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‘15-minute’ neighbourhoods are redefining urban living

by Neil Sharma on 03 Dec 2020

The concept of 15-minute cities—which PwC defines as “ensuring that urban residents can meet their daily needs, such as a trip to the grocery store or school, within 15 minutes of their home either by walking or cycling”—is gaining traction in the developer community and transforming urban life.


At the heart of 15-minute cities are mixed-use developments, and while those typically pertain to condominiums that blend residential, retail and office space, the concept has been expanded to purpose-built rentals. Almega Co. is building one such building with 270 affordable units at 824 Sheppard Ave. in North York replete with a daycare centre for residents’ children, shared office space, and a gym. According to Basem Hanna, the company’s founder and CEO, convenience is of paramount importance to residents.


“A product that stands the test of time needs things people desire,” Hanna told CREW. “I’d want to be 15 minutes away from the things I use 90% of the time, like my gym, social activities, my kids’ stuff, my residence, my work. When you move out of the 15-minute zone, it becomes more and more inconvenient, so we tried to build something that created and supported the 15-minute concept. If there’s a lot of retail in an area, we put in residential; if there’s a lot of residential, we put in retail.”


The purpose of the development, which will have 60 feet of ground-level retail frontage, is to build affordable rental units in a building that resembles a tony downtown Toronto condominium, both inside and out. Unlike a condo developer, however, Almega will not exit the project upon occupancy and hand over the reins to a condo corp.


“If you want to do this stuff, you need two fundamental points of difference: one, a very long-term view on your money—condo developers are typically in and out in six years, but with a rental the fun only starts in year eight—and two, you have to be more cash flow-oriented than wanting to make money on a deal and move onto the next one,” said Hanna. “This has more of a perpetual horizon. There are really good companies that do affordable rentals and we’re learning from them.”


According to a recent PwC report, 15-minute cities evolve by gently intensifying single-family neighbourhoods while being more creative with land use.


“Ottawa has adopted the idea of 15-minute neighbourhoods into its official plan, while cities like Toronto and Vancouver are exploring ways to increase density in traditional single-family areas to create more housing options,” said the Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2021 report. “These changes will not be easy to make, but when they do happen, they represent an opportunity for the real estate industry to address the growing desire for these types of neighbourhoods in areas beyond the traditional city core.”


One reason newer purpose-built rental buildings are designed to be a cut above condos is because, as Hanna alluded to, the developer is in it for the long haul, and building something that doesn’t quickly fall into disrepair is as much in their best interest as it is in the residents’. Naturally, that’s resulted in superlative amenities, and although condos introduced sleek amenity packages, purpose-built rental operators have run with them. GWL Realty Advisors, for example, built The Livmore in downtown Toronto with state-of-the-art amenities, and according to Todd Nishimura, each building’s offerings are carefully curated.


"When it comes to amenities, we really don’t see ourselves competing with condominiums because we offer a higher standard," said Nishimura, GWL Realty Advisors Residential’s senior director of marketing, leasing and communications. "Our approach is to put high-quality and innovative amenities in our new buildings that reflect the needs of the neighbourhood and different demographics. For instance, we have a building under construction that will have a full gym, including a basketball court, and another where we are planning a secret wine room to reflect the local demographics.”

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