Skip to content

New West students champion the 15-minute city

How Glenbrook Middle School’s Monkey Rebels are leading the way for their own future.

None of them are old enough to drive.

But the enthusiastic students gathered in teacher Angela Jurgensen’s classroom over their lunch hour are plenty old enough to understand why we need to change the way we think about getting around.

This is a meeting of the Monkey Rebels, the social justice club at Glenbrook Middle School. The students are spearheading a charge to have the City of New Westminster endorse the concept of becoming a 15-minute city.

The 15-minute city is an urban planning concept based on the idea that everything residents need — shopping, schools, recreation, health care and other daily necessities — should be accessible within a 15-minute walk or bike ride.

It’s a concept that resonates with all the young people in the room, who see it as a practical way to start addressing climate change.

“I feel bad every time I drive, because I feel like I’m giving more emissions to the planet,” explains Hazel, a 12-year-old Grade 7 student. “I live in a good area, where everything is very close to me, like my events and the stores I shop at, but some places are a lot further away but we need to get to them. And so I just thought it would be good for the community, to build a better community.”

Luisa, a 13-year-old Grade 7 student, says the 15-minute city concept makes sense in New Westminster.

“I don’t really like to drive around. I usually walk to places because I think this city, New West, is a pretty good city to make into a 15-minute city. If people agreed to this idea, then we could do it,” she said.

The students admit the idea of the 15-minute city has met with resistance in some places, but the news headlines to that effect don’t discourage them.

“I don’t think most people are actually opposed to the 15-minute city idea, but rather they’re presented in a rather kind of sensationalist way,” said Zhilin, a 14-year-old Grade 8 student, noting people seem to make it into an all-or-nothing issue. “But in reality, there is a way that we can make both the uber-progressive people and the people more on the conservative side to work together to develop a better city — as long as you can explain the benefits of the changes and how it will benefit everyone.”

For Zhilin, a 15-minute city makes sense for drivers and for non-drivers alike because it would make getting around more convenient for everyone.

Even more than convenience, though, the students recognize the concept of a 15-minute city as an integral part of addressing the biggest issue that’s been dumped on them by the generations preceding them: climate change.

“I want to grow up in a world where you don’t have to worry about heat and cold weather and floods,” explained Yael, a 13-year-old Grade 7 student. “And it’s not fair that everybody else suffer because a few people were making bad decisions and not treating our planet right.”

For 12-year-old Lucia, taking action on climate change means making sure there’s a future for her and her generation.

“I just want to grow up — like, be able to grow up. When I think about it, imagine, I might not be able to live to that age with how bad it could get,” she said.

The Grade 7 student firmly believes it’s up to her to take action and not wait for someone else to do something.

“Like, I know people are saying, ‘Oh, it’s fine, the government will do it. Is everyone else doing it? Why should I do it?’” Lucia said. “But if everyone has that mindset, then no one’s going to do it.”

The students have worked on a motion about the 15-minute-city concept with city councillors Nadine Nakagawa and Tasha Henderson, and they’re looking forward to taking their official presentation to city hall later this month.

“It’s kind of exciting to me, because I’m someone that doesn’t just sit there and say someone else is going to do it,” explained 13-year-old Brianna, a Grade 7 student. “I’m actually working on it with people I like, and it’s kind of like, we’re a team and we’re trying to fix the city we live in.”

A motion from the Monkey Rebels, together with climate educators Karen Crosby and Jennifer Nathan and the Babies for Climate Action group, will be on the agenda for the June 12 New Westminster city council meeting.

The motion calls on the city to take immediate action to establish a 15-minute-city mindset and promote the development of related improvements throughout the city.

Their motion outlines a long list of examples of the kinds of improvements they’d like to see around the city: more and wider sidewalks; more benches and seating areas; more streetlights; improved bike lanes, bike maps and bike racks; more community gardens and greenspaces; upgraded playgrounds; more public washrooms; more public art; advocacy for the expansion of public transit and more.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie,