population compared to other metropolitan areas,” Chastko said.

The focus of downtown Barrie has historically been on the commercial sector, but more recently has focused on developing its population as an urban neighborhood.

The theater block is currently under construction with plans to roll out two condo towers. SmartCentres is developing what Lehman describes as the largest development in the city’s history on Bradford Street with plans for four buildings and around 1,700 residential units, retail space, hotel space and public corridors, as well as other buildings currently under construction on Dunlop Street.

“The more people who live downtown, the more it strengthens the daytime economy and the more it strengthens our case for things like a full-service grocery store and a full line of stores and services,” said the mayor. “People are increasingly choosing to live downtown.”

Initiatives like Open Air Dunlop with weekend street closures and a festival atmosphere, redevelopment of the streetscape and Meridian Place and now plans for a permanent market and market district are part of a vision , according to Lehman, to develop the core into a neighborhood alongside its centers of culture and commerce.

“These things go really well together,” he said.

Historically, Barrie has grown aggressively, earning the moniker the fastest growing city in the country in the early 1990s. laptops used as classrooms, for example.

Lehman said the current slow and steady growth allows for better planning.

“Barrie’s story has always been about growth, but I always thought it needed smart growth at a pace that allowed our city to grow and move forward, considering all the people who wanted to live here, but at the same time that we could keep up,” he said.

Lehman also wanted Barrie to stop being a bedroom community with more job opportunities available in the city.

He points to pre-COVID numbers indicating that job growth has outpaced labor force growth, with Barrie becoming more of an economic sector.

With ongoing development in the south end lands annexed to Innisfil and major urban developments planned including downtown high rises some of which have already started Lehman expects the next census in 2026 to show more aggressive growth.

Buildings in the Little Lake, Bayfield and Hanmer and Yonge and Ashford area are nearing completion and occupancy.

Meanwhile, occupancy of annexed land began to increase last year when housing starts in Barrie doubled.

The additional housing helps solve the city’s housing crisis, Lehman added.

“Growth is at a measured and reasonable pace, albeit a bit faster than in the past five years,” he said. “We planned for that.”

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