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15-minute city: Here’s what New Westminster is planning to do

Students inspire New West’s plans to incorporate 15-minute city concept into overall planning processes
Students from Ecole Glenbrook Middle School’s Monkey Rebels club presented a 15-minute city motion at city hall on June 12 and won council’s support. Photo contributed

New Westminster is going to incorporate 15-minute city work into its overall planning and infrastructure efforts.

In June, students belonging to the award-winning Monkey Rebel Activism Club at École Glenbrook Middle School appeared before council and urged New Westminster to become a 15-minute city. The students called on the city to take action on a number of initiatives, including building more and wider sidewalks, creating more seating areas and benches, and providing more amenities such as trash cans, bike racks, water fountains and public washrooms.

At the June meeting, council voted 5-2 in support of a motion from councillors Nadine Nakagawa and Tasha Henderson, which endorsed the concept of becoming a 15-minute city and supported the creation of a plan to implement the plan by 2030.

In an update to council on Oct. 30, a staff report said the 15-minute city concept is based on the principle that all basic needs should be available within a maximum 15-minute walk or ‘roll’.

“Given its scale and historic development pattern, much of New Westminster already possesses many characteristics of a 15-minute city,” said the report. “Many of the city’s existing plans and policies are also well aligned with the concept, and upcoming planning processes offer the opportunity to further incorporate these principles into the city’s long-term plans.”

The city’s official community plan, the parks and recreation comprehensive plan update and the master transportation plan are examples of places where staff say the 15-minute city concept could be considered. 

On Monday, council unanimously approved a staff recommendation confirming that staff should continue to incorporate 15-minute city principles into existing and upcoming planning and infrastructure work rather than creating a standalone plan for becoming a 15-minute city.

The report noted that if council wants staff to develop a standalone 15-minute city plan, further discussion and direction would be needed about staff resourcing and work plan priorities.

Nakagawa said it has been recognized that a lot of the city’s work is aligned with the principle of a 15-minute city.

“And so, I think having it wrapped up in existing plans make really good sense,” she said.

Nakagawa said she hopes there are further opportunities for the city to engage with the Money Rebels and get their input on what they’d like to see in their community.

“This is a group of young people who are very thoughtful and engaged, and aware of the issues in the community,” she said. “I hope there are chances for us to continue to engage with these student activists as we move forward, because I think that their coming to council is such a bright spot …We so rarely hear youth voices at the city.”

Coun. Ruby Campbell said the youths made a “powerful presentation” to council and she hopes they’ll continue to make their views known to council.

“The work that we are doing is for the future, for the youth,” she said.

Political debate

Coun. Daniel Fontaine said some council members have expressed concern in the past about items motions being brought forward related to work they say is already being done by staff. He said this is an example of that concern, as he believes the New Westminster is already doing work on items connected to being a 15-minute city.

“I will definitely keep this report very handy, because this report kind of shows that we did spend time on a debate on a 15- minute city, and then staff obviously had to take time and have to go to the CAO's office, etc. to come here. And now we're debating it to confirm that basically, we're already doing this,” he said. “So I just make note of that, and it's very much of interest.”

Mayor Patrick Johnstone encouraged people to read the staff report, as he didn’t read it that way at all. He said the report did indicate there are many things being done by the city that are consistent with a 15-minute city model.

“The suggested direction here from staff is to incorporate the 15-minute city principles into existing work, and upcoming planning processes, as opposed to developing a standalone 15-minute plan. That's not to say that we're doing it already,” he said. “It says that we are going to incorporate the 15-minute city principles into our existing work plans and into upcoming planning processes. That is different than saying we're already doing this. So that's how I read it.”

When council considered the original 15-minute city motion in June, councillors Fontaine and Paul Minhas, the two New West Progressive councillors, opposed the plan.

At the same meeting, council voted 4-3 against Fontaine’s amendment to have council request a report back from staff regarding the financial, policy, social, environmental and other identified impacts on city budgets and operations prior to endorsing the concept of becoming a 15-minute city.