THE idea of a 15-minute city – one where everyone’s essential needs can be met within walking distance – is within reach for Vancouver, but more needs to be done to provide access in neighbourhoods with higher proportions of children, older adults, and racialized populations.
According to a new study published by Simon Fraser University researchers, 79 per cent of residents in the City of Vancouver have access to a grocery store within a 15-minute walk and 99 per cent had at least on grocery store within a 15-minute cycle.
However, there were inequities in access across populations and neighbourhoods that disproportionately affect children, older adults, racialized populations, and those with lower employment and education rates.
“These are often the populations that have lower access to a car and would benefit most from having access to grocery stores by walking and cycling,” says Kate Hosford, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Health Sciences and lead author of the study.
“Designing cities so that people can access their daily needs by foot or bike not only makes for a more inclusive city but is also beneficial from a health and environmental perspective.”
To assess Vancouver residents’ access to grocery stores, Hosford mapped out a total of 169 grocery stores identified within the City of Vancouver and neighbouring Burnaby and quantified how many grocery stories were within a 15-minute walking or cycling trip of each of the city’s dissemination blocks – equivalent to one city block.
The research team found that there is good accessibility by cycling to grocery stores across the city, with the majority of the population having access to more than 10 grocery stores within a 15-minute cycle.
Among walkers, 91 per cent of the city’s population had access to at least one store within 15 minutes when using the average walking speed of a younger traveller (4.8 km/h) but that number declined dramatically when using an average walking speed of an older traveller (3.6 km/h). About one fifth (21 per cent) of the city’s population had no grocery store within 15 minutes.
Grocery stores tended to be located in areas with higher populations, with the highest concentration located in the downtown core. The south-west region of Vancouver, an area with lower population density, had the lowest concentration of grocery stores.
The current study was restricted to Vancouver, which is one of the most amenity-dense cities in Canada. If she were to repeat this analysis across Metro Vancouver, Hosford suspects that far fewer areas would have good local access to grocery stores by walking or cycling.
To improve accessibility to grocery stores by walking and cycling in the longer term, Hosford suggests that land use policies that support mixed-use higher density neighbourhoods across the city are needed. In the short term, more funding and supports could be put towards programs that help people access groceries – such as Better at Home and the Safe Seniors, Strong Communities program.