15-Minute Nanaimo?

November 17, 2021

FIG1. The City of 15 Minutes (Ville Du Quart D'Heure). PARIS EN COMMUN.

The “15-minute city”, Carlos Moreno’s human-centered “chrono-urbanism”, is an increasingly popular concept for evaluating and planning cities. The goal is to be able to walk (or cycle) 15 minutes or less to everything — shelter, employment, health care, food, education, commerce, recreation, culture, entertainment — that makes urban life liveable and fulfilling. To do this, a city’s amenities need to be close, diverse, dense, and widely available.

Urban sprawl makes the 15: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.

Where are Nanaimo’s 15-minute zones?

That’s Nanaimo overall. But what about specific neighborhoods? Does Nanaimo have 15-minute zones? And, if so, where are they?

To be as inclusive as possible, we measured our 15-minute access in walking time only, rather than walking and cycling. Though we realize not everyone can walk, of all the modes of transport, walking comes closest to being universal, and is most affordable. We also took a minimal approach to the 15:city, including just those amenities that provide for a “basic quality of life” (as defined by the Canadian Government).


Some amenities exist almost everywhere throughout the city. No matter where you live in Nanaimo, you can walk to a park or free recreational area (green zone) within 15 minutes. The darker the green the more overlap of 15-minute walkable recreation areas. In those areas, there are more recreation areas than in lighter green areas.

recreation / parks 15-minute zone

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

restaurant, pub, fast food 15-minute zone

Coffee is also widely available within a 15-minute walking distance.

cafe / coffee

In order of decreasing 15-minute walking accessibility:




groceries / supermarkets


museums / galleries / theaters / cinemas




Daycares are concentrated from Departure Bay south:

daycare 15-minute accessibility

Elementary school (K-7) 15-minute walking access is relatively wide.

public elementary (K-7) 15-minute zone

15-minute access to public high schools is much smaller.


high school 15-minute zone



walk-in clinic 15-minute zone


foodbank 15-minute zone


homeless shelter


supportive housing


We used overlapping isochrone (same time) maps to determine where a 15:city exists. If you wanted to figure out where to live to walk in <15 minutes to, for example, both a Library and a Grocery store, we would map the 15-minute walk zone from the Library, and the 15-minute walk zone from the Grocery store, and see where they overlap.

FIG2. 15-minute walk zone (isochrone) from downtown Library (bright blue dot). 

FIG3. 15-minute walk zone from downtown Grocery (bright orange dot).

FIG4. 15-minute Library (blue) and Grocery (orange) walk zones, overlapping.

FIG5. 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).


We apply the same approach to determine where these areas exist for all essential amenities — shelter, medical care, food, and (if needed) schools — and basic quality of life amenities — recreational space, library, museum/gallery/theater/cinema, restaurant/pub, and cafe/coffee. The overlap (intersect) areas are where you would live to enjoy 15-minute walking access to all these things. 

Also, not everyone has the same needs. People with low or no income may need access to a food bank, homeless shelter / supportive housing, and walk-in clinic. Whereas people with more income will generally not need housing support, and probably have a primary care physician. Likewise, people with kids generally need daycare and schools in their 15:zone; people without school-aged kids don’t. On this basis, we defined 7 broad groups by their needs, and mapped their 15:zones accordingly.

FIG6. Our population groups: 1. Need a homeless shelter or supported housing, plus walk-in clinic and food bank (henceforth “Support”), no kids in school (red). 2. Support, kids in daycare and or K-7 (pink). 3. Support, kids in high school (purple). 4. No support, no kids in school (gold). 5. No support, kids in daycare and or K-7 (aqua blue). 6.  No support, kids in high school (green).

We considered our basic quality of life amenities — park / recreational area, library, museum / gallery / theater, restaurant / pub / fast food, and cafe / coffee — prerequisite to calling an area 15-minute walkable. The overlap of basic quality of life amenities is mapped below. In other words, all six of our population groups fall inside the orange zones below. Almost all of these 15-minute walking-accessible basic quality of life zones overlap with the $19,000-65,900 2021 Median Household Income (light purple) area. A few smaller zones overlap with the $65,900-112,800 area.

15-minute walking zones for “basic quality of life” amenities: park / recreation area, restaurant / pub / fast food, library, museum / gallery / theater, restaurant / pub / fast food, and cafe / coffee.

1. For people who need either a homeless shelter or supportive housing (plus walk-in clinic and food bank), and no kids in school, there is a 15-minute walking access area including downtown and adjacent (red). .


2. Support (house, food, walk-in), kids in daycare and or K-7 (pink). 

3. If you require supportive housing and have kids in high school, a small sliver of neighborhood qualifies as a 15-minute zone (dark purple). 

Supportive housing (plus walk-in clinic and food bank), kids in high school.

4. The most extensive 15-minute zone in the City of Nanaimo exists for people who require no support (homeless shelter, supportive housing, walk-in clinic or food bank) and have no kids in school. Four or five zones offer 15-minute walkability to everything you need: one at the immediate vicinity of Aulds and N. Island Highway, a small zone just south of Country Club Mall, Harewood at VIU, and a large downtown zone (gold).

Not supported, no kids in school.

5. Two adjacent zones… covering old city, and Harewood next to VIU…(blue)

Not supported, kids in daycare / K-7. 

6.  Not supported, kids in high school (bright green).

There are three zones… Harewood at VIU and Pine St. at Fitzwilliam / Third St., a much smaller..at Bowen Rd and Island Highway, and a tiny area….at Hammond Bay Rd and Uplands Dr.

If we check our findings against Walk Score — a measure of both amenity distance and “pedestrian friendliness” — the downtown and adjacent area scores highest, with a “very walkable” Walk Score of 80. (Vancouver’s overall Walk Score is also 80.) 

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

Not coincidentally, this is the highest density area of town.

The most south-western zone is Harewood at VIU (gold, blue), with a “somewhat walkable” Walk Score of 50.

The next best Walk Score of 73 is for the much smaller 15-minute walk 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 high school.

The other 15-minute walkable zones 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”).


A word about affordability, in particular shelter. The 15-minute city concept is meant to put people back at the center of urban life. It is not enough to have all of life’s amenities within 15-minute walking distance. They must also be affordable. On average, 2021 household spending ($92,819) is $668 less than average household income ($93,847) (ESRI data, City Nanaimo 55). 

Average household spending on shelter is $20,046 ($1670/month), which is 10% less than the 30% ($22,321, or $1860/month) of median household income ($74,402) generally considered “affordable” by most lenders and organizations.

But averages usually obscure a wide variety of income situations. The income distribution..

Nanaimo’s 15-minute zones map almost entirely onto places where median household incomes are $19,000-65,900. Average household spending ($20,046) is 30%, or just affordable when household income is $65,900. On average, rent for $19-66k median income households would not be affordable.

As incomes drop down below $65,900, housing becomes less and less “affordable” (i.e., more than 30% of median household income). At the bottom end of this income range ($19,000), average housing costs alone are more than (105%) of household income.

We used rough categories that very broadly capture but don’t encompass all individuals in Nanaimo. 


Apify: Jakub Drobnik Google Maps Scraper, data scraped and cleaned May-Jun 2022.

QGIS.org, 2022. QGIS Geographic Information System. QGIS Association. http://www.qgis.org.  and TravelTime plugin.

Gov Canada. Snapshot of Canada's Official Poverty Line.

Moreno et al. Introducing the “15-Minute City”: Sustainability, Resilience and Place Identity in Future Post-Pandemic Cities

Latest News & City