The idea of 15-minute city: utopian fantasy or a future reality?
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Autor: Anna Para, repost publikacjji

Where do you live? I bet that you are a townie, living in a small town or lively city. Maybe you spent your whole life in the city or you were lucky enough to spend at least your childhood in the countryside. The fact is that the cities are getting more crowded and this trend will only continue to grow. The level of urbanisation in Europe is expected to increase to approx. 83.7% in 2050[1]. What is obvious is that the cities offer endless advantages and opportunities. But what about disadvantages? Obviously, more  city residents means that we will face more challenges related to the land-use planning, water supply, air pollution and traffic congestion to name just a few. It is high time we start looking for some smart solutions.

The idea of 15 minutes city

One of the solutions to make cities more user-friendly and combat the negative consequences of urbanisation is implementing the concept of 15 minutes city[2]. Please imagine a city, where you could reach your workplace, school, shops, doctor’s office within just a 15-minutes walking or cycling? The city where you do not need to spend hours in traffic jams, looking for a parking space, doing errands and wasting your precious time on commuting. It is not about building more highways so that you can drive from A to B and cover 30km in just 15 minutes. It is more about better city planning, decentralization of services, cutting down on unnecessary journeys and micromobility.

Each city should be able to fulfil six social functions: living, working, supplying, caring, learning and enjoying. All your daily urban necessities should be within a 15-minute reach on foot or by bike.  The most important element of this puzzle is to have a workplace close to our homes. So please raise your hand: who goes to work by foot? Anyone? I bet you drive your car, use metro or bus. In today’s world there is always a trade off between having satisfactory job and commuting. The majority of city residents spend even 1-2 hours on commuting every day.  In the pandemic era we have more opportunities to do things differently. We work and learn remotely, we shop online, order food to be delivered at our place.  Undoubtedly, this is a good solution for now but it doesn’t seem to be a sustainable one. What will happen when the pandemic is over? I assume that we will go back to our old habits.

Meanwhile we may consider, how to change our cities to be more citizen-friendly?

Having more amenities nearby allows us to have a more tranquil existence and reduce the stress. On one hand it is about the choices we make: where do we go for shopping, which cinema do we visit, where do we get our hair cut etc. On another hand there is need for better city planning and reshaping the public space. It means having buildings and neighbourhoods that offer a diverse range of work, living and family functions. It is about finding multiple uses for infrastructure that already exists. Libraries, sport centres, schools could be used after their standard hours and offer variety of activities. Couldn’t we use a school gym or tennis court instead of driving 20 minutes to a fitness or tennis club? What about building new block of flats that would obligatory rent the ground floor space for shops, small cafes or services?

Getting from A to B

Another crucial issue is mobility, namely micromobility. Getting rid of the ubiquitous number of cars, building more pavements and bike schemes. Some streets might be made available only to pedestrians and cyclists and some zones car-free. During the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic many European cities actually gave priority to the bicycles. For example Milan added 35-kilometer of bike lanes and will pedestrianize several school streets. Tallin is building a 13,5-kilometer green corridor that will bring two districts closer. The UK prime minister announced a 2 billion GBP plan which aims to revolutionise biking and walking in the cities[3]

There are plenty of cities worldwide that made effort to put the idea of 15-minute city in practice and they succeeded. Melbourne, Ottawa, Detroit and recently also Paris[4] are just a few examples.

In Paris it was possible to make the city more walkable and to add more bicycle lanes. The growing infrastructure made more residents use bicycles: the number of cyclists grew by 54% in 2019[5]. The city council wants to get the idea of 15-minutes further and made it possible for Parisians to have their offices closer to their homes. 

Utopian fantasy or the future reality?

It may seem utopian but I would like to live in this kind of city. A place where all the necessary amenities are located nearby, the community is very strong and ready to interact. A city where people know each other, say ”good morning”, are ready to stop and chat rather than rushing from one place to another.

Certainly we are now at some point in the middle of the revolution that was accelerated by the Covid-19 outbreak. I assume that we will go through another massive change in the way we work, live, and organize our society. It’s  happening much faster and we should seize this chance. 

Could  the city where you live be transformed into 15-minute city? Are we ready for it?


[1] European Commission, Developments and Forecasts on Continuing Urbanisation,  https://ec.europa.eu/knowledge4policy/foresight/topic/continuing-urbanisation/developments-and-forecasts-on-continuing-urbanisation_en

[2] Financial Times, Welcome to the 15-minute city,  https://www.ft.com/content/c1a53744-90d5-4560-9e3f-17ce06aba69a

[3] Forbes, We’ll build thousands of miles of protected cycleways, pledges Boris Johnson, https://www.forbes.com/sites/carltonreid/2020/07/27/well-build-thousands-of-miles-of-protected-cycleways-pledges-boris-johnson/#3c9e6dbc6b2c

[4] The Guardian, Paris Mayor unveils 15-minute city plan in re-election campaign, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/07/paris-mayor-unveils-15-minute-city-plan-in-re-election-campaign

[5] Telerama, Le vélo a enfin conquis Paris (même sans compter sur la grève),  https://www.telerama.fr/sortir/le-velo-a-enfin-conquis-paris-meme-sans-compter-sur-la-greve,n6564628.php