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The ‘15-minute city’ is within reach for Vancouver, but is Burnaby lagging behind?

Amenities like healthcare, grocery stores and parks are available to most Vancouverites within a 15-minute walk or cycle - but that's not the case for Burnaby.
Burnaby is seeking to create complete communities with daily needs like food and healthcare available within a 15-minute walk or bike ride.

A new study by SFU researchers shows Vancouver has “15-minute city” living within its grasp – but Burnaby might not be there yet.

The idea behind a 15-minute city is that people can access all their daily needs, including schools, hospitals and parks, within a short walk or bike ride.

“A 15-minute city is important for making a more inclusive city, so that everyone can access their destinations – not just those who have a car or easy access to transit,” Katie Hosford, a PhD student in health sciences at SFU, said.

Hosford, who led the new study, noted that there’s also benefits to health and the environment, through increasing physical activity by walking and cycling and reducing emissions from driving.

Her research found that about 80% of Vancouverites had access to grocery stores within a 15-minute walk, and almost all had the same access within a 15-minute cycle.

That said, Vancouver is one of the most amenity-dense cities in Canada, meaning that it has a variety of services like childcare, pharmacies, school and healthcare within certain close distances.

Burnaby, with its history as a car-centric suburb, is playing catch up.

Only 25% of Burnaby could be considered a 15-minute city neighbourhood with access to all of the following: community centres, grocery stores, healthcare facilities, education, public transit and greenspace, according to research by UBC master’s student Mu (Avril) Li.

By contrast, 41% of Vancouver has access to those amenities within 15 minutes of walking at an average speed. With the exception of New Westminster, North Vancouver and Indigenous reserves, all other municipalities in Metro Vancouver have below 15% of their region accessible to all those services.

Creating a 15-minute city isn’t as simple as just adding more grocery stores – city zoning requires certain areas be planned for certain uses.

Hosford said municipalities can work towards a 15-minute city by planning for mixed-use density.

In the short-term, she said prioritizing “all ages and abilities” cycling infrastructure can allow people to travel farther distances faster.

She mentioned programs like grocery delivery programs for seniors are also useful (an average walker can often travel further in 15 minutes than older travellers).

Burnaby’s new transportation plan uses models like the 15-minute city to plan for future land use. About 94% of residents live within 15 minutes of a commercial shopping centre, according to the city’s report.