Prospering with a Stable or Declining Population

Best Community Economic Development and Planning Practices for Rural Communities


Dr. W.J. Caldwell, Professor,
School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
University of Guelph


Dr. Jennifer Ball, Arthur Churchyard, Sara Holzman, Jackie Mercer, Nicole Sullivan, Katie Temple, Charlie Toman, and Bronwynne Wilton

funded by

The Community Adjustment Fund (CAF)
Industry Canada


Research and Corporate Services Division Research Branch Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
University of Guelph, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development

executive summary

Many rural communities in Ontario, face one of two scenarios:

  1. Rural communities in proximity to large urban centres face levels of growth that will see them undergo a significant transformation. The 17 Counties and Regions in closest proximity to Toronto for example are forecast to grow by more than 45% between 2006 and 2031.
  2. Other communities, however will struggle to maintain their existing population. Between 1996 and 2006 16 counties and districts lost population. These same jurisdictions are forecast to collectively grow by only .3 % between 2006 and 2031.

Amongst municipalities losing population, there are those who have developed an integrated and innovative community-based approach to planning and economic development. These “best” practices offers hope and solutions that can be transferred to other communities with limited potential for population growth.

This research identifies innovative practices to help communities prosper even where there is a stable or declining population. It focuses on municipal planning and economic development as a means for communities to influence their future. The research uses a case study methodology to identify innovative practices and apply and test these at a municipal level. The case studies will focus on leading practices and will explore their application. The research will also target innovative practices in other provinces and across certain sectors.

goals and objectives
  • To identify best practices for communities and municipalities leading to innovation in Community Economic Development and Planning in response to a stable, declining or limited growth population scenario
  • To identify best practices at a provincial level, reviewing and comparing Ontario with 2 other jurisdictions
  • To identify best practices for a number of specific sectoral case studies and to identify connections to CED and Planning (including various important aspects of the rural economy such as agriculture, manufacturing or tourism)
  • To work with 2 jurisdictions to enhance the best practices materials and to build capacity within these communities ( test, evaluate and refine best practices materials through a “concepts of rural design” approach)
  • To develop resource materials (including case studies and best practices) that can assist rural municipalities in planning for and delivering appropriate actions in response to a declining or stable population