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Ottawa Ramps Up its Focus on 15-Minute Neighbourhoods

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Ottawa is the latest Canadian city to ramp up its focus on 15-minute neighbourhoods. 

The increasingly popular urban planning concept involves pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods where daily needs (and more) are located within a 15-minute walk from one’s home. 

A sign of the times, the neighbourhoods represent a clear shift away from prioritizing the car in cities across the country. And our nation’s capital is no exception. 

Ottawa first announced its desire to become a more livable city by the way of 15-minute neighbourhoods in 2019. Among other measures — like a new definition of high rise buildings that would allow them to be as tall as 40 storeys — Ottawa’s recently-approved New Official Plan introduced the concept of 15-minute neighbourhoods. 

Yesterday, Ottawa’s City Planning Committee received a report on the state of 15-minute neighbourhoods in Ottawa, establishing baseline scoring for properties across the city, according to a City-issued press release. The new report based on a list of nine amenities that should be within a 15-minute walk of any residential property inside the urban boundary, as well as within rural villages. 

The list includes all of the neighbourhood essentials: grocery stores, parks, retail stores, bus stops, LRT stations, health services, recreational facilities, schools, and childcare facilities. The report also includes a simplified map that distills scoring into three categories. High-access areas are those with between seven and nine items from that list. Moderate-access areas have four to six items, and low-access areas have one to three, said the City in the release. 

Ottawa

“By establishing baseline scores, the City will be better able to evaluate how these neighbourhoods evolve in the future and how the City might encourage that evolution,” reads the release. “Mapping will also help identify where new housing might be served by existing amenities and where there is opportunity for additional services to grow and thrive.”

Discussions will continue in Council on Wednesday. 

Closer to home, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is now home to many 15-minute neighbourhoods itself — with more in the works. The condo and establishment-packed Liberty Village is an obvious example. The self-contained and amenity-filled Leaside neighbourhood is another. The historically underserved Jane-Finch neighbourhood will evolve into a 15-minute neighbourhood with the addition of new transit, community facilities, and businesses. 

In the GTA, the further out you go from Toronto’s downtown area, the fewer and farther between the amenities. However, that is changing. Suburbia’s growing number of mixed use developments increasingly include all of the essentials. 

While the shift away from the car may be a relatively new mentality, the 15-minute neighbourhood is not a new concept — far from it, in fact. The urban design principle has been employed for generations, though it’s gone by different names. Whether you call them “pedestrian-friendly,” “walkable,” or “complete communities,” the idea remains the same: convenience is front and centre and the car takes a back seat to the pedestrian.

A newer urban design concept is the idea of the 18-hour city. In contrast to a 24-hour city (Toronto, New York, Chicago), an 18-hour city describes a mid-sized urban metropolis that stays up late but not quite all night. Like Ottawa. 

As with 15-minute neighbourhoods, 18-hour cities centre heavily on public transportation and walkability. In lieu of a standard definition, we can identify them by a set of metrics. An 18-hour city has the following:

  • Population growth, particularly young people
  • Job growth, particularly in tech
  • Good transit (a high percentage of non-auto commuters)
  • A vibrant, densely populated downtown
  • Low crime
  • Regional distinctiveness
  • 24-hour amenities (usually excluding transit)

Like 15-minute neighbourhoods, 18-hour cities are growing in prevalence throughout Canada. Rapidly growing places like Mississauga, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Hamilton are on their way to becoming 18-hour cities.

As we see more 15-minute neighbourhoods and 18-hour cities emerge it becomes clearer than ever that owning a car is no longer as important as it once was; convenience and connectivity is the way of the future.

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