Of all the arguments put forward against 15 minute neighbourhoods, the most cynical, is that they will be bad for low-income people.
The argument goes along these lines: communities with small scale businesses, tree-lined streets, wide sidewalks, bike paths, and a choice of housing types, will create places that are far, far too nice for most of us to dream of living in. If they’re built at all, they should be built in small pockets, here and there, as an experiment. They will be so universally appealing, and in such short supply, that prices will skyrocket. The poor will be driven out, and we’ll lose even more affordable housing.
"But the argument that thoughtfully-built, ecologically balanced, mixed –use, people-centred communities should not be built, lest they price out the poor, has a deeply cruel corollary..."
On the surface these sound like reasonable concerns. The process of “gentrification”, after all, often comes accompanied with “exclusionary zoning”, which deliberately prevents the building of a mix of sizes and variety of units in infill development.
But the argument that thoughtfully-built, ecologically balanced, mixed –use, people-centred communities should not be built, lest they price out the poor, has a deeply cruel corollary: that we need to keep traffic-choked, poorly planned, polluted, noisy, dangerous parts of town, in order to keep land values low, and keep it “affordable” for the poor. This thinking reached its apogee with the building of high-rise towers surrounded by freeways: the marriage of the worst of urban and rural living.
"A rejection of 15 minute communities based on a professed concern of the poor, may mask an underlying belief that poor people simply don’t deserve functioning neighbourhoods."
It bears repeating with every mention of 15 minute communities that they are less about density or aesthetics, as they are about MIX. Mix of ages, mix of incomes, mix of uses. With a mix of activity among a mix of people, in every community, we could make the car redundant for those who don't need it, and reduce the presence of this exhaust-spewing, income-gobbling dragon that destroys tranquility everywhere it appears. Since a mix of incomes is fundamental to the very concept of 15 minute neighbourhoods, a blow of “excluding the poor” should have nowhere to land.
A rejection of 15 minute communities based on a professed concern of the poor, may mask an underlying belief that poor people simply don’t deserve functioning neighbourhoods. That they should be forced to do time in traffic, until they can pay their way into better surroundings.
Requiring all working residents of a city to use a car for the privilege of participating in the economy, is the worst possible move we’ve made toward general affordability. We need to find a way to take the "car as a sole option" out of the equation, and stop claiming that this would “hurt the poor most of all”.
JANET MARK WALLACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa.