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The 15-Minute City: An extraordinarily bad idea

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6 minute read

From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Randal O’Toole

” the average resident of the New York urban area—the closest thing to a 15-minute city in the U.S. or Canada—can reach at least 21 times as many jobs in a 20-minute auto drive as in a 20-minute walk. The same will be true of other economic opportunities.  “

The latest urban planning fad to sweep across Canada is the 15-minute city, which proposes to redesign cities so that all urban residents live within an easy, 15-minute walk of schools, retailers, restaurants, entertainment, and other essentials of modern life. This is supposed to simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions while it increases our quality of life.

Some think it is a conspiracy. Others insist it is not. Conspiracy or not, the only way to have true 15-minute cities would be to drastically change Canadian lifestyles.

Fifteen-minute cities mean a lot more people living in multifamily housing and fewer in single-family housing. It means most food shopping would be done in high-priced, limited-selection grocery stores. There is no way that Costcos or even large supermarkets can fit into 15-minute cities; to survive, these stores need a lot more customers than could live within a 15-minute walk from their front doors.

Most of the benefits claimed for 15-minute cities are wrong. Proponents claim they would be more affordable, but high-density, multi-story housing costs two to five times as much, per square foot, as single-family homes. Packing people into four- and five-story apartment buildings would require cutting average dwelling sizes at least in half to make them anywhere close to affordable.

Proponents also claim 15-minute cities would save energy and reduce greenhouse gases and other pollutants. But let’s be honest: people aren’t going to give up their cars or stop going to Costco.

Admittedly, the U.S. Department of Energy says that people living in high-density cities do drive a little less than people in low-density areas. But it also says that there is a lot more congestion in high-density cities. Since cars use more energy in slower traffic, high-density cities use more energy (and therefore emit more greenhouse gases) per capita than low-density areas.

Proponents also claim that 15-minute cities will be more equitable. Yet, before about 1890, most Canadian cities were 15-minute cities. Most people in these cities lived in crushing poverty and there were huge disparities between the rich and the poor, with only a small middle-class in between.

What changed these cities was the mass-produced automobile. The Model T Ford democratized mobility, allowing more people to escape the dense cities to find better housing, better jobs, access to lower-cost consumer goods, and a wider range of social and recreation opportunities.

The University of Minnesota Accessibility Observatory calculates that the average resident of the New York urban area—the closest thing to a 15-minute city in the U.S. or Canada—can reach at least 21 times as many jobs in a 20-minute auto drive as in a 20-minute walk. The same will be true of other economic opportunities. Eliminating the automobile, which is the goal of the 15-minute city, would eliminate those economic benefits.

We had this same debate 50-some years ago when urban skies were polluted with carbon monoxide, smog, and other toxic automobile emissions. Some people advocated policies that would force people to drive less. Others advocated new technologies that would reduce the air pollution coming from autos and trucks.

Today, total automotive air pollution has been reduced by about 90 percent. All this improvement came from cleaner cars: new cars today pollute only about 1 percent as much as cars made in 1970. None of this improvement came from anti-automobile policies, as Canadians drive far more miles today than they did 50 years ago.

If anything, policies aimed at reducing driving made pollution worse as one of those policies was to increase traffic congestion to get people out of their cars. Yet, as noted above, cars actually pollute more in congested traffic.

Anti-automobile policies today, including 15-minute cities, spending billions on rail transit lines that carry only a small percentage of urban travel, and converting general street lanes into exclusive bike lanes, are going to have the same effect.

People who care about the planet should demand policies that actually work and not ones that are based on urban planning fantasies and fads. Instead of attempting to drastically change Canadian lifestyles, that means making cars that are cleaner and more fuel-efficient so that the driving we do has a lower environmental impact. The 15-minute city may not be a conspiracy, but it is still an extraordinarily bad idea.

Randal O’Toole is a transportation policy analyst and author of Building 21 st Century Transit Systems for Canadian Cities, an upcoming report published by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Watch Randal on Leaders on the Frontier here.

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Business

New capital gains hike won’t work as claimed but will harm the economy

Published on

From the Fraser Institute

By Alex Whalen and Jake Fuss

Capital taxes are among the most economically-damaging forms of taxation precisely because they reduce the incentive to innovate and invest.

Amid a federal budget riddled with red ink and tax hikes, the Trudeau government has increased capital gains taxes. The move will be disastrous for Canada’s growth prospects and its already-lagging investment climate, and to make matters worse, research suggests it won’t work as planned.

Currently, individuals and businesses who sell a capital asset in Canada incur capital gains taxes at a 50 per cent inclusion rate, which means that 50 per cent of the gain in the asset’s value is subject to taxation at the individual or business’ marginal tax rate. The Trudeau government is raising this inclusion rate to 66.6 per cent for all businesses, trusts and individuals with capital gains over $250,000.

The problems with hiking capital gains taxes are numerous.

First, capital gains are taxed on a “realization” basis, which means the investor does not incur capital gains taxes until the asset is sold. According to empirical evidence, this creates a “lock-in” effect where investors have an incentive to keep their capital invested in a particular asset when they might otherwise sell.

For example, investors may delay selling capital assets because they anticipate a change in government and a reversal back to the previous inclusion rate. This means the Trudeau government is likely overestimating the potential revenue gains from its capital gains tax hike, given that individual investors will adjust the timing of their asset sales in response to the tax hike.

Second, the lock-in effect creates a drag on economic growth as it incentivises investors to hold off selling their assets when they otherwise might, preventing capital from being deployed to its most productive use and therefore reducing growth.

And Canada’s growth prospects and investment climate have both been in decline. Canada currently faces the lowest growth prospects among all OECD countries in terms of GDP per person. Further, between 2014 and 2021, business investment (adjusted for inflation) in Canada declined by $43.7 billion. Hiking taxes on capital will make both pressing issues worse.

Contrary to the government’s framing—that this move only affects the wealthy—lagging business investment and slow growth affect all Canadians through lower incomes and living standards. Capital taxes are among the most economically-damaging forms of taxation precisely because they reduce the incentive to innovate and invest. And while taxes on capital do raise revenue, the economic costs exceed the amount of tax collected.

Previous governments in Canada understood these facts. In the 2000 federal budget, then-finance minister Paul Martin said a “key factor contributing to the difficulty of raising capital by new start-ups is the fact that individuals who sell existing investments and reinvest in others must pay tax on any realized capital gains,” an explicit acknowledgement of the lock-in effect and costs of capital gains taxes. Further, that Liberal government reduced the capital gains inclusion rate, acknowledging the importance of a strong investment climate.

At a time when Canada badly needs to improve the incentives to invest, the Trudeau government’s 2024 budget has introduced a damaging tax hike. In delivering the budget, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said “Canada, a growing country, needs to make investments in our country and in Canadians right now.” Individuals and businesses across the country likely agree on the importance of investment. Hiking capital gains taxes will achieve the exact opposite effect.

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Economy

Extreme Weather and Climate Change

Published on

From the Fraser Insitute

By Kenneth P. Green

Contrary to claims by many climate activists and politicians, extreme weather events—including forest fires, droughts, floods and hurricanes—are not increasing in frequency or intensity, finds a new study published today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

“Earth Day has become a time when extraordinary claims are made about extreme weather events, but before policymakers act on those extreme claims—often with harmful regulations—it’s important to study the actual evidence,” said Kenneth Green, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute and author of Extreme Weather and Climate Change.

The study finds that global temperatures have increased moderately since 1950 but there is no evidence that extreme weather events are on the rise, including:

• Drought: Data from the World Meteorological Organization Standardized Precipitation Index showed no statistically significant trends in drought duration or magnitude—with the exception of some small regions in Africa and South America—from 1900 to 2020.

• Flooding: Research in the Journal of Hydrology in 2017, analyzing 9,213 recording stations around the world, found there were more stations exhibiting significant decreasing trends (in flood risk) than increasing trends.

• Hurricanes: Research conducted for the World Meteorological Organization in 2019 (updated in 2023) found no long-term trends in hurricanes or major hurricanes recorded globally going back to 1980.

• Forest Fires: The Royal Society in London, in 2020, found that when considering the total area burned at the global level, there is no overall increase, but rather a decline over the last decades. In Canada, data from Canada’s Wildland Fire Information System show that the number of fires and the area burned in Canada have both been declining over the past 30 years.

“The evidence is clear—many of the claims that extreme weather events are increasing are simply not empirically true,” Green said.

“Before governments impose new regulations or enact new programs, they need to study the actual data and base their actions on facts, not unsubstantiated claims.”

  • Assertions are made claiming that weather extremes are increasing in frequency and severity, spurred on by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Based on such assertions, governments are enacting ever more restrictive regulations on Canadian consumers of energy products, and especially Canada’s energy sector. These regulations impose significant costs on the Canadian economy, and can exert downward pressure on Canadian’s standard of living.
  • According to the UN IPCC, evidence does suggest that some types of extreme weather have become more extreme, particularly those relating to temperature trends.
  • However, many types of extreme weather show no signs of increasing and in some cases are decreasing. Drought has shown no clear increasing trend, nor has flooding. Hurricane intensity and number show no increasing trend. Globally, wildfires have shown no clear trend in increasing number or intensity, while in Canada, wildfires have actually been decreasing in number and areas consumed from the 1950s to the present.
  • While media and political activists assert that the evidence for increasing harms from increasing extreme weather is iron-clad, it is anything but. In fact, it is quite limited, and of low reliability. Claims about extreme weather should not be used as the basis for committing to long-term regulatory regimes that will hurt current Canadian standards of living, and leave future generations worse off.

The Fraser Institute is an independent Canadian public policy research and educational
organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal and ties to a global
network of think-tanks in 87 countries. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for Canadians,
their families and future generations by studying, measuring and broadly communicating the
effects of government policies, entrepreneurship and choice on their well-being. To protect the
Institute’s independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research.
Visit www.fraserinstitute.org

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