British Columbia

Vancouver close to achieving '15-minute city' status, SFU study finds

SFU researchers found the '15-minute city,' where all residents can meet their essential needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride, is within reach for Vancouver.

Most of Vancouver's population is within walking distance of a grocery store, researchers say

Shoppers are pictured buying groceries in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, January 19, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A new SFU study says the majority of Vancouverites can walk to their nearest grocery store in 15 minutes or less — a key marker of sustainable community design, according to experts.

Researchers found 79 per cent of Vancouver's population can access a grocery store within a slow, 15-minute walk, while the percentage increases for faster-moving travellers.

Almost all residents — 99 per cent — are within a 15-minute bike ride of a grocery store. 

The idea of the 15-minute city — where everyone can meet their essential needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride — has been used by urban planners around the world since around 2016, according to one of the study's authors. 

"Not everybody has access to a car or has the ability to drive, so it's really important that people can meet their daily needs by walking," said Meghan Winters.

Vancouver's Climate Emergency Action Plan aims to have 90 per cent of residents "within an easy walk or roll of their daily needs" by 2030. 

"We're seeing these targets being set. . . we need to look at where we are now if we want to achieve those goals," said Winters. 

Areas in the city with lower access to grocery stores had higher proportions of children, older adults, visible minorities and lower rates of employment and post-secondary education. The researchers recommend city planners prioritize investments that ensure more equitable access to amenities.

"Those areas that might be seen as having more equity-deserving groups don't actually have good access to grocery stores," said Winters.

Winters also noted the study was limited to the City of Vancouver, the most dense and amenity-rich municipality in Metro Vancouver. 

"If we look across the region. . . there are far fewer areas that would be considered 15-minute cities," she said/

'The power of nearness'

Former Vancouver Chief Planner Brent Toderian said the '15-minute city' is a relatively new term in urban planning, even though concept has been around for decades. 

Toderian used to call it "the power of nearness."

"If you can get everything you need or want within 15 minutes of where you live, by foot or by bike, that means you're not car dependent," Toderian said. 

Brent Toderian is pictured in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Overall, commute times in cities have increased in recent years, according to Toderian.

Amenities like schools, grocery stores, child care, health care and shopping centres are often grouped together in large areas people need to travel farther to access. 

"That hasn't been a good thing. It's eroded our quality of life." 

Toderian said the creation of complete communities, where key services and resources are within walking distance for residents, addresses several public goals. 

He said such communities mitigate climate change, increase affordability, reduce infrastructure costs, promote better public health and champion equity. 

"You shouldn't have to travel many communities away to get what you need," he said.


Michelle Gomez is a writer and reporter at CBC Vancouver. You can contact her at