Ottawa doesn’t fit the bill for most gen-Z workers, but Gatineau scores higher, survey shows

Ottawa gen-z

Generation-Z employees have high standards for where they choose to live and work, a recent report says, with Quebec cities ranking highest among the country and Ottawa scoring a cool 16th place. 

An analysis by Point2, an international real estate search portal, examined what gen-Z workers are looking for and ranked cities by their readiness to attract the younger generation. While Gatineau scored seventh place, Ottawa came in at 16th.

The report suggested that gen Z has higher expectations than generations before them and none of Canada’s 50 largest cities fit the bill. 

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The 2023 City Readiness Index for Gen Z analyzed 35 metrics across categories that gen Z deemed most important, including affordable housing, cost of living, work-life balance, and perceived mental health.

Born between 1997 and 2012, gen Z named access to mental health services, financial security, and environmental issues such as air quality and walk scores among their top concerns. 

“Gen Z, the newest generation to start entering the labour market, is quite different from the millennial generation, not to mention gen X and baby boomers. Being the youngest, a higher dose of idealism and can-do spirit are almost a given,” said Andra Hopulele, senior real estate writer at Point2 and author of the report. “What is slowly setting them apart from other generations, though, is their determination and bold attitude. 

“They are much more uncompromising when it comes to what they perceive to be valuable. Where millennials were more willing to be more accepting of the status quo, gen Z draws a much stronger line in the sand,” added Hopulele. 

The desired lifestyle for gen Z seems more suited to smaller communities and cities rather than bustling downtown hubs, the report found. The results showed that gen Z tends to be drawn to smaller cities, with eight of the top 10 cities having populations below 300,000. 

Aside from Montreal, which came in eighth, none of Canada’s large business hubs made the top 10. Of the top 10, eight communities were in Quebec, with one in Saskatchewan and St. John’s, N.L. leading the list. Ontario cities don’t come into play until Burlington, which placed 13th, and Ottawa in 16th. 

Despite similarities between Gatineau and Ottawa and their geographic proximity, Hopulele said Quebec cities could be “outperforming” other provinces due to consistently high, steady scores.

“Some cities appear to have a headstart in the race to attract the youngest generation of professionals. Having high median incomes for this age group and low home-price-to-income ratios are definitely great advantages, but this is far from enough,” Hopulele explained. “Some cities have great scores for some metrics, but very low for others, while others are much more level.”

The eight Quebec cities that landed in the top 10 scored highest in categories such as median income, cost of living, health resources, and share of young homeowners.

“It’s not that (the city) excels in one or two metrics. That wouldn’t be enough,” Hopulele said. “Cities in (Quebec) manage to score high in many of the categories that gen Z considers vital for a life well-lived.”

Gen Z’s priorities could “soon become society’s priorities,” the report noted, resulting in a shift away from busy city hubs and toward well-rounded, tight-knit communities.

Gen Z’s “uncompromising attitude makes them take real steps in the direction of their goals,” Hopulele said. The younger generation is more willing to negotiate salary, demand more work flexibility, and seek better access to medical and mental health services, Hopulele added, as well as be more involved in solving social issues in their communities.

“This ‘have your cake and eat it, too’ attitude is precisely the opposite of what millennials and the other generations believe in,” she said.

But Ottawa has its fans. Aidyn Baily, 24, belongs to gen Z and moved to Ottawa in 2020. Baily grew up and studied nursing in Peterborough, but after graduating from Trent University, she said the move to Ottawa made sense for her values.

“Ottawa really was the place to be,” said Baily. Even though she grew up about an hour-and-a-half away from Toronto, Baily decided that city would be “too big” for her, but that Ottawa was just the right size — “close enough to big-city amenities but not too urban.”

“One of my good friends went to the University of Ottawa and I had visited her here before and I just always loved the feel of the city,” Baily explained. 

Among her favourite aspects of Ottawa are restaurants and activities on Elgin Street, the walkability of the downtown core, the ByWard Market, heritage buildings and architecture, and easy access to the canal and parks. The proximity to the Gatineau Hills for hiking and sightseeing is also a big plus, added Baily.

Now a nurse at The Ottawa Hospital, Baily said she can see herself “sticking around” Ottawa for the foreseeable future, even though the city may not have been the highest-scoring in the Point2 ranking.

“When it comes to cost of living and things like home ownership, I’ve accepted that buying a home is not going to be a reality for a long time, so I’m not too stressed about that,” she explained. “Longer-term, when I think about my future and having kids, I know there are lots of community centres and resources. So I do think I’ll stay here for a bit.”

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