MobilityCar-FreeThe World on Your Doorstep: The 15-Minute City and Why We Should...

The World on Your Doorstep: The 15-Minute City and Why We Should Be Creating It

Lauren McAskie
Lauren McAskie
I love talking to passionate CityChangers from around the world, hearing their stories and what drives their activism, then writing up guides for others to get inspired by. There's only one thing that could top a car-free city for me, and that's one made out of chocolate... but a girl can only dream. In the meantime, I'll work on making the first come true.

A 15-minute city is simply a place where all basic amenities are available within a short journey by foot or bike. But what is the idea behind it, what does it mean for reducing the dominance of the car, and could it be the solution to the complex mobility problems our cities are facing today?

The concept of the 15-minute city, otherwise known as ‘complete’ neighbourhoods, is something that could change the future of how we live forever.

Imagine living in a community where everything you need is just a short walk or cycle away from your front door… This idea, some experts say, is what is needed to fight the pollution and congestion crises of modern cities, and drive the way forward for greener, more sustainable urban neighbourhoods.

What’s the Idea Behind the 15-Minute City and How Does It Work?

Image credit: Joris Visser

Developed from the French concept of “la ville du quart d’heure”, first proposed by Sorbonne Professor Carlos Moreno, the theory proposes that daily urban necessities should be reachable by foot or bike within a 15 minute time frame.

This includes everything from shopping facilities and doctor surgeries to kindergartens, schools and workplaces. It aims to make cars less necessary by cutting down unnecessary short journeys.

Offices would be added to neighbourhoods to eliminate long and polluting commutes, and co-working hubs would exist so people could come together for meetings to collaborate when necessary.

Moreno told the Financial Times that “the goal is not to oblige people to stay within the 15-minute district. We don’t want to recreate a village. We want to create better urban organisation.”

It could be that this is the radical shift we need to “transform our sense of belonging and community life“, all while working towards reducing pollution and road danger.

Paris: Pioneering the Future of Cities

This is exactly how mayor Anne Hidalgo plans to transform the city of Paris to put its people first and slowly drive out cars.

The proposal envisages every street having a cycle path, all bridges maintaining interconnected and protected cycle highways and anti-car measures being put in place such as making through fares in Paris inaccessible to motor-vehicles, turning gridlocked intersections into pedestrian-only plazas and creating ‘children-only streets’ beside schools. 

72% of on-street car parking is also to be removed by 2024, and replaced with green spaces, vegetable plots and playgrounds. Hidalgo has coined this shift as an “ecological transformation” of the metropolitan area which she hopes will move cities away from their current role as large employment centres and towards more cohesive communities that can function in their own right. 

But How Is a 15-Minute City Actually Created?

Whether or not Hidalgo’s plan will work is yet to be seen, but one example of where the time-scaled city is already working is Melbourne.

In 2018, Melbourne began trialling a similar concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods in three different locations across the city. The main purpose of the pilots was to build community partnerships, investigate how agencies could collaborate more effectively and to identify the best practices for improving planning policy and engagement. The findings report of the successful pilots was published in 2019 and provides some useful advice and things to keep in mind when trying to implement a time scaled neighbourhood…

They provide a series of ‘hallmarks’ which the researchers found to be the key for inclusive, vibrant and less car-centric healthy neighbourhoods. They should:

  • Be safe, accessible and well connected for pedestrians and cyclists to optimise active transport.
  • Offer high-quality public realm and open spaces
  • Provide services and destinations to support local living
  • Facilitate access to quality public transport that connects people to jobs
  • Deliver housing at densities that make local services and transport viable, and
  • Facilitate thriving local economies

The pilot also provided some useful guidance on how to create a 20 minute neighbourhood:

  1. Place-based planning is effective: the trials found that often planning and delivery are divided between government departments and agencies which can lead to challenges when coordinating projects and generating public engagement. This can cause uncertainty in communities, leading to poor experiences of growth and planning. Place-based planning can solve this issue. This is an integrated approach to neighbourhood planning involving whole-of-government coordination for one place. Governments communicate openly with communities, and therefore better understand local challenges and needs. Planning should always be integrated and collaborative. 
  1. Community partnerships are key to successful neighbourhood planning: developing partnerships with local groups through a variety of engagement initiatives was fundamental to the success of the pilot projects.
  1. Creating 20-minute neighbourhoods is a long-term commitment: throughout the pilots, councils expressed the need for long-term investments to optimise engagement – requiring ongoing support to maintain the momentum built during the pilot. Trials should be supported by continued guidance, resourcing and facilitation by state government agencies to achieve long-lasting changes.
  1. Planning outcomes must be monitored: the term ‘liveability’ is used across the world to describe and compare cities. Despite extensive use of the word, the term is not consistently defined or monitored. Measurable standards should be included in policies, regulations and guidelines for urban planning.
  1. Better design for innovative development: following discussions with pilot councils, experts and developers – it emerged that there was a need for better designed medium density development in neighbourhoods. International experts indicated that planning systems can sometimes become too complicated – and therefore streamlined processes should be developed instead. 

It is crucial that the government facilitates and incentivises the delivery of development that meets the 20-minute neighbourhood hallmarks.

For more perspectives on this topic and steps you can take to really get started in making your city a 15-minute one, see our article Perspectives on the 15-minute city: how to turn a utopia into a reality.

You can also find more information about 15-minute cities in this spotlight by the C40 Knowledge Hub.

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