FEATURE | Sunday, 19 August 2007

The rise and fall of Malta’s towns

Marsaskala and St Paul’s Bay are Malta’s fastest growing localities, the 2005 Census has revealed – but suburbs like Floriana are the most endangered, after losing 17% of its declining, ageing population in the past decade.
St Paul’s Bay also emerges as the most cosmopolitan locality, along with Sliema, with the largest component of residents born outside Malta.
And with an average age of 33, Marsascala is the youngest locality while Sliema is Malta’s oldest locality with an average age of 47.
The 2005 Census has revealed that Malta’s southern harbour, comprising Cottonera, Valletta and its suburbs, is the only region which saw a decline in population in the last ten years. The only localities in this region which showed significant signs of growth were Fgura and Zabbar.
Working class localities which grew in the post-war period like Santa Lucija and Paola are showing clear signs of decline. Paola lost 6% of its population in the past decade, although with a new residential development in the Schrieber ground in the pipeline, Paola could reverse the trend.
Santa Lucija, a cluster of austere housing estates established in the 1970s, lost 12% of its population in the same timeframe.
Even urban centres in the north harbour region which attracted the post-war shift in population from the inner to the outer harbour, have stopped growing. While Birkirkara has seen a slight increase in population, major population centres like Qormi have experienced a slight decline.
Birkirkara still emerges as Malta’s biggest town but Mosta, growing at a faster rate, could easily overtake it in the next decade.
Despite being Malta’s oldest locality, Sliema has defied the laws of demography and has seen its population increase by 3%. Further growth is expected after Tigné is developed. Sliema also keeps growing by attracting a large number of foreigners who now account for a tenth of its population. Only St Paul’s Bay, with a foreign population of 14%, has a higher percentage of foreigners than Sliema.
British expats, which total 4,713, account for a third of foreigners living in Malta. But the immigrant community also includes 2,309 from other European Union countries and a significant 2,033 from European non-EU countries like Russia, the Ukraine and Turkey. 797 hail from North America and Australia while 2,062 hail from the rest of the world. Valletta – a capital in declinePopulation: 6,300
Children under 9: 8%
Over 60: 30.4%
Average age: 44.2
Foreign population: 1.8%
One-person households: 34.8%
Population density: 7,492 per km2Valletta emerges as an ageing city where nearly a third of its population is over 60, and its average age high at 44. Children under the age of 9 only account for 8% of the capital city’s population.
Valletta – once Malta’s largest city with a population of 22,768 in 1901 – has been in constant decline since the end of the second world war when people started migrating from the inner harbour towns. The major decline in Valletta’s population occurred between 1967 and 1985 when the number of residents fell by 6,000. The population continued to decline from 7,262 in 1995 to the present 6,300.
Despite its unique architecture and majestic fortifications, Valletta only attracts 114 foreign residents, which constitute less than 2% of its population.
With MEPA issuing a record number of permits for penthouses in the past year, the Valletta population could start rising again. But this could come at a cost as the Valletta skyline gets disfigured.
The capital city hosts 2,594 households – a large percentage of which (35%) are single-person households. 54% of single-person households in Valletta are inhabited by those aged 60 and over. Two-person households represent 27% of the total number of households.
Big families still abound in the capital city: 83 households in Valletta host more than 7 persons, two of which host more than 10.Sliema – cranes and senior citizensPopulation: 13,242
Children under 9: 6.4%
Over 60: 33.8%
Average age: 46.6
Foreign population: 10.1%
One-person households: 33.5%
Population density: 10,218 per km2Although Sliema emerges as Malta’s oldest locality, in the past 10 years it managed to defy the laws of demography by experiencing a 3% increase in its population.
With the average Sliema resident 47 years old, more than a third of Sliema’s population is now past 60 years of age. But for the first time since 1948 the old commercial capital’s population is on the rise again.
Sliema emerges as one of Malta’s most cosmopolitan cities where 10% of its population is foreign-born. The largest foreign component of its population – 446 – hail from non-EU, European countries.
Only 21% of Sliema’s 1,338 foreign residents hail from Britain. Sliema also includes 149 residents from non-European countries, 37 expats from the USA, 47 Libyans and 27 refugees.
Back in 1948 Sliema emerged as Malta’s most populous city with a population of 24,295. Attracting mainly middle and upper class residents, the town also attracted shopkeepers and boasted its own working class quarter: the so-called Lazy Corner. But after reaching a peak in 1948 the population has been in constant decline reaching an ebb of 12,906 in 1995.
With a sharp rise in the number of planning permits from the mid-1990s to the present day, Sliema’s population is rising again reaching 13,242 in 2005. But a construction boom does not bode well for a town full of senior citizens.
Over the past decade the population density of this locality increased by 259 persons per square kilometre. Sliema’s population is expected to rise again as new residents move in the MIDI, Fort Cambridge and Town Square developments in Tigné.
Two-thirds of Sliema’s households consist host one or two people – another reflection of the town’s ageing population.Bormla – a tale of post-industrial declinePopulation: 5,657
Children under 9: 11.3%
Over 60: 22.9%
Average age: 39.4
Foreign population: 1.2%
One-person households: 27.6%
Population density: 5,657Once Malta’s industrial heartland due to its proximity to the Dockyard and a fortress of Mintoffian militancy, Bormla has experienced a slow but constant decline since 1967 when its population topped the 9,000 mark.
Yet unlike Sliema and Valletta, Bormla still retains a healthy mix between old and young even if the number of those over 60 is double the number of children under 9 years of age.
Despite its constant decline, with an average age of 39, Bormla is a younger town than Sliema and Valletta. It also has less one-person households than Sliema and Valletta. 46% of households in Bormla host more than three people – an indication that families with children still thrive in this depressed locality.
One even finds nine households with more than nine family members and two households with more than 10 people in them. Bormla, which is set to host new residential blocks of luxurious apartments in Dock Number 1, only hosts 67 foreigners.
Attard – vintage middle classPopulation: 10,405
Children under 9: 10.9%
Over 60: 14.3%
Average age: 36.2
Foreign population: 1.7%
One-person households: 9.3%
Population density: 1,567 per km2Attard has grown ten-fold since the beginning of the 20th century when it boasted a sheer 1,837 inhabitants. This middle class locality owes its growth to the post Labour years in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the population nearly doubled from 5,681 in 1985, to 9,214 ten years later.
The town’s population has increased by a further 1,000 residents in the past 10 years reaching 10,405 in 2005.
But Attard’s population is relatively older than faster growing localities like Marsaskala. The average age of the locality’s inhabitants is 36. Children under 9 still outnumber residents aged over 60.
69% of Attard’s 3,009 households host more than three persons and only 9% are occupied by single persons – an indication that most households consist of families with a number of children. In fact households consisting of four persons account for 31% of the total.
Attard also has a relatively low density of 1,567 person per square kilometre; a tenth of Sliema’s density.St Paul’s Bay – an expat and singles’ paradisePopulation: 13,412
Children under 9: 11.6%
Over 60: 16.5%
Average age: 36.8
Foreign population: 13.7%
One-person households: 29.4%
Population density: 923 per km2
St Paul’s Bay emerges as Malta’s most cosmopolitan locality with 14% of its population consisting of expats. British expats account for 7% of the northern locality’s population while another 7% consists of a variety of other nationalities.
The seaside locality hosts 387 persons from non-EU, European countries like Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. It also hosts 239 persons from non-European countries and 43 refugees. Over the past decade St Paul’s Bay attracted 1,122 immigrants – 208 of which came in 2004.
A large number of households in St Paul’s Bay (29%) are inhabited by single persons. But unlike other localities like Valletta where most single households are inhabited by elderly people, 70% of homes in St Paul’s Bay are inhabited by under 60-year-olds. This could reflect the popularity of this locality as the choice of residence for separated persons.
St Paul’s Bay has seen its population density rise from a sheer 471 persons per square kilometre in 1995 to the present 923 persons per square km.
St Paul’s Bay is also the second fastest growing locality. The population has nearly doubled in the past 10 years from 7,392 to 13,412.
Yet despite its fast growth in population the average age of this locality at 37 is even higher than Attard’s, whose population remained stable over the last decade – another indication that the northern locality attracts mature singles.Marsaskala – Malta’s fastest growing townPopulation: 9,346
Children under 9: 15.3%
Over 60: 10.8%
Average age: 33.2
Foreign population: 4.7%
One-person households: 18.9%
Population density: 1,738 per km2Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi’s place of residence emerges as Malta’s fastest growing locality with its population growing by 95% from 4,770 inhabitants in 1995 to 9,346 in 2005. Just 20 years ago the southern seaside locality had less than 2,000 inhabitants.
Marsaskala is also one of Malta’s youngest localities with an average age of its inhabitants at just 32 years. Only 11% of Marsaskala’s residents are over 60 and 15% are under nine years of age. Nearly 5% of residents are foreign-born. Over the past decade, population density has increased by a staggering 851 persons per square km.Birkirkara – Malta’s biggest townPopulation: 21,858
Children under 9: 10.8%
Over 60: 18.8%
Average age: 38.2
Foreign population: 1.4%
One-person households: 18.1%
Population density: 7,971 per km2
With a population approaching 22,000 Birkirkara holds its position as Malta’s most populous town, although over the past ten years it has risen by less than 600 residents.
Unlike the massive growth experienced by Marsaskala in the past decade, Birkirkara has grown slowly and organically over a century. Birkirkara has grown from 8,500 residents in 1901 to its current 22,000. It was only in 1967 that Birkirkara became Malta’s second largest town after Sliema. By 1985 Sliema had lost a big chunk of its population and Birkirkara emerged as the most populous locality.
But with Mosta’s population rising at a faster rate during the past decade, Birkirkara could lose its top position in the next 10 years. While Mosta’s population has risen by 12% in the past decade, Birkirkara’s has only increased by 3%.
With an average age of 38, it is also a slightly younger town than Sliema and Valletta but older than Mosta.Munxar – Gozo’s fastest growing townPopulation: 1,052
Children under 9: 13.4%
Over 60: 16.8%
Average age: 36.1
Foreign population 10.1
One-person household: 24.5
Population density: 363 per km2
With a 35% increase in its small population Munxar emerges as Gozo’s fastest growing town. During the past 10 years Munxar’s population grew from 780 to 1,052.
Gozo’s second fastest growing town was Ghajnsielem which saw its population rise by 18%. The only Gozitan town which saw a fall in its population was Xewkija – a town which grew next to Gozo’s only industrial estate.
Like other Gozitan localities Munxar is attracting a significant number of foreigners enamoured by Gozo’s natural beauty and by its relatively low population density. Over the last five years Munxar attracted 52 immigrants from other countries. Expats now make up for a significant 10% of Munxar’s population. These include 67 British and 10 German expats.
Other Gozitan localities attracting a large number of expats are Nadur and Xaghra which since 2000 have seen 128 and 119 new foreign residents respectively.Floriana – an endangered townPopulation: 2,240
Children under 9: 6.9%
Over 60: 34%
Average Age: 46.4
Foreign population: 1.8%
One-person households: 32.8%
Population density: 2,374 per km2Floriana has seen its population fall by 17% in the past decade. With 34% of its population over 60 years old and an average age of 46, Floriana could be destined to a slow death if it does not manage to attract any new residents. Only 7% of Floriana’s population is composed of young children.
Floriana’s population reached a peak in 1931 when it reached a population of 6,241. At that time Floriana absorbed the first exodus from the capital city but Floriana’s population has been declining slowly but steadily since 1957 without showing any signs of recovery.


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NEWS | Sunday, 19 August 2007