A 15-minute Nanaimo?

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Robert Turner, Alisha Feser. Vancouver Island University. Future Plans Journal (forthcoming).

ABSTRACT: We examine the City of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada to find (overlapping amenity isochrone) zones where residents can live and have 15-minute walking access to “essential” (grocery, pharmacy) and “basic quality of life” amenities (recreational space, library, museum/gallery/theater/cinema, restaurant/pub, and cafe/coffee), but also daycares, public schools, foodbanks, and walk-in clinics. Depending on one’s needs, there are different 15-minute walking zones within the City. As one’s needs increase, fewer and smaller residential zones continue to qualify as 15-minute walkable. Of all the city’s neighbourhoods, downtown and downtown-adjacent Nanaimo offer the most extensive 15-minute walkability for residents, even residents with the most extensive needs. Initial investigation suggests that, overall, the city’s 15-minute walkable zones offer affordable shelter to most of the top three income quintiles, but are on average unaffordable for those in the two lower income quintiles. Amenity overlap is greatest in residentially dense areas, and residential density provides more residents with walkability to existing amenities (and amenity owners with a proximate consumer base). As a result, A) zoning to permit density-increasing developments around amenity concentrations and, conversely, amenity development in areas of greater residential density or B) combined amenity-residential density zoning in areas lacking both (as well as pedestrian-friendly infrastructural improvements) would improve 15-minute walkability in the City of Nanaimo.

The 15-minute City

Figure 1. La ville du quart d’heure en images. Credit: Micaël. https://www.paris.fr/pages/la-ville-du-quart-d-heure-en-images-15849

Urban sprawl makes the 15-minute city difficult to achieve. Low density development increases infrastructure costs, and residents spend more time and money (driving, in traffic, buying gas, parking) getting to and from the places they need to go, leaving less time and money for enjoyment and investment.

Nanaimo, with its relatively low density (1104/km2, vs. Vancouver’s 5750/km2), is a sprawling, car-dependent city; Walk Score — a measure of pedestrian friendliness and walking access to nearby amenities — evaluates Nanaimo’s Walk Score as 35 (out of 100), Transit Score 34, and Bike Score 36. For comparison, Vancouver has a Walk Score of 80, Transit Score of 74, Bike Score of 79. In general, to eat, work, study, and play, City of Nanaimo residents use cars. Average household spending on transportation in 2021 was $9,052, roughly 10% of average household income.

Figure 2. Adapted from 2022 State of the Nanaimo Economy, 48.

Does Nanaimo have 15-minute walk zones?

In an attempt to be inclusive, we measured our 15-minute access in walking time only, rather than cycling and public transit as well. Though we realize not everyone can walk, walking — of all the modes of transport — comes closest to being universally accessible and affordable. We also took a minimal approach to the 15-minute (15:) city, including the following amenities: essential amenities — grocery/supermarket, pharmacy; “basic quality of life” amenities (as defined by the Canadian Government) — recreational space, library, museum/gallery/theater/cinema, restaurant/pub, and cafe/coffee; and daycare and school if necessary.

Overlapping amenity isochrones

Map 1. 15-minute walk zone (isochrone) from downtown Library (bright blue dot). Map 2. 15-minute walk zone from downtown Grocery (bright orange dot). Map 3. 15-minute Library (blue) and Grocery (orange) walk zones, overlapping.
Map 4. Overlap 15-minute zone (green): if you live in this area, you have 15-minute walking access to both a Library (blue dot) and a Grocery (orange dot).

Amenity zones

Map 5. Recreation / Park 15: zones.

Most places also enjoy 15-minute walking access to a restaurant, or pub, or fast food (orange zone), and a cafe / coffee.

Map 6. Restaurant / Pub / Fast Food 15: zones. Map 7. Cafe / Coffee 15: zones.

But not all amenities are in equal supply. In order of decreasing availability: zones where you can live with 15-minute access to pharmacies, groceries / supermarkets, museums / galleries / theaters / cinemas, and libraries:

Map 8. Grocery / Supermarket 15: zones. Map 9. Museum / Gallery / Theater / Cinema 15: zones. Map 10. Library 15: zones.
Map 11. Pharmacy 15: zones.

Daycare and schools

Map 12. Daycare 15: zones.

Public elementary school (K-7) 15-minute walking access is relatively wide. 15-minute access to public high schools is much smaller.

Map 13. Public elementary (K-7) 15: zones. Map 14. Public high school 15: zones.

Support amenities

Map 15. Walk-in Clinic 15: zones. Map 16. Foodbank 15: zones.

There are two food banks next to downtown Nanaimo.

If we map these walk-in clinics and foodbanks side by side (union), we can see where the light-red (Walk-in Clinic) zone overlaps with the pink (Foodbank) zone.

Map 17. Overlapping 15: isochrones of Walk-in Clinics (light orange) and Foodbanks (pink). Map 18. The intersection (overlap) area — where one can live and have 15-minute access to both a Foodbank and Walk-in Clinic — is shown here (pink-purple).

Google maps scrape data indicate five homeless shelter locations in or adjacent to downtown Nanaimo.

Map 19. Homeless shelter locations.

Supportive housing locations are concentrated in central and downtown Nanaimo, Harewood, and an area around Uplands Drive at Island Highway.

Map 20. Supportive housing locations.

Different needs, different 15-minute zones

“Essential” and “basic quality of life” amenities

Map 21. 15-minute walking zones for “essential” and “basic quality of life” amenities: grocery, pharmacy, park / recreation area, restaurant / pub / fast food, library, museum / gallery / theater, restaurant / pub / fast food, and cafe / coffee. The roughly three areas where people with no kids in daycare or school, and no need of a walk-in clinic or foodbank, can live and enjoy 15: walking access to all essential and basic quality of life amenities.

Whether these areas give you 15-minute walkability to everything you need depends on your childcare, schooling, support, and housing needs. People with no kids in daycare or school and no need for support (housing support, foodbank, walk-in clinic) enjoy 15-minute walkability to everything they need in these four Essential and Basic Quality of Life amenities zones (gold) — one centered around Aulds Road and N. Island Highway, a smaller zone just south of Country Club Mall, another in Harewood at VIU, and a large downtown and adjacent zone.

Map 22. 15: essential-basic quality zone around Aulds Road and N. Island Highway. Map 23. 15: essential-basic quality zone south of Country Club Mall. Map 24. 15: essential-basic quality zones in Harewood at VIU and downtown (larger).

As one’s needs increase, the 15-minute areas that meet those needs decrease, and become a smaller subzone within these golden (Essential & Basic Quality) areas. For example, people with kids generally need daycare and schools in their 15: zone. Likewise, people with low or no income may need access to a homeless shelter, food bank, and walk-in clinic.

We defined 3 broad groups, each with 3 subgroups, based on their group of needs, and mapped their 15: zones accordingly. (Obviously, these groups don’t capture everyone. They are meant as general proxies for a complex population, and a basis for opening a discussion on accessibility.)

Figure 3. ←Our population groups: 1. Require no housing, food, or walk-in clinic support. 1a. No kids in daycare/school. 1b. Kids in daycare/public K-7. 1c. Kids in public high school. 2. Need walk-in clinic and food bank. 2a. No kids in daycare/school. 2b. Kids in daycare/K7. 2c. Kids in public high school. 3. Need homeless shelter or supportive housing, plus walk-in clinic and food bank. 3a. No kids in daycare/school. 3b. Kids in daycare/public K-7. 3c. Kids in public high school.

No kids in school

Group 1a. Our first group enjoys the largest 15-minute area — in the four zones mapped above.

Essential-basic, no kids.

Daycare & public K-7

Group 1b. For people who need 15-minute walking access to daycare and elementary school, there are two adjacent 15: zones, one covering an area roughly adjacent to downtown, and Harewood next to VIU. A tiny zone exists next to Beban Park.

Map 25. 15: zone for people who need daycare and public K-7, at Beban Park. Map 26. Downtown adjacent and Harewood @VIU daycare and public K-7 15: zone.

Public high school

Group 1c. There are three essential and basic quality of life amenity zones where you can walk in 15 minutes or less to a public high school. From north to south, they are a very small polygon at Hammond Bay Rd. and Uplands Dr., a slightly larger diamond-shaped area at Bowen Rd and Island Highway, and a much larger bilobal area at Harewood @ VIU and Pine St. at Fitzwilliam / Third St..

Map 27. Three 15: zones for people with kids in public high school.
Map 28. The very small polygon at Hammond Bay Rd. and Uplands Dr. for 15: public high school walking access. Map 29. A slightly larger diamond-shaped 15: public high school area at Bowen Rd. and Island Highway.Map 30. A much larger bilobal 15: public high school area at Harewood @ VIU and Pine St. at Fitzwilliam / Third St..

Foodbank, walk-in clinic

Group 2a. An area including downtown and adjacent gives you 15-minute walking access to a foodbank and a walk-in clinic (in addition to essential and basic quality of life amenities).

Map 31. Foodbank and walk-in clinic 15: zone.

Foodbank, walk-in clinic, daycare & public K-7

Group 2b. Two smaller zones next to downtown support 15-minute walking access to daycare and public elementary (K-7), in addition to a foodbank and a walk-in clinic.

Map 32. 15: zone for daycare and public K-7 (in addition to a foodbank and walk-in clinic).

Foodbank, walk-in clinic, public high school

Group 2c. A tiny sliver of residential houses support 15-minute walking access to a foodbank, walk-in clinic, and a public high school.

Map 33. 15: zone for public high school (in addition to a foodbank and walk-in clinic).

Shelter or supportive housing, foodbank, walk-in clinic

Group 3a. There are six supportive housing or homeless shelter locations within 15 minutes walk to a food bank and walk-in clinic (and Essential and Basic Quality of Life amenities).

Map 34. Homeless shelters (red diamonds) or supportive housing (red squares) within the 15-minute walk zones of a foodbank and walk-in clinic (blue).

Shelter or supportive housing… daycare & public K-7

Group 3b. Of these, four supportive housing locations (red diamonds) are also within a 15-minute walk to daycare and elementary school (pink zone), though the two downtown homeless shelters are one minute or less outside this (pink) zone.

Map 35. Four supportive housing locations (crimson squares) within 15 minutes of essential and basic quality of life amenities also have 15: access to daycare, plus a foodbank and walk-in clinic. Two homeless shelters (red diamonds) reside roughly 1–2 minutes outside the daycare 15: zone.

Shelter or supportive housing… public high school

Group 3c. None of these supportive housing or homeless shelter locations are within 15 minutes walk of a public high school (with essential and basic quality of life amenities 15: access), but they are all within 30 minutes walk.

Map 36. No supportive housing (crimson squares) or homeless shelters (red diamonds) with essential-basic amenities, a foodbank and walk-in clinic also have 15-minute access to a high school (orange zone).

“Pedestrian friendliness” — Walk Score™

The downtown Nanaimo and adjacent area — from Dawes Street to the north, to Pine Street to the west, and Farquhar Street to the south — is a basic 15: city.

Map 37. Downtown and adjacent essential-basic 15: zones with a Walk Score of 80 (“very walkable”). Map 38. Adjacent-to-downtown daycare and public K-7 15: zones with a Walk Score of 80 (“very walkable”). Map 39. Downtown and adjacent foodbank and walk-in clinic 15: zones with a Walk Score of 80 (“very walkable”).
Map 40. Adjacent-to-downtown foodbank and a walk-in clinic, with 15-minute access to daycare and public elementary (K-7), with a Walk Score of 80 (“very walkable”). Map 41. Four supportive housing locations with 15-minute access to daycare and public K-7, with a Walk Score of 80 (“very walkable”).

Of the other zones that qualify as 15-minute walkable, the next best Walk Score of 73 goes to the much smaller zone at Hammond Bay Rd and Island Highway, unsupported with no kids in school (gold), and a tiny sub-area (bright green) if you have kids in public high school.

Map 42. 15: essential-basic quality zone around Aulds Road and N. Island Highway has a Walk Score of 73. Map 43. 15: essential-basic, high school zone with a Walk Score of 73.

Harewood at VIU, which qualifies as 15-minute walkable for people who do not need a foodbank / walk-in clinic, homeless shelter, or supportive housing, has a “somewhat walkable” Walk Score of 50.

Map 44. Essential-basic 15: zone at Harewood-VIU has a Walk Score of 50, or “somewhat walkable.” Map 45. Daycare + public K-7 (essential-basic) 15: zone at Harewood-VIU has a Walk Score of 50, or “somewhat walkable.” Map 46. High school (essential-basic) 15: zone at Harewood-VIU has Walk Score of 50, or “somewhat walkable.”

The other 15-minute walkable zone for people not needing support and with no school-age kids is a small area at Beban and Labieux has a Walk Score of 59 (“somewhat walkable”).

Map 47. The essential-basic 15: zone at Beban Park and Labieux has a Walk Score of 59, or “somewhat walkable.” Map 48. The high school (essential-basic) 15: zone at Beban Park and Labieux has a Walk Score of 59, or “somewhat walkable.”

Affordability — housing spending vs. household income

Nanaimo’s average household income in 2021 was $93,487, while median household income was $74,402 (Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) data, City of Nanaimo 55). Average household spending on shelter in 2021 was $20,046 ($1670/month). If your household spending on shelter and household income are close to the average, you spend 21% of your income on shelter. If your household income is close to the median, then you spend 27% of your income on shelter. Both are under the 30% cutoff affordability point. But as incomes drop further down below the median household income, unless shelter costs also drop by the same percentage, shelter becomes more and more unaffordable.

We superimposed our 15-minute walk zones on ESRI’s 2021 Median Household Income map as a rough proxy for who can afford to live in these zones.

Map 49. ESRI 2021 Canada Median Household Income map. Source: ESRI, using data from Environics Analytics. Legend 1. 2021 Canada Median Household Income map Legend.

Nanaimo’s 15-minute zones map almost entirely onto places where median household incomes are $19,000–65,900. The remainder (around 20% or less) overlaps with the $65,900–112,800 median household income zone (white).

Extrapolating roughly from 2021 income distribution data (2022 State of the Nanaimo Economy, 56), approximately 45% of the city population’s income is represented by the 19–65.9k (light purple) zone. This still represents a broad range of median household incomes.

Group 1. “essential” & “basic quality of life”, no support

Map 50. Group 1a. No kids in daycare / public school (orange) 15: zone. Roughly 75% in $19,000–65,900 (light purple) and 25% in $65,900–112,800 (white) median household income areas. Map 51. Group 1b. Daycare / public K-7 15: zone. Roughly 60% in $19,000–65,900 (light purple) and 40% in $65,900–112,800 (white) median household income areas. Map 52. Group 1c. Public high school (brighter, lime green with black border) 15: zone. Roughly 55% in $19,000–65,900 (light purple) and 45% in $65,900–112,800 (white) median household income areas. See also below.
Map 53. Group 1c-north (public high school) 15: zone, all in the $65,900–112,800 (white) median household income area. 54. Group 1c-Beban (public high school) 15: zone, all in $19,000–65,900 median household income area. Map 55. Group 1c-Harewood-VIU (public high school) 15: zone, roughly 50% in each of the $19,000–65,900 and $65,900–112,800 median household areas.

Group 2. foodbank & walk-in clinic

Map 56. Group 2a. No kids in daycare / public school 15: zone, roughly 90% in $19,000–65,900 (light purple) and 10% in $65,900–112,800 (white) median household income areas. Map 57. Group 2b. Daycare / public K-7 15: zone, roughly 95% in $19,000–65,900 (light purple) and 5% in $65,900–112,800 (white) median household income areas. Map 58. Group 2c. Public high school 15: zone, roughly 40% in $19,000–65,900 (light purple) and 60% in $65,900–112,800 (white) median household income areas.

Group 3. shelter or supportive housing

Map 59. Group 3a. 15-minute supportive housing (red squares) and homeless shelters (red diamonds), if no kids in daycare / public school, all in the $19,000–65,900 median household income area. Map 60. Group 3b. 15-minute supportive housing locations (crimson squares) also within 15 minutes of daycare / public K-7, all in the $19,000–65,900 median household income area. Map 61. Group 3c. No supportive housing or homeless shelters have 15-minute access to a public high school, all in the $19,000–65,900 median household income area.

Based on the overlap of our nine 15-minute walk zones with 2021 median household income zones, we can arrive at a very rough understanding of incomes in the different zones generally:

Figure 4. 15-minute zones by median household income 2021.

Nanaimo’s 2021 average household spending on shelter ($20,046) qualifies as “affordable” (30% of household income) when household income is $65,900 or above. The further down incomes drop below $65,900 (the upper limit of the light purple map zone), the more unaffordable (>30% of household income) shelter becomes.

Based on 2019 BC data, as average household income decreases, average shelter spending increases as a percentage of household income, with shelter becoming unaffordable (>30%) at some income level between the second and third income quintiles. (This inverse shelter affordability vs. income pattern holds across previous years’ data.)

Figure 5. It’s important to note that the median ranges (mapped above) are not the same as the income quintiles. The two are presented side by side to provide an overall picture, rather than a direct comparison. Sources: BC Average pre-tax household income quintiles, 2019. https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/professionals/housing-markets-data-and-research/housing-data/data-tables/household-characteristics/real-average-before-tax-household-income-quintiles. BC Survey of Household Spending, Average Household Spending on Shelter. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/data/statistics/economy/economic-other/survey_household_spending_by_income.xlsx. Legend 2.
Figure 6. As average household incomes decrease, the % of that income spent on shelter increases.

On average, shelter is less affordable and generally unaffordable for those in the lower income quintiles. Nanaimo’s downtown and adjacent median household incomes roughly correspond to quintiles 1 and 2 above. It is more likely that these groups find housing more unaffordable at least than in the Aulds Rd. and Island Highway adjacent 15: zone.

Conclusions

The largest area of 15-minute walkability is downtown Nanaimo and adjacent. Though there are different 15-minute zones for different need / demographic groups, and access depends on affordability and availability of housing, downtown offers essential and basic amenities to more of our groups than anywhere else in the City of Nanaimo.

Map 62. Essential and basic quality of life amenities by location, compared to our three general 15: zones (gold).
Map 63. Essential and basic quality of life amenities, and essential-basic 15: zone, north (gold). Map 64. Essential and basic quality of life amenities, and essential-basic 15: zone, Beban (gold). Map 65. Essential and basic quality of life amenities, and essential-basic 15: zone, downtown and Harewood @VIU (gold).

Generally, as one’s needs increase, the smaller one’s 15: zone becomes. Downtown and adjacent 15: zones are no exception. Still, whether one needs a homeless shelter, supportive housing, a foodbank, walk-in clinic, has kids in daycare, public K-7 or high school, it’s more likely you’ll have 15-minute walking access to your needed group of amenities if you are downtown or adjacent to downtown. But as one’s needs increase, the other three 15: zones disappear entirely — one roughly centered around or adjacent to Aulds Rd. and N. Island Highway, an area at Bowen Rd. and Island Highway, and a more significant bilobal area at Harewood @ VIU and Pine St. at Fitzwilliam / Third St.. Unsurprisingly, these three other zones overlap more with the $65,900–112,800 median household income area than the downtown and adjacent 15: zone. Only downtown still contains 15: zones or locations (supportive housing and homeless shelters) for the most severe need groups.

This is not to say that the supply of housing is sufficient or affordable enough to meet the demand of all members of any of our demographic groups. The point of this analysis is to identify where groups of amenities exist for different demographic groups, identified by their groups of needs.

Downtown — amenity concentration and population density

Map 66. Essential-basic 15: zone outlines (red for contrast visibility) overlaid on population density map (2021). Legend 3.
Map 67. Essential-basic 15: zone outlines overlaid on population density map (2021), north. Map 68. Essential-basic 15: zone outlines overlaid on population density map (2021), at Beban. Map 69. Essential-basic 15: zone outlines overlaid on population density map (2021), downtown and adjacent, and Harewood at VIU.

Suggestions

If cities want to improve 15: walkability, amenity zoning should locate amenities close to population density. Conversely, in places of amenity concentration, zoning should permit residential densification.

On the other hand, zoning especially for essential and basic quality of life amenities and residential densification centered in areas without either would improve 15: walkability throughout the city and reduce the need to travel more than a minute walk to areas of existing amenity concentration. In other words, zoning that promotes mixed use as opposed to either homogeneous residential or homogeneous amenity concentration makes cities more 15: walkable.

Finally, cities can plan infrastructure to support “pedestrian friendliness” — e.g., increase and improve sidewalks, slow vehicular traffic, and make blocks shorter.

Figure 7. La ville du quart d’heure en images. Credit: Micaël.

Limitations

Sources

https://console.apify.com/actors/nwua9Gu5YrADL7ZDj

Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) 2021 Canada Median Household Income map, and generated 15: zone maps. Retrieved and generated Aug-Oct 2022. https://www.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id=7fe9d81b0bc64010b712a42b50d1e7d0

Government of Canada. (2022, Apr 20). Opportunity for All — Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy.

https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/poverty-reduction/reports/strategy.html

Manhas, A. City of Nanaimo. 2022 State of the Nanaimo Economy. Retrieved June 1, 2022. https://www.nanaimo.ca/docs/doing-business/economic-development/2022-state-of-the-nanaimo-economy.pdf

Moreno, C. et al. (2021, Jan 8). Introducing the “15-Minute City”: Sustainability, Resilience and Place Identity in Future Post-Pandemic Cities. Smart Cities. https://doi.org/10.3390/smartcities4010006

Province of British Columbia (2018, Feb 19). Defining affordable housing. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/housing-tenancy/affordable-and-social-housing/afffordable-housing/defining-affordable-housing

Quantum Geographic Information System (QGIS) maps. Generated May-Oct 2022. http://www.qgis.org

Regional District of Nanaimo. Housing Definitions. “Affordable Housing.” Retrieved May 1, 2022. https://www.rdn.bc.ca/housing-definitions

WalkScore. Living in Nanaimo. Retrieved May 1, 2022. https://www.walkscore.com/CA-BC/Nanaimo

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