Earlier this week, I wrote a blog that introduced the idea of 15-minute communities. As a reminder, these communities are ones where you have access to everything you need within a 15 minute walk, bike or roll from your home. You can find that here.
In my previous post, I explained how this vision hinges on welcoming residents back to our neighbourhoods and refilling communities that have seen population loss over the past few decades. Welcoming residents back means we build up a stronger base of support for more local amenities, services, and businesses, allowing us to have access to everything we need within 15 minutes of home.
When we’re talking about 15-minute communities, we’re really talking about the complete communities envisioned in the City Plan.
This blog post will discuss the complex process of enacting the changes required to build 15-minute communities. The components of 15-minute communities - housing, businesses, transportation, services, parks, amenities and recreation - are deeply interrelated, and each deserving of their own blog post. However, in this post, I will focus on 3 themes, specific to Ward Métis:
Welcoming residents back - refilling our mature neighbourhoods
Cultivating a vibrant business community - encouraging businesses to take root close to home
How we move matters - 15-minute communities depend on diverse transportation options
Welcoming Residents Back
How do we welcome residents back? The key idea is to provide folks with diverse and affordable housing choices. Right now, there is an uneven playing field between what is available in new greenfield suburbs and existing neighbourhoods.
New neighbourhoods have many different housing styles built into them at the start, ranging from single detached homes to row housing to low-rise apartment buildings. It's often easier for people to find an affordable home in a new community than it is in a mature neighbourhood.
Our older neighbourhoods have fewer options. The overall housing stock in mature neighbourhoods skews towards single-detached homes on wide lots. This doesn’t reflect the variety of housing that Edmontonians are looking for. In addition to this, land costs are generally higher closer to the core because the location is more valuable.
If we’re trying to draw in new neighbours, we need to provide them with a spectrum of housing options at a variety of price ranges - think missing middle housing, duplexes, row housing, courtyard developments. Integrating more hidden density (also called gentle density), like basement suites and garden suites, into our mature neighbourhoods is another part of the equation.
This is a process I am incredibly passionate about. I’ve helped lead YEGarden Suites, an organization focused on empowering individuals to create these new kinds of housing options for their loved ones and neighbours for the past several years.
Building missing middle and hidden density options through infill not only creates opportunities to welcome more families back to our communities, it also allow for residents already living in the neighbourhood to access different housing options as their needs change.
Living in a two storey single-detached home may be a great option for a parent with children. But, as a person grows older they may be looking to move into a style of housing that enables them to age-in-place, is more compact, and more affordable, with less maintenance. We need diverse housing options that meet people at different life phases and stages.
Zoning Bylaw Renewal as a Lever for Change
Our land use bylaw is the key to unlocking access to these types of homes. It is the rulebook for what Edmontonians are allowed and not allowed to do on private property. It regulates what buildings look and feel like, and what kinds of uses are allowed where.
Our decades old land use bylaw is currently undergoing a complete rewrite. We’re modernizing the rulebook, and it will come before council in 2022. The Zoning Bylaw Renewal sets the stage for our future, and it is a generational opportunity to make sure we get things right.
Although we will introduce new zoning for our neighbourhoods, our communities will still feel pretty similar. The residential zone that covers most parts of a neighbourhoood will allow for different styles of housing within our community, such as single detached, duplexes, and row housing.
By diversifying our housing stock and welcoming more families into existing communities, we can foster the sense of neighbourliness that Edmontonians love, while achieving our goals around climate change, equity, and fiscal responsibility.
Cultivating a Vibrant Business Community
Part of growing a great community is allowing businesses to take root close to home. There is a symbiotic relationship between housing and amenities. Vibrant businesses, recreation options, and quality transportation are essential for attracting people to live somewhere. At the same time, customers are essential for businesses to thrive and grow.
Location efficiency is the magic behind how 15-minute communities can reduce the time and money you spend simply getting around. That same location efficiency will help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is why the City Plan places so much emphasis on nodes and corridors.
At key nodes and corridors, we must have a mix of residential and commercial zoning that allows for medium scale residential development - think 4 storey buildings on 118th avenue with shops below and housing or perhaps offices above. It’s ultimately about creating vibrant and inviting places where people can live, work, and play. That’s part of how we can ensure that businesses and residents choose Edmonton as their home.
How We Move Matters
15-minute communities depend on safe, reliable, and diverse transportation options. Without safe bike or pedestrian infrastructure it’s challenging for residents to access the amenities and services they rely on close to home. Without frequent transit, the idea of 15-minute communities grows distant. The ability to navigate your community and meet your needs safely, conveniently, and reliably requires us to have a good quality, integrated, multi-modal transportation system.
The connection is clear: the service quality of Edmonton's roads, sidewalks, busses, bike lanes, and LRT significantly influences the shape of our communities and the lifestyle choices that are available to residents. We will need to continue to upgrade and improve our transportation system as we grow into a city of 2 million.
In the near term, the implementation of Edmonton's new bike plan is a primary mechanism for improving active transportation options across our city. This plan will help us move closer to 15-minute communities by improving connectivity and accessibility.
We are healthier, more prosperous, and more free when our habitat and transportation network facilitate connection.
A Winning Approach to City Building
15-minute communities are not only good for the health, wellbeing, and quality of life of residents, they are also good for our collective pocket book. This is a more efficient pattern of development that will reduce the cost of living, fight climate change, and lower taxes.
Doing more with what we already have is the responsible way forward. Under a growth scenario that centres on 15-minute communities we can find a total of 8% cost savings, the equivalent of a 5% residential tax reduction. We can save tens of millions of dollars annually by working towards this new vision.
At the end of the day, we have to be more efficient with existing city services and infrastructure by focusing on improving and building up existing areas. 15-minute communities are a win-win for residents and the city as a whole, and I look forward to being a strong advocate for this form of development.
Written by: Ashley Salvador & Stephen Raitz