The great urban exodus is on, or so it seems as thoughtful stories emerge revealing the reasons some people have left Toronto during the pandemic.

If you’re sticking around, Toronto or any other city where such migration is happening, stories like this can cause some anxiety. Should I be leaving too?

My heart breaks a little bit every time I read about somebody leaving Toronto. It shouldn’t, but it does: it feels a bit emotional, like we lost another one to some greener pasture.

People arrive and depart cities all the time, though, and for all kinds of reasons. For many, the city they live in is an accident, sometimes a happy one, fate dictating the way: following family or maybe a love interest. If your arrival in a particular place wasn’t directed by economics or a hardship, you’re lucky in global terms as many people move because they’re forced to. If you chose where you wanted to live regardless of other concerns, simply because you wanted to move there, you’re one of the lucky few.

Apart from being born in a place, the reasons why people ended up where they live are as fascinating and complex as there are people on Earth. Every story is different. What’s yours?

When you think about all the varied reasons people became, say, Torontonians, it’s equally fascinating that a sense of unity, togetherness and civic identity develops. A miracle of all being in the same place for a bit of time. And yet, people are leaving and it is distressing.

COVID-19 has removed much of the good and attractive things cities had to offer: lots of people doing lots of different things. Without the culture they create and their businesses to frequent, we’re not left with much more than a high cost of living. So why stay?

As somebody who moved from Windsor to Toronto partly because I always wanted to live here and partly for economic reasons, I’ve often joked, on a Friday or Saturday night without plans, I might as well move to Cornwall and pay less rent if I’m going to stay in. No offence to Cornwall, it’s simply the other side of the province from Windsor and a place with a relatively cheaper cost of living too.

Of course, many people here don’t have the means or work-from-home job mobility to up and leave, so the whole question might be a bit tiresome altogether for them. Early on, fear of COVID and density seemed to motivate some talk of exodus, but it has since been proven that the virus can flourish in both big city or rural environments if people and governments are careless, a fact that lowered the volume of the “cities are done and over” predictions.

While 50,000 people left Toronto between July, 2019 and July 2020, people were leaving Toronto long before the pandemic was little more than a science-fiction dystopia for most of us.

A Statistics Canada study based on 2006 census data on migration from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver to their surrounding municipalities is illuminating. In Toronto, the study found that for every person who moved from a municipality outside of Toronto to Toronto, 3.5 people made the opposite move out of Toronto. The net migration away was for a variety of reasons like new parents being more likely to leave, while lone parents and childless couples were more inclined to stay in the big city.

As the trend continued, the reason Toronto grew is because of immigration from further afield. If Toronto wasn’t a city attracting immigrants all along, it would have been a shrinking city COVID or not, but the pandemic has certainly helped a lot of people decide.

Rents are down for the first time in decades, so there is some upside to less demand.

People moving to other cities can be good for those place too: injections of talent and money. In truth, I even daydream about what it might be like to leave, to live a small-town life or move back to Windsor, even. Give my hometown some consideration if you’re taking off, it’s a good place.

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Of course, there are already reports about increasing prices in other cities due to the interest of Torontonians, who become bogeymen-like figures, raising prices and destabilizing life. Torontonians who moved to Hamilton before COVID have mentioned getting shade from locals too, being “Toronto people,” though some mayors, like Oshawa’s, have said they’re ready for and welcome newcomers. We have great cities in Ontario, they all deserve to be successful and should all have more people.

I’ll try not to feel sad when folks leave Toronto, but it was nice to have them here. The more, the merrier. It’s why I moved here in the first place. Perhaps they’ll come back when things get happening again.

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