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Townhouses are seen under construction in Toronto’s east end in February. A report by the federal Task Force for Housing & Climate offers a range of solutions to help Canada work toward a goal of building 5.8 million additional homes by 2030.Laura Proctor/The Globe and Mail

“More and better housing.” That is the promise of a new report from the federal Task Force for Housing & Climate. No news there. This is what Canada needs.

But this crucial “blueprint” brings a more surprising insight. Its authors conclude that to deliver affordable, low-carbon and resilient homes, the No. 1 factor is where they are built. Building “inside existing communities” can be cheaper, faster and less carbon-intensive.

In other words, we have to stop building sprawl. The 15-minute city, with a mix of activities steps away, is the future of Canada.

These are powerful insights, and they’ve been largely absent from the political discourse. Thus it’s especially interesting to see them emerge from this cross-partisan task force. Co-chaired by former Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and former federal transport minister Lisa Raitt, it also includes academics, planners, developers, economist Mike Moffatt and former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney.

The report tackles the country’s intersecting challenges: how to build 5.8 million homes by 2030, following Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s estimate of what is required to achieve affordability, while also addressing climate goals, and delivering affordable and attainable housing. Not to mention updating building codes and reducing risks from extreme weather.

An enormous mandate. But these goals can be addressed in tandem. During a media briefing, Mr. Iveson made a passionate case for “infill,” or building within existing neighbourhoods. Such development makes use of existing infrastructure and dovetails with mass transit. Plus, he said, it’s cheaper for cities to build in this way. “Short term and long term, density is good for the fiscal efficiency of the city,” Mr. Iveson said. “It’s the right thing, and it also happens to be climate positive.”

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Put differently, building in existing neighbourhoods reduces the emissions of the people who live there. They will likely live in smaller homes, and drive shorter distances or not at all. This isn’t a new argument; as I wrote in 2019, the research is very clear. But the report socializes it for a larger audience, folding in a set of wonky, excellent recommendations to make city life better, such as adding bike lanes and legalizing small shops on side streets.

The latter suggestions are commonsensical. They also sound like the 15-minute city, the loose urbanist agenda that’s become a subject of right-wing conspiracy theories. Ms. Raitt and her Conservative colleagues now have a clear responsibility to renounce that nonsense. Corner stores and apartment buildings are not signs of an authoritarian regime.

The report does not end there. It calls for an end to building in areas vulnerable to climate change. It calls for tax policy changes; recommends research and funding toward prefabricated building components; and makes valuable recommendations about lower-carbon buildings, which will require changes to building codes and planning policies, especially to reduce the use of concrete. And it calls for changes to immigration policy, too, emphasizing skilled workers for construction.

“We didn’t get into this housing crisis overnight,” said Dr. Moffatt, a leader in pro-housing advocacy, “and we won’t get out of it overnight either.”

The report is both coherent and visionary. It imagines a better, greener, richer country, and one that is within reach.

However, this utopian vision won’t entirely come to pass. Six years is not long to reinvent an entire sector of the economy. And let’s be honest: Canada will not hit the target of 5.8 million new homes in six years.

Which means the task force’s urban, low-carbon Canada must stand up to some real-world pressure. Even if conservatives get over their fear of bikes and bakeries, there will be hard choices. Should Calgary stop building new houses on the prairie? Should Vancouver’s Westside get many more apartment buildings? Should downtown Toronto rezone its single-family houses? Yes, of course. Those local decisions are hard and the opposition will be ugly. But now there is a blueprint to follow.

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