Goal 11: Improve access to affordable housing, clean air, transportation, parks, and green spaces, as well as cultural heritage in Canada
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Why this goal is important
This Goal's focus on promoting public transit and active transportation, providing access to affordable housing, maintaining and improving air quality, and helping Canadians get out in nature supports SDG Global Indicator Framework targets:
- 11.1 By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
- 11.2: By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons
- 11.3: By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
- 11.4: Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world's cultural and natural heritage
- 11.6: By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
- 11.7: By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
In Canada, making cities and communities sustainable means improving access to transportation, parks and green spaces, as well as cultural heritage, clean air and affordable housing.
The percentage of households in core housing need, which measures progress against Sustainable Development Goal 11.1, shows housing challenges across Canada. A household is said to be in “core housing need” if its housing falls below at least one of the adequacy, affordability or suitability standards and the household would have to spend 30% or more of its total before-tax income to pay the median rent of alternative local housing that is acceptable (i.e., meets all three housing standards). In 2018, more than 11% of Canadian households were living in Core Housing Need. Many Canadians today experience or are at risk of homelessness, and otherwise face challenges with accessing acceptable housing. These challenges are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately negatively affected disadvantaged groups, and have continued to worsen since the COVID pandemic began.
Increased public transit and opportunities for active transportation support the transition to a net-zero economy by reducing air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and urban congestion. They also support economic growth by enabling greater access to employment as well as other opportunities and services. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected transit systems across Canada. Transit ridership dropped significantly in spring 2020 and has remained below pre-pandemic levels, reducing revenues for many cities and communities. Nevertheless, public transit and opportunities for active transportation are improving in Canada, with several light rail transit projects currently underway in Canadian cities. Cycling networks are also expanding and pedestrian-friendly streets are becoming more common.
Improving air quality is an important part of making cities more sustainable. In 2020-2021, it was estimated that air pollution contributed to 42 premature deaths per 100,000 Canadians every year. Air pollution also worsens health issues, such as asthma, for millions of Canadians. The total economic cost of all health impacts attributed to air pollution is an estimated $120 billion per year from issues such as medical costs and reduced workplace productivity. Reducing air pollution is also important for protecting food security, land use, and cultural activities, which are critical to the mental and physical health of Canadians.
Making cities and communities more sustainable also means providing access to green spaces. Most Canadians agree that access to community green space is important to their quality of life and three quarters say that their local green space could benefit from improvement. Canadians living in communities with populations of less than 10,000 experience more barriers to accessing physical activity than those in larger communities with populations of 250,000 or greater. This means that rural Canadians currently experience greater barriers to accessing green spaces than urban Canadians do, including lack of sidewalks, lack of street lighting, and lack of access to facilities and transportation. These gaps in infrastructure make it harder for those living in rural areas to undertake active transportation. Nature trails are generally free to use, making them an excellent opportunity to advance equity of access to green spaces. Improving access to green spaces also promotes co-benefits for mental and physical health and quality of life, as well as a natural way to cool cities from extreme temperatures as well as promote and maintain biodiversity.
How the Government of Canada contributes
The Government of Canada is committed to addressing homelessness and ensuring affordable housing for all Canadians. It launched the National Housing Strategy in 2017 and introduced Canada's first Poverty Reduction Strategy in 2018 (updated in 2020) to reduce poverty and homelessness.
In April 2022, the federal Budget introduced new measures that will address homelessness and make housing more affordable across the country by:
- putting Canada on the path to double housing construction over the next decade
- helping Canadians buy their first home
- protecting buyers and renters
- curbing unfair practices that drive up housing prices
- continuing to prevent and reduce homelessness and support housing affordability, particularly for the most vulnerable
- addressing the housing needs of Indigenous Peoples
Everyone should have a place to call home, yet access to affordable and acceptable housing is becoming increasingly challenging for many Canadians. Housing affordability issues disproportionately impact low-income and equity-seeking groups. Demand for all types of housing has increased, and more housing, including affordable housing, must be created to address housing needs, especially in fast-growing cities.
Building more homes and making housing more affordable across the country are priorities for the Government of Canada, and will contribute to inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable communities. The federal government has re-engaged in affordable housing through the National Housing Strategy, which provides a platform for the public, private and non-profit sectors to work together to provide more Canadians with a place to call home.
In the Indigenous context, during the spring and summer of 2022, the government led a distinctions-based engagement process to understand infrastructure needs in Indigenous communities. The results of this engagement will provide a community-defined assessment of the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Canada and support the co-development of infrastructure plans to address critical needs in First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. Budget 2022 also announced $4 billion over seven years, starting in 2022-23, to accelerate work in closing Indigenous housing gaps for First Nations on reserve communities, First Nations Self-Governing and Modern Treaty Holder communities, as well as Inuit and Métis communities.
The Government of Canada is working with partners to ensure that cities and communities are resilient and sustainable. The Permanent Public Transit Fund will support new subway lines, light-rail transit and streetcars, electric buses, active transportation infrastructure, and improved rural transit. This will create affordable commuting options and reduce Canada's emissions. It will also provide local governments with predictable transit funding.
Electrification of public transit fleets can be challenging due to the complexities of converting transit systems to a new technology, which involves significant upfront costs associated with zero emission buses and related infrastructure. To bridge this gap, the $2.75 billion Zero Emission Transit Fund offers support to public transit and school bus operators electrifying their fleets.
In addition, the Government of Canada has released its first National Active Transportation Strategy and launched the Active Transportation Fund, which will help build new and expanded networks of pathways, bike lanes, trails and pedestrian bridges and undertake planning studies. This will provide tangible benefits to communities by shortening commute times for families, promoting healthier lifestyles, cutting air and noise pollution, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The new Natural Infrastructure Fund supports projects related to local parks, green spaces, and waterfronts as well as design elements that enhance access to nature. Design elements may include walkways, ramps, signage, lighting, garbage bins, benches, and multi-functional piers. Natural features will also support biodiversity goals and targets by providing wildlife habitat, resources, and connectivity, and these projects can provide public education opportunities related to natural processes and species.
The Green Municipal Fund (GMF) supports innovative and replicable municipal environmental projects through grants, loans, capacity building, and knowledge sharing. With GMF support, municipalities and their partners can pursue plans, studies, pilots, and capital projects across energy, transportation, waste and land use, improving energy efficiency, reducing pollution, and delivering triple bottom line benefits to communities across Canada. Since its original endowment in 2000, the GMF has grown into a $1 billion revolving fund administered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. GMF used the investment of $950 million from Budget 2019 to create three new energy efficiency funding offers and endow 7 local climate hubs through the Low Carbon Cities Canada initiative.
Back to the Land
Back to the Land initiatives help further a connection between Indigenous communities and their ancestral land. By bringing Indigenous Peoples closer to the land culturally, socially and spiritually, Back to the Land initiatives aid in maintaining sustainable land-use practices, support environmental conservation, and even promote social and psychological well-being. By supporting Back to the Land initiatives the Government of Canada can ensure these benefits are maintained, while also helping to preserve Indigenous cultural heritage and practices. The Mental Health Innovation Network's Going Off, Growing Strong program has helped socially-isolated Inuit youth connect with their community and cultural heritage and build strong relationships. This has resulted in drastically reduced rates of youth suicide through land-based activities such as hunting, fishing, and gathering, all of which build connections between Indigenous Peoples with their communities and the land. Back to the Land initiatives respect the rights, responsibilities, needs, and unique perspectives of Indigenous Peoples.
The Government of Canada is also committed to improving air quality through the Air Quality Management System. A key element of this approach is the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards, which are in place for 4 air pollutants—sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter, and ground-level ozone—to protect human health and the environment and to drive continuous improvement in air quality across Canada. The Government of Canada also works to address air pollutant emissions from industrial sectors and equipment, the transportation sector, and consumer and commercial products that are used every day.
The Government of Canada works with other countries to address air pollution originating from outside its borders through international agreements such as the Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement and the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution and its Gothenburg Protocol.
The Government of Canada also provides opportunities for Canadians to get out into nature and experience Canada's cultural heritage, including through Canada's network of national parks, national wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries, national historic sites, and other protected areas. The government has launched a new National Urban Parks program to create a network of national urban parks in collaboration with local authorities, Indigenous groups, and stakeholders with the goal of protecting biodiversity, supporting health and well-being, advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and connecting Canadians with nature.
Internationally, the Government of Canada adopted the New Urban Agenda at the United Nations 2016 Habitat III Summit in Ecuador. This will strengthen the commitment to make a meaningful contribution to the sustainable development of towns, cities and human settlements for the next 20 years.
Differences in exposure to air pollutants
Canadians are exposed to varying levels of air pollution that depend on factors such as the proximity to emissions sources and the long-range transport of pollutants by wind. The highest concentrations of most air pollutants are found around Canada's Census Metropolitan Areas, with the Windsor to Québec City corridor generally having the highest levels of air pollution. This is primarily due to the large concentration of population and associated emissions sources, such as cars, trucks and industry, as well as the transport of air pollutants over long distances by wind from the United States. Exposure to air pollutants is particularly felt amongst visible minority and immigrant populations living in Canada's largest cities. Additionally, those living in areas impacted by wildfire smoke can experience higher levels of air pollution.
Stakeholder perspective: Le Pôle sur la ville résiliente de l'Université du Québec à Montréal
The Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) created the Pôle sur la ville résiliente to develop, in collaboration with urban partners, innovative solutions to improve living environments, limit the impact of the urban environment on natural ecosystems, and cope with potential crises and extreme events. The research areas of the Pôle's members include urban forests, urban water, habitat and living environments, nourishing cities, and mobility. For example, in the “Soft and collective mobility” research project, a research team from the Urban and Tourism Studies department of ESG-UQAM was mandated to design a transit-oriented development (TOD) area project for the municipality of Bois-des-Filion. This work allowed for the design of development scenarios that will increase the density of the built environment according to TOD criteria. This will be accomplished while promoting walkability in the sector and the use of bicycles and public transit, respecting the natural environment while focusing on the development of quality public spaces, and finally increasing the canopy and green spaces to avoid heat islands and soil permeabilization.