Yvonne Yeung, CEO of SDG Strategies, has served as the ULI Curtis Infrastructure Fellow in 2023. During her fellowship, Yeung created a conversation tool to help leaders form actionable strategies to build 15-Minute Communities. She also curated the InfraXchange global webinars to show how to combine infrastructure at the community scale, making complete communities a reality in urban infill areas.
The fellowship is generously funded through the ULI Curtis Infrastructure Initiative by a gift from Jim Curtis, ULI Life Trustee (1953–2019), who believed that “every single person in the land use process has the real ability to make a visible difference and make it matter because they are part of the process. If they push for the right choices, each one of them has the ability to change the world.” See video below or on YouTube.
Inspirations, Experience, Strategic Insights
In my 23 years of consulting, government, and not-for-profit practices, I brought the power of community-scale frameworks to the table. By helping leaders see opportunities beyond contract lines, technical solutions are reframed into executive strategies—which shaped upstream decisions and shifted the focus from ‘Building Buildings’ to ‘Building Communities.’
Growing up in Hong Kong, I lived the life of 15-minute communities where I walked to all my daily needs. From my 12th-floor apartment, I could see a 50-acre (20.23 ha) urban park, a Times Square-style transit plaza, and a community hub where I attended school, learned to swim, visited my doctor, and celebrated events.
When I moved to North America in 1990, I started researching strategies to reclaim time, health, and resources in city building—which led me to Scandinavia, where transit-oriented decisions made in the 1970s had created a system that generates ongoing funds to meet education, health, social and cultural needs based on walkable catchments. This made an affordable lifestyle possible in urban communities.
The Unprecedented Resource to 2030, the Need to Ride the Rapid Shift in 2023
The U.S. development industry is now fueled with $3 trillion federal infrastructure funds to 2030, covering mobility, community, environment, and energy infrastructure. Working from home, Gen Z values, and a number of government initiatives have shifted real estate decisions towards building dense, walkable, mixed-use communities that decarbonize, conserve land, improve health, and bridge the gap in affordability and social equity.
A 15-Minute Conversation Tool to Align Leadership Actions
To meet this need, I authored the Building 15-Minute Communities: A Leadership Guide—which provides a refreshing approach to leadership, making it clear ‘what needs to be done, why it should be done and how each person can contribute. As a 15-minute conversation tool with community-scale illustrations, each section give focus for public/private/non-profit leaders to setting agendas, asking the right questions and seizing opportunities to achieve a collective outcome, based on “The Five Forces of Success:”
- Align development and infrastructure decisions with whole-of-government initiatives – implement 30×30 Conservation by expanding parks and open spaces, Justice 40 by filling transit and service gaps, Healthy People 2030 by building healthy communities, and 50% Decarbonization by 2030 by reducing VMT and making low-carbon decisions.
- Combine actions to streamline infrastructure delivery – using the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act (“IIJA’) funding structure, create multi-function districts for metro regions and 15-minute communities (1/2 mile or 800m walk), form joint-ventures or community partnerships, fund projects end-to-end, and combine infrastructure delivery.
- Combine resources to make infrastructure multifunctional – collocate multiple services with schools in community hubs, combine flood protection with park creations, and synergize renewable energy with waste reduction and nature-based solutions.
- Apply walkable catchment decisions across 6 real estate geographies –
- Decarbonize metro regions with a network of 15-Minute Communities,
- Diversify CBDs into decarbonized, affordable, live-in downtowns,
- Humanize edge cities into heat-proof, all-ages friendly communities,
- Densify suburban corridors into walkable mixed-use innovation districts,
- Transform suburban malls into transit and trail-oriented mixed-use communities,
- Activate exurbs as working landscape of agrihoods and nature-based solutions.
- Combine services to bring infrastructure to life – apply a human-centered lens and a new language such as “one” to integrate silos infrastructure into an integrated system:
- Nature in the city—”one environment” infrastructure in one urban sponge,
- Aging up in the city—”one community” infrastructure in a community hub,
- Sustainable actions in the city—”one energy” infrastructure in one district,
- Smart commute in the city—”one mobility” that provides one trip experience, and
- Shared ESG in the city—”one vision” infrastructure in a shared digital 3D model for coordinating new development, infrastructure upgrade, phasing, and community programs.
While the leadership guide is designed for U.S. and Canadian communities, the effort can be applied to communities around the globe. For more information, please visit uli.org/infrastructure
The report will be presented at ULI Infrastructure Forum at Spring Meeting in Toronto on May 16, 2023, 8 am-12 pm EST. To Register, please go to spring.uli.org.