Can the concept of the 15-minute city, which aims to consolidate essential amenities within a 15-minute walking or biking distance, be applicable to non-urban municipalities?
In smaller suburban areas, a recently published report suggests the possibility of establishing 15-minute neighborhoods. Re/Max Canada’s research explores this idea, incorporating insights from experts in urban planning, climate change, and engineering. The report, released on June 22, highlights the importance of increasing housing supply while focusing on the “right kind of supply,” as emphasized in Re/Max’s press release.
Elton Ash, Executive Vice-President of Re/Max Canada, explained in an interview with Glacier Media that the report’s main objective is to help smaller communities learn from larger metropolitan areas in terms of future planning. He noted the historical shift towards suburban living driven by car culture and referenced Joni Mitchell’s song about losing paradise to parking lots. However, Ash emphasized that there is now a growing awakening among customers and clients, particularly millennials and Gen Z, regarding the need for change.
BIV (Business in Vancouver) has previously discussed the concept of 15-minute cities in British Columbia and its potential impact on real estate asset classes such as office and commercial spaces.
According to Ash, Vancouver has already achieved success in establishing 15-minute neighborhoods. He specifically mentioned Yaletown in downtown Vancouver as an example of a neighborhood that transformed into a 15-minute community following Expo 86. Additionally, he highlighted the ongoing development of Oakridge Mall and the surrounding residential areas as a promising emerging instance.
However, implementing the 15-minute city concept can be more challenging in cities like Surrey or Burnaby, which have a stronger reliance on car-oriented transportation, as stated by Andy Yan, the director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program.
The report acknowledges a bias towards cars, which hinders the development of alternative transportation options. It warns that if this trend continues, it could lead to the construction of more roads and contribute to urban sprawl, which goes against the principles of the 15-minute city. The ideal vision includes densely populated neighborhoods with diverse housing options and transportation methods, as emphasized by insights from Shoshanna Saxe, the Canada Research Chair in sustainable infrastructure.
Adopting measures to prevent urban sprawl can yield positive outcomes as British Columbia adapts to environmental changes, as outlined in the report.
The report highlights the disappearance of over seven percent of the original wetlands in the lower Fraser Valley and parts of Vancouver Island, along with an alarming 85 percent wetland loss in the South Okanagan due to urban sprawl.
Addressing the issue, Katherine Bakos, Director of Climate Finance and Science at the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, emphasizes the increasing risk of uninsurable properties in Canada’s housing market, particularly in flood-prone areas. She stresses the urgency of diversified infrastructure and avoiding construction in floodplains.
The concept of 15-minute neighborhoods also calls for a shift away from “uni-purpose zoning,” which involves constructing only one type of development, whether residential, commercial, or industrial. Instead, the focus should be on promoting mixed-use developments that incorporate diverse housing types and densities.
The report points out that single-detached homes accounted for the majority of construction starts and completions in 2022, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. This emphasis on single-detached homes is identified as a core challenge.
Elton Ash highlights the report’s focus on the long-term development and construction strategies for smaller or medium-sized cities like Kelowna, Prince George, and Kamloops in British Columbia. It aims to guide these cities in envisioning their growth and building strategies for the next 25 to 50 years.
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