The 15-Minute City Offers Freedom, Not Restriction

There are obvious reasons we don’t take everything on social media at face value. Otherwise, we’d believe COVID-19 was created in a lab, Democrats were involved in human trafficking, the Sandy Hook shooting was staged, vaccines are bad, etc. We can go on forever.

Now the conspiracy theorists are trying to hijack a subject area near and dear to my heart, city planning. By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the false claims (not backed by any credible references) that the 15-minute city concept is a government conspiracy to trap people within a confined area.

For your reference, I’ve shared one of the videos (below) which has gone viral on Tiktok. It makes unverified claims that the 15-minute concept for Mississauga’s Cooksville neighbourhood will confine residents within their area and limit their travels outside to 100 trips per year and be charged $56 each time exceeded. My initial thoughts were as follows: First off, why does this woman look like she’s 12 years old? Does she have any professional experience or education in planning? What are her sources? For all I know, she’s just yet another person with nothing better to do but post made-up theories on the internet. As well, I follow Mississauga Council very closely yet never heard a thing that validates anything she says.

The consensus among those who actually study the built environment is that the 15-minute city rather offers numerous benefits, especially to those without a driver’s licence or a car. As someone who lives in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, a 15-minute neighbourhood itself, I appreciate having the world at my doorsteps with the luxury of car-free mobility, as opposed to being isolated in car-dependent places in the outskirts. Over the past half-decade, there’s been a paradigm shift in how we envision our built environment, from auto-oriented places for fast cars with no regard for public safety, social equity or climate change towards smaller-scale concepts like the walkable, 15-minute city, largely due to years of advocacy from Jane Jacobs, John Sewell and other urban critics. It took us a long time for us to get here. Let’s not undo it.

Ontario’s New Housing Legislation and Municipal Planning

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing passed the More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022, as a measure to increase the supply of affordable housing quickly by removing red tape, streamlining the development approval process and reducing development costs.

Picture of laneway with recently constructed home.
Laneways provide a great opportunity to add gentle density to some of Toronto’s mature neihourhoods.

Anyone who’s been following local politics during the recent municipal elections is probably annoyed and sick of hearing promises about getting affordable housing built. Although the cost of housing in major cities like Toronto has been skyrocketing for decades, the topic is yet again the “flavour of the week”. What’s even more annoying is how everybody has tried to leverage the issue to advance their own agenda. Just about every political candidate had made it a central focus of their campaign. Developers have tried to pressure municipalities for approvals claiming that increasing supply in the housing market would make it more affordable. Even the Premier himself has used it as rationale to push the strong mayor system onto municipalities.

Having briefly reviewed the legislation, it does have some promising potential to address some longstanding planning needs, such as the missing middle, by permitting gentle density on single-home properties without a zoning amendment, which can really help spark a long overdue wave of laneway development and utilization of excess open space in post-war bungalow suburbs in the form of granny flats and garden suites without NIMBYs getting in the way.

An area of concern, however, is the exemption of parkland dedication and community benefit and development charges for inclusionary zoning units, which takes away funding for new infrastructure and public amenities necessary to support the influx of residents that come with new development, especially higher density development, Schools, community centres and parks are needed regardless of the cost of housing, so I expect it could be an issue to come to light down the road.

Further, many critics are not convinced that simply increasing the supply of housing would improve affordability. There has been plenty of residential development over the past twenty years, yet rents and home prices have increased significantly.

Although not all is ideal, it shows that the Province realizes the urgency of the crisis and is trying to steer in the right direction, even if it means taking the wheel from municipalities.