Number of people living, working in downtown Ottawa has increased significantly, data shows

downtown ottawa

A new report analyzing cellphone data shows more people living in downtown Ottawa and more workers returning to the office.

The analysis by real estate firm CBRE for the month of January from 2020 to 2024 examined foot traffic in the downtown by compiling data that tracks a phone’s exact geographic location.

The research distinguished between cellphones detected both during and outside of business hours. Using January 2020 as a baseline, the research showed that the total presence of people in the downtown core has not only recovered, but in many cases has surpassed pre-pandemic figures. 

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In 2024, approximately 990,000 cellphones were recorded in the core, equating to a 104 per cent recovery in foot traffic, the report stated. However, the report added, this recovery is dominated by individuals who are within the core outside of business hours. 

While only 15.3 per cent of the foot traffic in 2020 was from outside business hours, thisfigure rose to 44.1 per cent in 2024.

Phillipe Chaotakoongite, a CBRE research analyst based in Ottawa, said this is largely due to an increase of residents moving closer to the core.

“There have been a lot of anecdotal discussions around people coming back downtown,” Chaotakoongite told OBJ Thursday. “We like data and it is good to see that data back up the foot traffic, especially because it has certainly felt like the core has gotten busier.”

The report also showed that office buildings in the core are seeing on average a 70 per cent recovery in foot traffic compared to pre-pandemic figures, which can be attributed to return-to-office mandates and an increase in office occupancy.

Weekday foot traffic, which Chaotakoongite says is largely attributable to professionals working downtown, has also improved although not back to pre-pandemic levels. A total of 790,000 cellphones were recorded in January 2024, an 89 per cent recovery from pre-pandemic figures, the report showed.

The report’s findings, which Chaotakoongite called “very positive,” come in the same week as a new report from the Ottawa Board of Trade that calls for more residents living and working downtown.

The Downtown Ottawa Action Agenda, which was released Wednesday and developed in collaboration with the Canadian Urban Institute, proposes strategies to create $1.3 billion in annual economic benefit. The report identified the need to streamline processes to increase downtown residency through higher density and use of public land, with a goal of adding 40,000 new residents to the downtown core by 2034, “transforming the cityscape into a bustling hub of activity and innovation.”

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