Urban leaders are called to make cities healthier, more sustainable, and more liveable. These goals might be achieved by pursuing the “15-minute city” planning concept, which is based on a renewed idea of proximity.
Living in a big and densely populated city normally grants access to higher-grade facilities and quality services, but it often requires the acceptance of some compromises such as long commuting distances, intense traffic and noisy streets, bad air quality, and overcrowded public places.
It was Professor Carlos Moreno who made the case for the 15-minute city, and it became popular since being adopted by the Paris City Council in 2019 as its urban policy guideline. Basically, it is about a city where everything you need daily can be reached within a 15-minute journey from home.
This human-centered and climate-friendly approach is based on closeness, conveying a new idea of neighborhood and multi-center communities, where inhabitants have all the services they need to live, learn and thrive within their immediate vicinity. The accent therefore shifts from territorial mobility to close and easy access.
When cities were confronted with congestion and air pollution issues, they used to respond by opening roads to streamline long-distance mobility or creating additional parking facilities. Within the 15-minute city, they should aim at reducing displacements, strengthening public transportation and micro mobility systems, having less but better managed car parks.
But the urban planning effort should be primarily focused on effectively distributing essential services such as shops, schools, medical care, cultural, leisure, and sports facilities. That is the core of a 15-minute city: by spreading out facilities and turning residential neighborhoods into lively mixed-use areas, sustainability, liveability, and inclusion goals can truly be achieved.
The 15-minute city concept is catching on around the world as a strategy to bring municipalities and their economies back from Covid-19 and help mitigate climate change. Paris, Barcelona, and Milan are promising examples in Europe, while Seattle might pave the way in the US. The city’s Office of Planning and Community Development is considering the 15-minute city as a potential guiding principle for the next version of its Comprehensive Plan, the urban planning scripture that drives what Seattle will look, function, and feel like in the future.
Although some urban issues – think of affordable housing – are not easy to fit the 15-minute city model, the idea of a new approach to proximity is interesting. And smart technologies can undoubtedly support this vision.