Everything you need to know about the 15-Minute City

Sophie Grant, Principal Strategy Consultant Design, Sustainability, Technology and innovation

Our latest project is finally out there; Sustainability Sprints 2023. Whilst the main focus of the sprint event is to create a fully sustainable workplace, we’ve also incorporated the 15-Minute City concept into the brief. But what is a 15-Minute City? How does it work? And why is it relevant to design and build?

Here’s everything you need to know about the 15-Minute City ahead of Sustainability Sprints on Tuesday 21 February 2023.

Where did the idea come from?

The 15-Minute City concept has been influenced by many visionaries over time. Their theories have each emphasised the need for urban communities and city-dwellers to have better access to vital amenities, such as health centres, schools and recreational services. Other concepts, including Carlos Moreno's 'chrono-urbanism', has also been said to have influenced the 15-Minute City - an idea that suggests the quality of life in urban areas is directly linked to the amount of time invested in transportation, in particular, cars. He was also the first person to coin the term '15-Minute City'.

The concept has been made popular by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo in recent years, but this isn’t the first time urban planning has been seen radical ideas. Jane Jacobs, author of 1961 book ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ was a trailblazer in the city planning realm, rejecting traditional methods in favour of community-based ideas that support and nurture urban lives.

How are current cities lacking in comparison?

It can be argued that major cities today provoke segregation and widen socioeconomic disparity between social classes. Design and city planning contributes to this inequality in a big way; A lack of vital services in underprivileged or poorer urban areas widens the privilege gap further.

Not only that, but the modern metro-urban city isn’t actually designed for humans, as you might assume they are - they’re designed for their transport links (for international trade purposes) and economic gain.

The modern city impacts our health too. Compared to more rural areas, cities have reduced access to green space, pollution, overcrowding and produce stress due to soaring housing and living costs, all of which can contribute towards poor mental and physical health.

How does the 15-Minute City concept differ?

The 15-Minute City ethos takes human-centric design and runs far with it. The utopian result would be a city that has everything an individual could possibly need to live a full, healthy and fulfilling life, creating opportunity for a self-sustaining local economy and supporting a community environment. Bonus points if power, built environments and transport are all 100% sustainable. Whilst utopia seems far away, the 15-Minute City is committed to edging closer to making it somewhat a reality.

Will the 15-Minute City concept work?

Applying this theory retroactively will prove difficult, but one city is making strides to do so and starting conversations in other major cities around the world about how they can do the same. Paris is a window into the potential of implementing the 15-Minute City concept into our global capitals, and proof that the concept can work. One of Europe’s most densely populated capitals, Paris is establishing itself as a forward-thinker in the city planning space.

Paris is making incredible changes to the city’s make-up through rethinking not just how much public space there is, but how it’s used. If you visit the city, you’ll notice that main streets that used to stack up traffic have been transformed into ‘green corridors’ for pedestrians and cyclists to easily and quickly access city districts via these leafy highways.

With this change, came reduced pollutants and reduced use of motor vehicles in the city, which enabled even more positive change. The city has repurposed rooftops and underground parking lots into plant farms that grow edible and support the local ecosystem of wildlife.

What role does the workplace play?

The office plays an important supporting role to a city of this nature. Destination and placemaking offices will attract and generate 15-minute cities because of the value they already bring to their environment through their amenities and support of the immediate local economy. Add to this recipe fully sustainable workplace design, and you’ve created a powerful pillar of the 15-minute city that benefits everyone and attracts (and retains) the city’s best talent. The workplace is vital to the success of the 15-Minute City theory, if it plays an active - and not a passive - role in its growth.

Whilst we don’t know if the 15-Minute City in its most complete form would work without a hitch, we’re pretty sure it will improve access, quality of life and public health.

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