The 15 Minute City of the Future

The Elliot Bay Trail in Seattle          Photo: Adam Coppola Photography, Flickr

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

When you leave your front door, what can you reach in 15 minutes by foot or bike? A grocery store? A school? A park? That’s the question that many urban planners are using to shape plans for how cities operate in the future. The 15-minute city means designing neighborhoods where everything people need, from housing to dining to cultural institutions, is within that 15-minute radius. Paris is moving full-speed ahead on the idea, appointing a commissioner for the 15-minute city who’s tasked with creating “a city of proximities” between buildings and people. Other cities around the world from Detroit to Milan are planning to follow the model as well.

Why this Matters: It’s a good idea to create neighborhoods that fulfill people’s basic needs so that they won’t have to travel as far to manage their daily lives – especially post-pandemic when more people are likely to work from home. Neighborhoods in the U.S. could be designed for walking and biking instead of for cars. These choices shorten commutes, lower emissions, creating a healthier city, and fewer auto deaths. 

A blueprint for COVID recovery: As cities recover and reimagine their post-pandemic futures, the 15-minute city is a framework that emphasizes sustainability and health. With emissions already skyrocketing back close to where they were before the pandemic, it’s imperative to have long-term plans for making cities more walkable and less car-dependent. The 15-minute city is a concept that C40, a network of the world’s biggest cities committed to taking on climate change has embraced as part of their green recovery. The concept is part of their goal of “giving public space back to people and nature, reclaiming our streets and guaranteeing clean air to ensure liveable.”  For Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, the 15-minute city is central to both her city-level commitment to the Paris Climate Accord and to improving quality of life for Parisiens. 

Preventing disparities: Many American cities are already divided down racial and economic lines, and creating smaller cities within cities has the potential to perpetuate those gaps. Focusing on neighborhoods that haven’t received the same level of institutional investment first is one way to counter this. So is building affordable housing, allowing people to continue to live in increasingly expensive cities. 

“The 15-minute city is not a silver bullet,” Carlos Moreno, who championed the 15-minute city in Paris, told the BBC. “Today our neighborhoods are segregated by money – rich, poor, middle class, workers, bars, offices. There’s great segregation. But what we must do is use 15-minute cities to focus on the common good. With enough funding and support, deployed in the right way, we can guarantee they are for the people.”

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