As the global population continues to urbanise at an unprecedented rate, the concept of the 15-minute city is emerging as a revolutionary approach to urban planning. This model ensures that people can meet all of their basic needs within a short walk or bike ride from their homes to counteract the sprawling, crowded, and frequently unsustainable nature of modern cities. This article will aim to explain what a 15-minute city is, what its benefits and challenges are, and give some real-world examples of the urban planning model in action as of 2023.
What are 15-minute Cities?
The 15-minute city is a concept developed by Carlos Moreno, a Colombian-French scientist. It argues that cities ought to be planned or restructured so that everyone can walk or ride a bike fifteen minutes from their place of residence to vital services and facilities like employment, healthcare, education, shopping, and entertainment. In order to reduce the need for cars, shorten commutes, and enhance quality of life, this model focuses on building a city of neighbourhoods with everything one needs nearby.
The multifaceted approach to urban living that incorporates elements of land use, transportation, sustainability, and community life into a seamless whole is what makes the 15-minute city so unique. It places a strong emphasis on mixed-use development, in which residential buildings are intimately integrated with stores, workplaces, parks, and other amenities, encouraging a more vibrant and interactive public life.
What are the Benefits of 15-minute Cities?
- Environmental Sustainability – 15-minute cities seek to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions by minimising the reliance on automobiles, thereby making a significant contribution to the fight against climate change. Reduced air pollution and noise levels can also result from an increase in cycling and walking.
- Improved Public Health – Residents who walk and cycle more often engage in physical activity, which can improve their health. Better preventative care and health outcomes may result from the ease of access to healthcare provided by the close proximity of services.
- Improved Quality of Life – People who commute less have more time for their families, hobbies, and community involvement. Residents of a 15-minute city also have more opportunities to engage with their neighbours and local businesses, which contributes to a stronger sense of community.
- Economic Benefits – Local businesses frequently prosper in these environments as people prefer to shop locally. In addition, people and governments may save money if there is less of a need for expensive transportation infrastructure.
Are there any 15-minute Cities Right Now?
15-minute cities are a relatively modern concept, and redesigning cities to align with this concept will undoubtedly take a lot of time. However, some cities in the world are adopting some of the principles of a 15-minute city already:
The capital of France is often described as the poster child of the 15-minute city, not least because it’s where the scientist who coined the idea, Professor Moreno, lives. The French are said to love their pastries, and this is reflected in the fact that 94% of Parisians live within a 5-minute walk of a boulangerie (bakery) or patisserie (cake shop), according to Big Think. The city has also built over 600 miles of protected bike lanes to encourage cycling, converted old military buildings into mixed-use buildings with apartments, retail and office space, and introduced car-free zones. According to Bolt, by 2030, vegetation will cover 50% of the city to improve air quality and battle climate change.
The Spanish city is not strictly a 15-minute city, but it aligns closely with the concept. That is because of its urban planning strategy known as ‘superblocks’. Superblocks, which are typically made up of nine existing city blocks, are larger than blocks but smaller than neighbourhoods. There is much less parking and traffic inside these superblocks, which creates more room for public amenities like playgrounds, green areas, and sitting areas. This strategy seeks to lower the number of cars on the road, reduce pollution and noise, and increase the amount of space available for community events and pedestrians.
By implementing superblocks, Barcelona is effectively creating mini-neighborhoods where residents have improved access to amenities and services within a short walk or bike ride. Cities can also use a digital twin, which is a virtual twin of a certain object or place, to illustrate whether certain parts of a city are within walking distance to many facilities. The city of Barcelona has launched this digital twin platform, which highlights which areas of the city are close to important amenities.
Melbourne has embraced the concept similar to the 15-minute city, known as the “20-minute neighbourhood”. The Victorian Government has been attempting to develop neighbourhoods where the majority of daily needs can be met within a 20-minute walk, cycle or local public transport trip through its Plan Melbourne 2017–2050 strategy. Melbourne is Australia’s fastest-growing city, and this plan has been put in place to try and manage that growth. Under this initiative, Melbourne is concentrating on a number of important components:
- Local Living: Promoting mixed-use projects to guarantee that residences have access to nearby stores, eateries, and other facilities.
- Active Transportation: Enhancing infrastructure for walking, cycling, and public transport to reduce reliance on cars.
- Community Services: Ensuring easy access to healthcare, education, and community facilities.
- Open Spaces: Establishing and preserving parks and verdant areas for leisure and neighbourhood gatherings.
Are there any Challenges for 15-minute Cities?
Despite the benefits that were mentioned earlier in this article, there are some challenges that urban planners face in implementing 15-minute cities, especially due to the infrastructure currently in place. Some of these include:
- Implementation Complexity: It takes work to turn current cities into 15-minute cities. It necessitates extensive urban planning, funding, and restructuring – tasks that can be particularly difficult in cities with pre-existing infrastructure and architectural styles.
- Cultural Resistance: One of the biggest obstacles is changing the deeply embedded car culture that permeates many cities. People may find it difficult to transition to a model centred around walking and cycling because they are used to the convenience and personal freedom that cars provide.
- Social Equity Concerns: Because housing and living expenses may increase in these incredibly desirable areas, there is a chance that 15-minute cities will turn into exclusive communities. Ensuring that these cities are inclusive and affordable for all residents is a significant challenge.
- Privacy and Surveillance Issues: Compact urban areas may require more management and monitoring, which could result in increased data collection and surveillance, raising issues with privacy and individual liberties.
The 15-minute city offers a vision of inclusive, healthy, and sustainable communities and symbolises a revolutionary approach to urban living. Even though there are a lot of obstacles in the way of its implementation, the model holds promise for the future of urban development. The ideas of the 15-minute city can point us in the direction of more resilient, liveable, and ecologically conscious urban areas as they expand and change. It remains to be seen if this model of urban living will take off, but there is no denying its increasing impact, with many cities implementing certain elements of the model. With an eye towards the future, the 15-minute city presents a convincing blueprint for a better, more sustainable urban lifestyle for communities, governments, and urban planners.