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The 15-Minute City Concept

A Definition to Work With

The 15-minute city, a term first coined by Carlos Moreno of Pantheon Sorbonne University in Paris, is an urban framework that believes in improving access by spatially orienting and developing communities to live within a 15-minute radius (typically on foot or by bike) of essential urban services.

There are four key characteristics to this framework:

  • Proximity: Housing and essential needs must be close.
  • Diversity: Land uses must be mixed to provide a variety of urban amenities in close proximity.
  • Density: There must be enough people to support a diversity of businesses in a compact land area.
  • Ubiquity: In order for this to be an equitable framework, these neighborhoods must be so common that they are available and affordable to anyone.
Olympia, Washington

Olympia, Washington

Let’s Take a Closer Look

There are several reasons for a city to implement this city-planning approach. One is to decrease the need for automobile use, thus diminishing the emissions from gas engines. Another is to promote neighborhood interaction, while still another is to promote small, local businesses.

Imagine a small town of, say, one-thousand people. Such a town is, in effect, a 15-minute city. Almost all of the residents, if not all of them, live within fifteen minutes of all necessities. Now imagine a large city, say New York, broken down into fifteen-minute segments, so that the people who live in each segment really have no reason to travel outside of that fifteen-minute zone. They work, they play, and they shop, all within a short distance.

That is the vision!

With climate change, Covid-19, and political upheaval all challenging the way we work and play, the hope is to refashion cities as places primarily for people to walk, bike, and linger in, rather than commute to. The 15-minute city calls for a return to a more local and somewhat slower way of life, where commuting time is instead invested in richer relationships with what’s nearby.

The idea in diagram

The idea in diagram

Historical Precedence

It is hard to call this a new idea. Think the Middle Ages. Think village towns protected by the imposing figure of a castle. Leap forward a few hundred years. Think company towns, all inhabitants working for the steel mill or the mining company, all necessities found in that town, no need to travel, mill workers working, shopping, playing, and praying within an area with a diameter of no more than a mile. Think small, rural towns in Arizona or Mississippi or Alaska, families looking out for each other, all they need within walking distance, close-knit communities connected by necessity.

And that is what makes this idea, ages old, worth considering today, the necessity of it all, a need to change, to find a new way, even if that new way is actually centuries old.

Why Now?

There are too many cars. There are too few public transport alternatives. There is a diminishing supply of fossil fuels. There are choking emissions and air too foul to breathe.

But it’s more than that. There is a disconnect in larger town and cities. There are neighbors who literally do not know their neighbors. There are gated communities for protection, and fewer civil conversations. Fear seems to be the default emotion of any day. A wariness pervades our daily lives. The population is rapidly increasing but the infrastructure is not keeping pace, and probably never in the history of mankind has there been a more appropriate time to look at alternatives to our current way of living.

It is working in some major cities today

It is working in some major cities today

Is It Possible in Modern Cities?

The mayors of Milan, Italy, and Paris, France, believe it is! Amsterdam. Ottawa, Portland, Detroit, and Buenos Aires are moving in that direction, as is Glasgow. The pandemic has given us a glimpse of a world working remotely, and it turns out quite a few cities, and companies, believe remote working is the wave of the future.

Employment has always been the problem with the 15-minute city concept. How are you going to assure the citizens, within a fifteen-minute radius, that they will have jobs? Constructing restaurants and entertainment and shopping centers within a certain area is very doable, but what about employment?

Working remotely, from home, is at least a partial answer. 2020 has proven that it is a viable alternative for many major corporations, and we will most likely see more of it in 2021 and beyond. Naturally, not all people will find employment within the 15-minute space, but enough can, and will, to make a difference.

Interestingly enough, a study of driving habits within cities in the United States found that 60% of one-way trips were within a six-mile distance, and 75% of one-way trips were within ten miles. Our driving habits, in cities, already support this type of urban transformation.

San Diego has 620 miles of bike paths within its city limits. Tucson, Arizona, is close behind. You are more likely to be hit by a bicycle in Portland, Oregon, than by a car. Change is happening in the United States. More change is needed.

The Future of This Urban Approach

The future of this radical idea depends almost entirely on a willingness to make it happen. Changing the infrastructure of a city is not difficult to do. Yes, it costs money to do it, but it is money which simply has to be repurposed from existing city budgets, and changing infrastructure will create jobs, many jobs, quality jobs, and that’s a huge selling point. If a city the size of Paris can do it, any large city in any country can do it as well.

The bigger problem, it seems to me, is in changing attitudes, and that problem looms large in a nation like the United States. Americans love their vehicles, and Americans are highly-resistant to major changes. There is no doubt that people living in remote areas, rural areas, need vehicles. The idea of a 15-minute city in rural South Dakota is the stuff of fantasies, but it also should be noted that vehicles in South Dakota are not the problem, nor is over-congestion in South Dakota a problem. The 15-minute city concept would be most effective in large, urban areas, where so many city dwellers own and operate vehicles, only to drive those vehicles in a very limited space.

This is not an attempt to eliminate cars and trucks, but simply an attempt to limit their usage to necessity only. This is not an attempt to force people to spend most of their lives in a fifteen-minute window of activity, but it is an attempt to bring people closer together while at the same time giving them a valid reason to stay closer to home.

Does the idea of “mingling with your neighbors” appeal to you? Does the idea of having more spare time for recreation appeal to you? How about less commuting time? More quality time? A better environment?

The problems facing any radical change are huge, but that does not mean we shouldn’t face them. Any nation capable of putting a man on the moon is capable of changing the infrastructure of its cities.

Can it happen? Yes! Should it happen? Most likely, yes! Will it happen in major cities in the United States?

Stay tuned! I personally cannot envision a day when the majority of Americans will give up their cars and trucks, but I can envision a day when they will drive less to benefit others and themselves. That day is already happening in dozens of cities across this country. The thing is, something must change in the U.S. and other industrialized nations. An economy based upon a limited fossil fuel is destined to fail.

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

Comments

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 01, 2021:

And that is the main problem as I see it, Mary! Hopefully smarter people than I can work all of that out.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on December 31, 2020:

Bill, I live in the center of downtown Toronto and I love it as I can walk to every service I need, and there are plenty of restaurants to go to once they're open. I only use my car when I go to the cottage from Spring to Fall. I support your idea strongly. It can be done. It has to be affordable, though. Right now, there are many homeless because they can't afford any dwelling.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 27, 2020:

Thank you Devika! Change must happen; it will be interesting to see what shape it takes. Happy New Year to you!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 27, 2020:

Bill you have written a well-thought of hub on such great ideas. Time has shown us many changes and to the point of not much is impossible if you put your mind to it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 25, 2020:

Flourish, I'm all for anonymity. I'm an introvert to the bone. But I do think this idea has merit for many cities and it is worth consideration. Thank you and Merry Christmas to you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 25, 2020:

Thank you Rosina! That's how I feel about this concept, optimistic. I'm glad people are looking for solutions.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 25, 2020:

MG, I doubt you can, but I do find it an interesting concept worth considering for smaller, urban areas. Thanks for your thoughts!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 25, 2020:

Thank you Linda! I don't think it's going to be a universal solution, but I like the concept.

Merry Christmas to you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 25, 2020:

That's my concern, Peggy, that it will price out the middle class, lower middle class, and the poor. We shall see. Merry Christmas!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 25, 2020:

Thank you John! No, it would not work everywhere, but I'm encouraged there are people who are trying to find solutions, and cities willing to listen. :) Merry Christmas!

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 24, 2020:

Although I support reductions in the use of fossil fuels, I don't want to live in a small town or rural area. I grew up in a small town where people were all up in everyone else's business. I couldn't escape fast enough. I may be off-kilter, but I like to be relatively anonymous where I live.

Rosina S Khan on December 23, 2020:

Bill, although "The 15-Minute City Concept" has its pros and cons, I like the idea. I am glad many countries and several cities of US are already developing the strategy. Perhaps it will be good for us and somehow I feel optimistic. Thanks for sharing.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 23, 2020:

Billy, It's an interesting hub and a wonderful concept but I wonder how you can relate it to big and populous nations like China and India, where the masses are still village based.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 23, 2020:

You’ve shared an interesting idea, Bill. A 15-minute city would have to be planned carefully in order to be effective, but it sounds like a worthy idea. Thank you for introducing me to the topic.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 23, 2020:

We have areas in Houston that are building around that concept. Unfortunately, the places we have seen that are like that are quite pricey. It is a good idea, however.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on December 23, 2020:

This does sound like a good idea to consider, and I am glad some major cities are already actively pursuing it. If this COVID continues they will be trying to restrict us from moving or travelling outside our local areas anyway, and more and more people are working from home, or remotely.

I can se that it wouldn’t work everywhere though.

My town is already like this. I can walk to every facility easily within 15 minutes, but we have a small population and are surrounded by farms.

Thank you for sharing this interesting concept, Bill.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 23, 2020:

Mr. Happy, although I agree with nearly everything you wrote, I don't agree about Americans giving up their vehicle. You do see it in cities like New York where the traffic is horrendous, the public transportation is good, and there are no parking spots, but mid-sized cities which can't afford a good mass transportation system, it's not going to happen. Des Moines, Topeka, Bismark, Boise, Charleston, these and many more, no way, in my opinion, those people are giving up their vehicle. Americans and cars....such a rich tradition, not that I admire it or approve of it.

But other than that, I'm onboard with everything you said.

Merry Christmas, my friend! Have a wonderful holiday season!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 23, 2020:

I love that, Miebakagh! I love that you live in an area where everyone is known. I would think that would be very comforting.

Thanks for sharing that!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 23, 2020:

Peg, I certainly embrace country living. This is mainly for large cities and I think it has a chance to catch on over the next decade or so. Thanks for weighing in on it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 23, 2020:

Exactly, Linda! No way this catches on in lightly-populated areas, but I think it is mostly meant for large cities. I think we are actually seeing a slow transition to this plan and people don't even realize it.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on December 23, 2020:

"Think the Middle Ages" - That's not how one gets me to jump on their ideas about city structure LOL

"Think company towns, all inhabitants working for the steel mill or the mining company" - And when the company packs-up, or goes under, the whole town is screwed. We see this all across the US now. Not a good idea, in my opinion.

"Think small, rural towns in Arizona or Mississippi or Alaska, families looking out for each other" - People can still look out for each other even in cities with millions of people. It's a personal choice in my opinion.

"There are too many cars." - Agreed and the solution to that is not the Middle Ages, it is better public transport and tunnels, lots of tunnels for big cities. Elon Musk is finishing a tunnel now in Las Vegas and it has been a bit of a successful experiment on how things could be done. Look into his "Boring Company" if You wish.

"There are neighbors who literally do not know their neighbors." - You hit the problematic spot here. That's it: people don't think of others much. Look at the attitude that so many people have about this pandemic: "Open the economy 'cause my business is doing bad." (Who cares if people are dying - I need to make MY money.)

We need respect, compassion and unity and those are personal choices. We either make them, or we do not. City planning will not solve that. The issue is behavioral.

"I personally cannot envision a day when the majority of Americans will give up their cars and trucks" - I can. When public transport is improved properly, people will take public transit. Why not? Can sit down, read a book, or nap away for a bit ... it has to be comfortable, clean, fast, reliable and so on. Not like the subways in New York where You have to battle rats and crackers for a seat.

Well, I am not a 15 minute city concept guy because I love to move around. I want to see other communities, other people, other cultures, other sites/environments and so on.

Public transit is the answer!!!

Thanks for the discussion. It is needed and appreciated. Cheers and Merry Christmas to You and La Familia, if I don't chat with ya 'till then.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on December 23, 2020:

Bill, I like and welcome the concept. In a neighborhood part of my state called Alesa Eleme, if you post a letter to John Fox, without a postal address or street name, every person in the community seems to know him. Thanks for sharing.

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on December 23, 2020:

This reminds me of the downtown Dallas underground malls that were popular in the late 80s with a resurgence to revamping old downtown warehouses for apartment dwellers. One of the cities near us is bringing back the second story dwelling above shopping and service businesses. The 15 minute concept would be great for those who like neighbors close by and convenient shopping, gathering, etc.. For us, we love living out in the boon docks on our acreage. Even Walmart is at least 20-25 minutes away and so is the noise of ambulances, police chases, fire and rescue for the most part. We like it a lot.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 23, 2020:

I can see many problems with this plan in the U.S., but any plan for change will meet with polarization. That's doesn't mean we shouldn't change. :) It will be interesting to see how Paris does with this plan.

Blessings always

bill

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 23, 2020:

Thanks for your thoughts, Brenda. Yes, many questions to consider. It's interesting that a city like Paris is going ahead with this plan, full speed ahead. Maybe we can all learn from their experiment.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on December 23, 2020:

Bill, I love this concept. I've noticed that some real estate agencies include a "walkability" score with their listings. The idea is how many services are within a 15-minute walk from the house?"

For this to really take off a neighborhood would need to have (1) a wide variety of services and (2) population density. This could certainly work in a place like Portand. Steilacoom? Not so much. But it's a worthy goal that I hope more city planners embrace.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on December 23, 2020:

At a time when the population of Americans has never been more polarized, this concept would really rub some people the wrong way. You would have to make affordable housing available for those with less than the average. And those when way more may not like the idea of "mingling" with the less well-to-do. That's where the major problems lie if you ask me. I wouldn't mind giving up my car a little more. Although I live only about 1/4 of a mile from the store I frequent most, I still drive to it. That is probably because I buy more than I could carry by myself at any one visit, but it also means I don't go shopping that often. I remember when I was involved with some high school exchange students from Sweden and Finland. The girls were surprised that we would drive to Starbucks when it was only 1.5 miles away. Those girls walked everywhere. We have just gotten out of the habit of walking.

Blessings,

Denise

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on December 23, 2020:

This would be interesting. I live in a small town but we do not have everything we need here.

We often drive to nearby areas which are at least 30 to 45 minutes away.

Many commute back-and-forth to work.

I wonder if this would help neighbors to actually know one another.

I can see where it might benefit the bigger cities.

I would love to save on gasoline & enjoy life without having to travel too far.

Time will tell.

Have a great day.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 23, 2020:

Exactly, Ruby! It can be done. It takes a commitment by governments and the people to make it happen, but it is possible.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on December 23, 2020:

Interesting, I live in a town that has 4 thousand and I love it. The largest close city is 50 miles away, I seldom go there. We have everything here, including a Walmart lol I do think in time we will have electric cars, including factories with so much pollution will change somehow.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 23, 2020:

Thanks for the background information, Manatita. Very interesting. Changes of this magnitude are often met with resistance. It seems we human hate changes.

I talked to Eric a week ago on the phone. He said he was fine then, but with him medical problem, who really knows?

Peace always

manatita44 from london on December 23, 2020:

Well said! I might add that sometimes the projected failure of an economy, leads to foreign wars with all kinds of excuses, to attain personal objectives.

I don't think you'll run for President, as they'll come after you fast, but perhaps you can run for Mayor of Olympia. Haha. Or CEO of the Green Council.

Humans resists these changes even in Africa where it's very much needed. Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, had similar ideas with the 'Village Assemblies', but they, too, came up against adversaries.

Kaunda's wife, I believe, became Mandela's wife, after her husband passed on. A very noble stateswoman she was. (my facts may be marginally off), but I think Samora Michel of Mozambique tried it too, and was it his wife who married Mandela? Not sure.

Lovely ideas and it is good to see folks discussing this. I think the idea of a democracy is to work for the interest and benefit of ALL its people. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and a few more as well as King Janaka of old, had this vision, but it seems asleep these days. Much Love, Bro. Merry Christmas!

P.S. Give our Eric a ring if you can. Concerned that he is not here. Peace.