The 15-minute community (sometimes also called 15-minute ‘city’ or ‘neighbourhood’) is a vision for development that is human and community oriented.
15-minute communities occur where the basic things we need, like groceries, workplaces, doctor’s offices, community services and childcare, are all available within a 15 minute walk or roll from home.
SCGC, along with other organizations, has been advocating for a move towards establishing 15-minute communities in Simcoe County before development occurs outside of the built-up area.
What this would mean, in practice, is that existing communities would continue to be developed until residents are able to access basic amenities within a 15 minute walk. Only after that condition has been met would development to expand the community outward be allowed.
Read on below for reason why this makes sense, financially, for our health and safety, and for the environment.
What are 15-Minute Communities?
The 15-minute community (sometimes also called 15-minute ‘city’ or ‘neighbourhood’) is a vision for development that is human and community oriented. 15-minute communities are communities where the basic things we need, like groceries, workplaces, doctor’s offices, community services and childcare, are all available within a 15 minute walk or roll from home.
Many of us live in suburbs because this has been the norm since urban sprawl was adopted in the 50’s. But more municipalities are realizing that this is a really inefficient way of organizing our communities.
Developers give money to municipalities when they build that is meant to pay for infrastructure, but this up-front cost doesn’t cover repairs and upgrades needed later on.
When infrastructure is built in a way that is spread out, like with sprawl, the tax the municipality is able to collect on a per-person basis is also spread out, resulting in a tax-base that is much smaller, or spread out, in proportion to the larger infrastructure build.
Ontario's Infrastructure Deficit
Ontario’s current infrastructure deficit is estimated by the Financial Accountability Officer at $52 billion.
Roads make up the largest share, at $21.1 billion, with buildings and facilities at $9.5 billion, wastewater at $7.3 billion, potable water at $5.3, bridges and culverts at $4.3, storm water at $3.8, and transit at $1 billion.
Click on the image for a larger version, or click through here for the whole report.
Building more efficiently means we can do more
By building in a way that brings things closer together, mixing different elements that we all need, such as grocery and clothing stores, cafes and other local shops, into the same neighbourhoods, we maximize that use-value of the land.
This means, because it’s more efficient, that we can do more of what we want, such as funding public services like transit, building more playgrounds and parks, or funding community centres and theatres.
Sprawl hurts us all in ways that are often difficult to see, and the squeeze it puts on the public, the difficult choices municipalities are forced to make between maintaining a road into suburbia or building a childcare centre is just one example.
Did you know?
Canadians spend an average of $10,000 per year on owning a car. Multiply that by the number of cars your household has.
What could you put that money towards if you didn’t have to drive everywhere?
Would you retire early? Help with your child’s education? Take time to explore the world?
And, there are more benefits...
These kinds of communities improve quality of life and make the places where people live more, well, livable.
As the places we need to go are brought closer to homes, our commutes and need to drive everywhere shrinks. We spend less time in traffic and more time being out in our community, interacting with neighbours, supporting local businesses, exercising and socializing.
15-minute communities are also good climate policy. Low-rise density development produces the least emissions, while sprawl produces the most (with high-rise development somewhere in the middle). This is because these communities require less car and land use, and attached buildings are much more efficient for infrastructure and servicing (especially if this denser development is occurring in already-serviced areas, rather than undeveloped land). With about half of domestic carbon emissions being under control of municipal land-use planning, this is a pretty big deal for meeting our climate targets.
An increasingly popular form of planning
We’ve seen a huge rise in popularity of the idea of the 15-minute community during the pandemic, as many people stopped having to commute for work and were spending more time in their own neighbourhoods. People are realizing what their neighbourhoods were missing and the potential of what they could be.
15-minute communities have the potential to address so many of our current problems with the same planning approach, largely because of the density they require to make things walkable:
- Low-rise dense neighbourhoods produce the least emissions1Cities and climate change: why low-rise buildings are the future – not skyscrapers2Decoupling density from tallness in analysing the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of cities;
- Uses land, energy and infrastructure far more efficiently, while actually saving municipalities and taxpayers a tonne of money compared to sprawl;
- Density is required to support cost effective, good public transit3Transit and the “D” Word and active transportation infrastructure4A pan-Canadian measure of active living environments using open data to make these actual options for people, which will help move us away from car-dependency (another financial boon for local governments and businesses);
- Decades of research shows the physical and mental health benefits of physical activity and spending more time outdoors, which improves our quality of life and wellbeing, while decreasing rates of chronic diseases and healthcare costs5A pan-Canadian measure of active living environments using open data;
- Denser development facilitates affordable housing, and diversity in housing to match diverse households, so we can house more people in appropriate homes7How Other Cities in the U.S. and Canada Implement Missing Middle Policies?;
Aging in Place
- Mixed housing is required for Age-Friendly communities, so that seniors can downsize without having to leave their own neighbourhoods;
- 15-minute communities have higher social cohesion, while less traffic correlates to more friendships; this promotes a stronger sense of community, less isolation and loneliness, and stronger social networks;
- Denser neighbourhoods have less cars and more eyes on the streets, making these much safer for children to play outdoors and practice independence, which is a huge benefit for their development and health.
15-minute communities in Simcoe County
In Simcoe County, we’re not all big cities (Barrie and Orillia aside), but we do have Primary Settlement Areas, which are places where the province is directing a portion of population growth that we need to accommodate here. These are the perfect places to embrace the 15-minute community vision.
In existing neighbourhoods, we can introduce gentle density to complete these neighbourhoods and give residents the nearby services that they deserve, while increasing the walkability and sense of community in these places. This means that less additional land will have to be developed and makes the direct and indirect cost (through taxes) lower for residents because it’s way more efficient for servicing costs.
Where new neighbourhoods need to be built, in Designated Greenfield Areas or where an MZO has been approved, these neighbourhoods should be planned as 15-minute communities to give future residents the best quality of life while being the most affordable they can be – for residents and municipalities. If we absolutely need to use more land, we should use it as efficiently, sustainably and cost effectively as possible. Moving towards 15-minute communities improves livability for current and future residents in these existing communities and because they are compactly built, more people can live in these places, so that less people need to move into the more rural areas of the County.
- What is a 15-minute neighbourhood?
- Introducing the 15-Minute City Project
- Should all Canadian cities be 15-minute cities? (Globe and Mail Podcast)
- Designing 15-minute neighbourhoods in a post-COVID Ottawa
- The 15-minute city aims to build more liveable neighbourhoods. In Canada, only 23 per cent of urban dwellers live in this type of area (subscription required)
- The 15-minute city: nurturing communities for smarter cities
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It is increasingly clear that policies that promote increased vehicle traffic should be seen as a last resort, and implemented only where no other options are possible.
Recent moves by Ontario’s government seem likely to create conditions for a number of crises in the next few decades that, when combined, are greater than the sum of their parts. This is what’s known as a “polycrisis”, a term popularized by economic historian Adam Tooze.
…value in the context of a community is achieved through livability, which in turn drives economic and social dynamism. Propinquity, or the accessibility of the areas we inhabit, whether that’s for people we socialise with or for consumer good or employment, is the key metric to achieve in this regard. Build communities for people and good things happen.