Everything you need to know about this future-forward urban model, right here.
If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it has taught us that convenience is key. When faced with lockdown after lockdown, our ability to live within 1,000, 500, or even 100 meters of our homes was tested to its limits (apart from venturing out for essential services, most of which could be ordered online and delivered right to our doorsteps). How far could we stretch the limits, when stretching our legs? How many steps were permitted, when throwing out the trash, or borrowing reading material from a neighbor? What could we check off our to-do lists in the absence of long-distance public transportation? The list goes on.
As cities and citizens begin to recover and ready themselves for a Covid-safe tomorrow, the idea of more sustainable, complete, and inter-connected neighborhoods is taking its position as the new future or urban planning and living: the 15-minute city.
This model integrates the advantages of community living we were forced to learn while under lockdown, placing all essential and non-essential services and amenities within just 15 minutes’ walk or bicycle ride from each resident’s home, while doing away with congesting and polluting private transportation.
But while the global pandemic certainly enhanced its relevance, the 15-minute city wasn’t conceived under Covid constraints. In fact, it predates the virus by a good half-decade.
Here’s what you need to know.
The history of 15-minute cities in a nutshell
First conceived as a model in 2016 by Professor Carlos Moreno at the Sorbonne, Paris, the 15-minute city aims to meet locals’ every need without ever needing to hop into a cab or car – from access to commerce, healthcare and employment to schooling, WiFi, and more. The future-forward urban planning model even goes so far as to ensure that infrastructure is developed and maintained so that people can make their way to said amenities via more sustainable methods of transportation – bus, bike, or on foot – and within just 15 minutes.
According to Moreno, building cities to fit the 15-minute model not only makes urban areas more accessible and inviting to locals, but it also reduces residents’ reliance on private cars. Less cars on the roads means less traffic and pollution in the form of noise and harmful chemicals. It also means less time spent in transit that could be repurposed towards other goals, such as quality time with friends and family, as well as less road rage and road-related accidents. Additionally, reducing time spent in motor vehicles leads to increases in physical activity, as locals walk, jog, and cycle to nearby workspaces and shops. As such, those living and leading daily lives within 15-minute cities are poised to enjoy an improved quality of life.
Concept or concrete reality?
Evidence indicates that 15-minute cities can work, as most trips within cities already tend to be short. This is because people are creatures of habit. They search for the most convenient ways to secure the products and services they need, and then return to the same places to acquire them, over and over again. And while, at face value, replacing car lanes with footpaths may seem counterintuitive to the convenience-driven reality in which we already live, research has found the opposite to be true: “walkable urban places” in the US command 75% higher rent than the average rate in the country’s biggest cities. This, while boosting local equity and investment opportunities. Why? Because these areas were highly desirable. Citizens love to be able to pop out for what they want on a whim, even if it means schlepping their purchases instead of stowing them in their cars.
To truly usher in the future of sustainable city life, all municipalities need to do is reconstruct their cities from being built around private cars, to being built to support life in proximity.
Here, a “little” investment is sure to go a long way.
The foundations have already been laid
Many cities around the world have already implemented 15-minute city-friendly infrastructure and initiatives. US cities, such as San Francisco and Seattle have established “Stay Healthy” or open streets; areas closed to motor vehicles but open to walking, rolling, biking, and playing. Mexico City, Berlin, and other cities have allocated space for dedicated bike lanes and have implemented bike-sharing schemes. Several European cities have plans for ambitious road reallocation endeavors, to protect citizens as Covid-restrictions continue to be lifted. And many cities across the globe, from London to Los Angeles and even Lagos are updating their urban planning and zoning to ensure essential services, such as food markets, are established within localities, shifting away from traditional, more centralized grocery chain models.
The groundwork is there. All that’s left to do is start promoting more flexible use of existing neighborhood spaces to maximize accessibility to needed and desired services and amenities, and foster warmer, more interconnected and sustainable communities, whose citizens no longer need to venture out to other localities on a day-to-day basis.