The following is an article written by Mike Schreiner that appeared in Guelph Today.
On April 4, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with its most recent climate report. And once again, its message was abundantly clear: Unless huge cuts are made to climate pollution soon, we’re walking straight into a climate catastrophe with unprecedented consequences.
At the same time, housing prices in Guelph and other regions across Ontario continue to soar. According to Ontario’s housing affordability task force, house prices in Ontario have “almost tripled in the past 10 years, growing much faster than incomes.”
While these two crises may seem completely unrelated, they have more in common than you might think. Specifically, they can both be addressed by something called a15-minute city.
What is a 15-minute city?
A 15-minute city, or community, is one where all of life’s core necessities — things like grocery stores, pharmacies, schools, offices, parks and libraries — are just (you guessed it!) a 15-minute walk, bike or transit ride away.
Prior to World War II, this type of city was the norm—and downtown Guelph is a prime example of one. If you live in the core, which was designed before the automobile, you can easily pick up food at the Farmer’s market, purchase a birthday gift for your sister and meet your friends for brunch—all within a 15-minute radius.
Over time, that city model changed—first, with the introduction of zoning laws that made it illegal to build anything but single-family detached homes in residential neighbourhoods. This simple act created communities that were less dense and, therefore, less walkable—and ultimately led to more expensive sprawl, more highways and more cars.
Today, this type of expensive vehicle-centric thinking continues. The Ford government continues to push through projects like Highway 413—which is expected to add 17.4 million tonnes of emissions by 2050, while paving over 1500 football fields worth of prime farmland. And over the years, the PCs, Liberals and NDP have all embraced developments that put speculators’ and developers’ needs above the needs of people—ultimately encouraging urban sprawl at the expense of 75% of our wetlands and 175 acres of lost farmland everyday.
These types of priorities, projects and zoning laws are the reason why transportation is now easily the biggest source of climate pollution in Ontario. They’re contributing to sprawl, forcing us to commute farther distances—and making our lives less affordable.
Taking steps to return to 15-minute cities in Ontario will not only improve our quality of life but will also allow us to build more connected communities, support local small businesses, boost our physical and mental health and make housing more affordable.
More gentle density, more affordability
Late last year, Guelph reluctantly became part of the million-dollar club when the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) announced the average home price surpassed $1 million. That’s ten times the average Guelphite’s annual salary, according to Statistics Canada. Rent, meanwhile, now sits at a median price of $1750 for a one-bedroom—well out of reach for someone on minimum wage (who, at 40 hours a week, would only bring in approximately $2400 a month).
In our city—like many others—demand is quickly outpacing supply which, in turn, is driving up prices. But, if the last few decades have taught us anything, it’s that building out—and creating more expensive sprawl—isn’t the affordable answer we need.
The answer isn’t to destroy thousands of acres of farmland or pave over precious wetlands. There are new solutions to these old problems. It’s time to make better use of the space that already exists in our communities—where jobs, businesses, and recreational opportunities already exist.
One way to do this is to update our zoning laws to allow for the introduction of the “missing middle”—things like duplexes, tiny homes, secondary suites and laneway housing. This could be complemented with new incentives designed to introduce more mixed-use buildings, medium density housing types and rental units.
Smarter zoning works. Let’s encourage developers to include at least one new unit of affordable housing for every new house or condo—including purpose-built rentals. We can increase the supply of housing and give the people of Guelph better and more affordable housing options.
These moves alone would increase affordable housing choices for people while preserving the look and feel of our existing neighbourhoods.
There is a path forward
Despite what other parties might say, housing in Ontario doesn’t have to be a choice between sprawl or tall; between never-ending subdivisions or skyscraping condos. We can build the missing middle as well—and create communities where we can all afford to live, work, play and shop locally.
Over the coming decades, Ontario is expecting to welcome millions of new residents. Transforming our cities in a smart, green way will allow us to accommodate this population growth while enhancing the health of our people and the planet.
We have a plan to stop sprawl and connect us with the people and neighbourhoods we love. A plan to build the Guelph you want with the leadership that we need. To learn more about it, visit mikeforguelph.ca.