All over the map: the geography of service work in Toronto

The creative class has garnered a lot of attention in recent years. From policymakers to the popular press, city boosters have been engaging in initiatives to attract and retain creative class workers for nearly a decade now. But a full occupational analysis actually organizes the labour force into three main groups:

As part of the Cities Centre’s Toronto 2010 Election series, we’ve prepared The Geography of Toronto’s Service Class, a research brief that analyzes the location of Toronto’s service class jobs and their connections to transit. Together, the service and creative classes make up about 80% of Toronto’s workforce, a number that has been growing for decades and continues to expand.

Not only is the service class the largest occupational group in Toronto, it is also the most ubiquitous. In the map below, each census tract is shaded according to the occupational group with the highest share of jobs.

Of Toronto’s 531 census tracts (depicted here), the service class makes up the plurality of the workforce in 70%. These areas are widely distributed across the city, from parts of central Toronto to Etobicoke to North York to Scarborough. Creative class jobs, on the other hand, tend to be more heavily clustered in a small number of neighbourhoods. Picture office towers, high-tech hubs, and arts districts.

The broad distribution of service work across Toronto makes sense when you consider the types of businesses that employ service workers. Restaurants, banks, gas stations, and salons all tend to be spread out across the city, since customers aren’t willing to travel far for shawarmas and haircuts. These services are provided at the neighborhood level, and as a result service workers are widely dispersed. Larger institutions that employ service workers in large numbers tend to be spread out as well: hospitals, police stations, call centres, and so on.

When the Toronto subway is superimposed on the workplace map, a clear pattern emerges. Only 21% of the red service-intensive tracts on the map above are within 500m of a subway station, while a full 65% of purple creative-intensive tracts are. So while the service class makes up the largest share of jobs in Toronto, creative class workplaces have significantly better access to the city’s fastest transit infrastructure. When we conducted a more fine-grained analysis that assigned scores for service mode and frequency, it reinforced this finding: service class workers tend to be served less well by frequent and convenient transit.

Service class workers have much lower average incomes than creative class workers – $46,000 compared to $75,000 in the Toronto CMA – and thus are more likely to depend on public transit for both work and personal trips. They also tend to require more frequent commutes, since they are more likely to work at multiple jobs. Service class workers would see the greatest benefit from expansion of faster and more frequent transit across the entire city.

Download this Insight (PDF)

Further Reading:

For further analysis, more maps, and some ideas on the kinds of policies that could address this imbalance, see the full discussion paper.


The Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management is the world’s leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors—location, place and city-regions—in global economic prosperity. Led by Director Richard Florida, we take an integrated view of prosperity, looking beyond economic measures to include the importance of quality of place and the development of people’s creative potential.