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February 19, 2021

Many Canadians would trade their current urban and suburban lifestyles for a smaller community or rural location.

By Richard Jenkins

Ever see the movie Funny Farm starring Chevy Chace? I may be dating myself a bit but it is a classic 80s comedy involving a couple who pick up and move to rural Vermont leaving their New York City life and career behind.

That dream, of picking up and moving the country is something millions of Canadians are open to. The migration from urban to more rural locations is a real possibility for Canadians and certainly the ideal for many Canadians who currently live in urban locations.

Almost one in three Canadians say that they would love to move to a smaller community or rural location. This is a lot of Canadians who don’t see their current living situation as meeting their needs and pine for what smaller communities and rural locations could offer them.

Regionally, interest in moving out of the city is highest in Ontario and lowest in Atlantic Canada. Those in the Toronto/GTA are also more likely than the average Canadian to want to move to a smaller community. Interestingly, those who live in urban locations are not particularly more likely than those in suburban locals to want to move out.

We tend to think of cities as the domain of younger peoples who embrace the lifestyle and the opportunities for work and pleasure that cities offer. But when we ask people of different ages and backgrounds, if they would like to move from their more urban locations the answer is surprisingly more likely to be yes among younger Canadians. More than a third of those under 30 years of age would like to move out of the city. In contrast, older Canadians are less likely to want to move out because those that have wanted to probably already have.

An interesting counterpoint is that those with a university education are less likely to be currently living in a small community/rural location or to want to move to one. This is a harbinger of, perhaps, why there is a yearning for small communities and rural locations.

Among those who would love to move from their more urban location, the top reasons are a quieter place, more affordable housing, and more outdoor property. It is not a larger house per se or to be closer to friends and family that most motivates the desire to move to smaller communities.

Presumably moving to a smaller community or rural location allows for more affordable housing in quieter areas with more outdoor property. But do those who would love to make this move have unrealistic expectations about what these communities offer? When we look at what people view as essential in a smaller community, there is clearly a tension.

Almost everyone thinks it is at least somewhat essential for there to be high-speed internet (92%) and a hospital within a 20-30 minute drive (91%). Restaurants and shops within a short distance (71%), good community programs (60%), and good schools (55%) are also deemed essential by a majority. Canadians who would love to move further from their current urban location are not willing to give up many of the amenities that they currently have access to.


THE UPSHOT

According to Richard Jenkins: “The last several decades feel like an unrelenting urbanization movement. Small and rural communities have declined and those that remain as bedroom communities for larger urban centres often have hollowed out downtown areas. But apparently, many Canadians are rethinking their urban location and thinking about a move to a smaller community. Perhaps sparked by the pandemic and shifting perceptions about working from home, living farther away from your workplace or shifting careers entirely may be an outcome of the pandemic.

Affordability is no doubt an essential component of the reimagining of small-town and rural life for so many Canadians. Rising housing costs in Canada’s urban centres have put the dream of homeownership either on hold or has required people to sacrifice other things. The pandemic and the impact on the urban environment and how we work may also be helping creating momentum for escaping to the country.
Those looking to move and those communities hoping to attract people from the city must be careful in assuming it will be clear sailing. Those looking to leave urban areas have a long list of essential amenities that if unmet could easily sour the experience.”

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METHODOLOGY

Our survey was conducted online with 2,000 Canadians aged 18 and over from January 29 to February 3, 2021. A random sample of panellists was invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.

The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.2%, 19 times out of 20. The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

This poll was conducted and paid for by Abacus Data.

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