Collingwood Official Plan Considers the 15 Minute Neighbourhood

Collingwood is undertaking an update review of the town’s Official Plan. The Official Plan provides direction and vision of what our community and its development will look like in 20 years. The update process provides an essential opportunity for input from the community. A series of consultation meetings were held early March. The ‘What We Heard’ report was released in mid-May based on the consultations so far.

In part one of this series, the Collingwood Climate Action Team looks at the possible future of Collingwood based on the principles of urban design being considered for inclusion in the town’s review of the Official Plan.

In the context of changing climate, a global pandemic, and a transitioning economy, the importance of creating resilient, healthy and prosperous communities feels less like utopian idealism and more like overwhelming necessity. Indeed, calls for a ‘just recovery’ are going viral, and growing louder.

There are many ideas that have been waiting around for their moment, and many have found their way into the discussion to update Collingwood’s Official Plan. This defining policy document will determine sustainable use of finite land and resources as we move to decrease our GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions against the backdrop of a projected population increase of approximately 50% over the next 10 years.

One proposal discussed in early public consultations was the fifteen minute neighbourhood. Also referred to as a mixed-use community, it aims to put all of the essentials of daily living, such as shopping, schools, and parks, within a mere fifteen minute walk or bike ride from your front door.

On the face of it, there is perhaps nowhere else in the world more antithetical to the fifteen minute neighbourhood than modern North America, a vast continental landscape in which the car is synonymous with mobility, and the open road with freedom. We are a culture built around the car.

However, a car is undeniably not the most efficient, sustainable, or healthy way for one person to get to the corner store. What if we traded roads for tree-lined paths, and swapped parking lots with safe and open green spaces?

In a mixed-use neighbourhood, you might grab your backpack, head out the door, walk through the garden courtyard of your 3 story low-rise apartment building, grab your bike (or e-bike) and ride down the path to the active transport corridor on your way to grab a coffee before work. There are no cars on this quiet, tree-lined, two-way parkway, making travel safe, and the air free of pollutants.

By using active transport, we increase cardiovascular health, and enjoy improved mental health outcomes. The potential savings to the health care system are in the billions of dollars, as has been clearly outlined and promoted by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).

That is not the only potential economic benefit. The adoption of mixed-use neighbourhoods is an opportunity for Collingwood to develop the knowledge, skills, technologies, jobs and business opportunities that are transferable to the growing clean economy, and export them to other municipalities – all while contributing meaningfully to GHG emission reductions targets.

According to former Toronto city planner Jennifer Keesmaat, most current development is “zoned exclusively for single-family homes, an outdated approach that makes 15-minute neighbourhoods nearly impossible”.

A quick look at current and recent development in and around Collingwood will confirm that this outmoded approach still defines neighbourhoods in our area. Although this may sound discouraging, it is actually quite easy to change this going forward, given the political and public will to do so.

“Changing this doesn’t require massive public or private investment; the initial barrier is policy and regulation. But the policies that can make this vision possible can be enacted overnight in City Council chambers across the country.”, says Keesmaat.

To have your say on what’s being proposed in the plan, head to the Engage Collingwood portal on the town website, and complete the public input survey.

Written by Nick Clayton
Nick Clayton is a local teacher. He lives in The Blue Mountains with his wife and their 3 children. He is a member of Collingwood Climate Action Team and a passionate environmentalist.
Instagram & Twitter @nicknaclayton