The 15-minute Cities

The 15-minute cities

If you bike or walk for 15 minutes, can you reach where you need to be?

The last urban planning inclinations show that it is time to change the focus from urbanism and uncontrolled construction to community needs and quality of life. 

For Carlos Morenos, one of the problems that we should focus on is how much time we are wasting commuting to get to the places we need to be. Imagine living minutes close to grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, hospitals, work etc.  

During the pandemic of Covid 19, he partnered up with Anne Hidalgo, the  Paris Mayor, to rethink the town and invest in neighborhoods where everything that is a basic need is accessible within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. 

The image below presents the three key features of a  “15-minute city”, a strategy based on ecology, solidarity, and proximity that will help the cities to develop but in the opposite direction of urbanism.

The controversies

There are also some problems. During the pandemic, we could see how isolation can make us struggle, and a portion of the population started to associate this option with being stuck and detained. They would advocate that restraining the option to only one neighborhood would threaten freedom. 

According to The Tyee, in 2023, conspiracy theories and protests against the project were upcoming. The protesters were the same against the lockdowns; Paddison, 2023 associates this phenomenon with opportunistic disinformation. 

We have to consider a lot of layers in implementing a 15-minute city; the project generates controversies because it has roots in hugely ignored issues. At the same time, that must go deep into questions like furthering existing inequalities and  potential fractures. It is not a perfect project; it is even considered a utopia nowadays for some media vehicles, such as the National Post (2023).

The benefits

Those controversies didn’t stop different rulers and the United Nations (UN) from embracing and disclosing the idea of the 15-minute cities. They believe that that is a good solution for space use and focus on purposefully intervening in the urban scenario to make them more socially conscious and sustainable. At the same time, they fight uncontrolled urban growth, which creates tension for the habitants, environment, and economy.

 Some examples of those tensions are the stress of traffic, long commuting times, road conditions and the fear of being late. While those examples can harm mental health, having everything 15 min away presents the opportunity for physical activities, contact with green areas, and the time to invest in hobbies, family and friends, which can have a positive impact. 

Another benefit that should result from the implementation is strengthening communities; the physical proximity allows us to engage with our neighbors and support the local market. Remember that buying local and working close is still a choice. The inhabitants are not obligated to do everything at their block, but they would have the option to save time. 

Another thing to consider is climate change; nowadays, we depend on fossil fuels, and the UN and the government are stuck in a way to substitute them. We should step back and rethink how we use it, which could decrease carbon emissions and solve the global housing problem.

Those outcomes take time; each city needs a personalized urban plan considering the construction market, with a deep and interdisciplinary understanding of sustainability. Some benchmarking can be helpful; a recommendation is to follow what some cities do to pursue the 15-minute goal. 

The approaches

The hot question is how far are we to having 15-minute cities and the accessibility that they promise. After the Paris Mayor pioneered, other cities also started to work to be more accessible.

In the US, for example, the idea influenced the creation of a model neighborhood in Utah. This one-car community is named the Point, where one family car is enough. The plan is to start the building phase in late 2024, building a car-light site from scratch. 

Other studies pivot on changing the landscape of established cities; Glover, 2020 understands that neighborhoods functioning as a self-contained urban ecosystem was usual in the past. According to Greenfield, 2021, this urban strategy would suit Chicago. However, the investment needs to include all the suburbs investing in diversity. Glover believes the pedestrian and bike infrastructure network is the first step for Chicago.

Other citys

Olive, 2023 affirms that this tendency should be central to fighting some of Toronto’s problems, like traffic and security. The author also says that it is the city’s  responsibility to bring that to light because it is in the best interest of everyone, from politicians to the population at risk. In Canada, cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton and Winnipeg are pursuing this goal.

In a study from Simon Fraser University, researchers discovered that 79% of the population of Vancouver have access to a groceries store and cycling, and that number increases to 99%. That is an encouraging percentage, but the study also stands that the areas with the most significant needs are areas inhabited by racialized populations, family neighborhoods and where the average age is higher. British Columbia must focus on these communities and invest in the Metro Vancouver cities, such as Burnaby and Surrey. 

In Edmonton and Winnipeg, cities considered less progressive by Canadian standards; the discussion still focuses on fighting the controversies. While some people believe that is a way to rename an old concept, others still fight the idea with arguments against growth. But both cities plan to start to include the features from Moreno because the city halls believe it is a way to bring more belonging and connection to the population. 

It’s easy to see a long path ahead of us as a society. But we can learn a lot from the past and with cities that are not 15 minutes but are experimenting with accessibility, Barcelona and the superblock approach, Bogota and the viral neighborhoods, the green spaces in Buenos Aires, and the 20-minute sites in Melbourne and Portland. The focus on urban mobility in Milan, and of course, the efforts made in Paris. 

The final considerations

A recurrent topic when we talk about urban planning, in general, is the social disparities, and for the 15-minute cities to succeed, it is essential to consider that. There’s no accessibility with exclusivity. The right to a good life should be global. We are not there yet, but now is the perfect time to start. Everything starts with education and understanding if a portion of the population fears losing their freedom, we should address the fear. We are late to discuss concepts such as basic needs, public health, environmental racism, education quality, and access to a nutritious diet, in addition to the mobility take.

Sources

 15-minute city within reach for Vancouver: SFU study. (2022, May 15). https://www.sfu.ca/sfunews/stories/2022/05/15-minute-city-within-reach-for-vancouver–sfu-study.html#:~:text=The%20idea%20of%20a%2015,older%20adults%2C%20and%20racialized%20populations.

Bright, D. (2021, April 16). Whose 15-Minute Windy City?: Evaluating Access to Walkable Places in Chicago. Carolina Digital Repository. https://cdr.lib.unc.edu/concern/masters_papers/xs55mm87d

Bringing the 15-minute city to life. (n.d.). Deloitte Canada. https://www2.deloitte.com/ca/en/pages/public-sector/articles/bringing-the-15-minute-city-to-life.html

C., & Paddison, L. (2023, February 26). How “15-minute cities” turned into an international conspiracy theory. CTVNews. https://www.ctvnews.ca/climate-and-environment/how-15-minute-cities-turned-into-an-international-conspiracy-theory-1.6289898#:~:text=The%20concept%2C%20however%2C%20is%20pretty,grocery%20stores%20and%20green%20spaces.

C40 Knowledge Community. (n.d.). https://www.c40knowledgehub.org/s/article/Benchmark-15-minute-cities?language=en_US

Council, M. P. (n.d.). The 15-minute city: How close is Chicago? Metropolitan Planning Council. https://www.metroplanning.org/news/8917/The-15-minute-city-How-close-is-Chicago

Dawson, T. (2023, February 24). 15-minute cities: Everything you need to know, from the plans to the conspiracies. Nationalpost. https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/15-minute-cities-guide#:~:text=Ottawa%2C%20a%20sprawling%20city%2C%20is,a%20Simon%20Fraser%20University%20study.

Dreith, B., & Dreith, B. (2023, February 20). 15-minute city an “easy way to explain an old concept” says Edmonton planner. Dezeen. https://www.dezeen.com/2023/02/20/15-minute-city-edmonton/#:~:text=%22Cities%20are%20embracing%20the%2015,to%20explain%20an%20old%20concept.%22&text=Edmonton’s%20district%20plan%20comes%20from,it%20approaches%20two%20million%20residents.

Greenfield, J. (2021, September 9). Study: 15-minute walk/bike access to key resources is not enough to guarantee prosperity. Streetsblog Chicago. https://chi.streetsblog.org/2021/09/09/study-15-minute-walk-bike-access-to-key-resources-is-not-enough-to-guarantee-prosperity/

Olive, D., & Olive, D. (2023, March 4). The ‘15-minute city’ could be life-changing for Torontonians. But we won’t talk about that. thestar.com. https://www.thestar.com/business/opinion/2023/03/04/the-15-minute-city-could-be-life-changing-for-torontonians-but-we-wont-talk-about-that.html

Patterson, C., & Barrie, L. (2023, March 16). The Case for 15-Minute Cities | The Tyee. The Tyee. https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2023/03/15/Case-For-15-Minute-Cities/

Stelter, R. (2022, October 7). WINNIPEG VOTES: Murray wants to create “15-minute neighbourhoods” as part of broader safety plan. Winnipegsun. https://winnipegsun.com/news/local-news/winnipeg-votes-murray-wants-to-create-15-minute-neighbourhoods-as-part-of-broader-safety-plan#:~:text=A%2015%2Dminute%20neighbourhood%20model,neighbourhood%20and%20mapping%20it%20out.

TED. (2021, January 25). The 15-minute city | Carlos Moreno [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQ2f4sJVXAI

Wilson, K. (2022a, January 13). Utah Is Building a ’15-Minute City’ From Scratch. Streetsblog USA. https://usa.streetsblog.org/2022/01/13/utah-is-building-a-15-minute-city-from-scratch/

Wilson, K. (2022b, December 29). Analysis: There Are No 15-Minute Cities in a Post-Roe America. Streetsblog USA. https://usa.streetsblog.org/2022/06/27/analysis-there-are-no-15-minute-cities-in-a-post-roe-america/

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