15-Minute City

The 15-Minute City is a simple concept. It is sometimes also referred to as the Complete Neighbourhood (strong towns).

A 15-Minute City is a place where all your needs are met within a short walk or cycle from your home.  This includes work, retail, leisure, education and services. These should all be available within 15 minutes’ walk or bicycle ride from where you live.

For those of us who live in high density CBD areas this is possibly already a reality. For the rest of us where we work, shop and recreate is often a commute by car away from our homes. But it doesn’t need to be this way. It is possible for our suburbs, our neighbourhoods to become 15-Minute Cities.

The concept is a return to life in a village with each of our suburbs being the village. In some ways this could be a deconstruction of the modern city. A beast that has grown from small villages to an urban metropolis. The concept calls for a return to villages, a return to community.

Of course, this is something that cannot be achieved overnight. It will take time as it represents a major change from how we conceptualise our suburbs, our working life, our car centric planning mechanisms and a revaluing of quality of life.

In some ways this change is already underway. All it took was a pandemic and the need to isolate at home.

Before COVID19 and people needing to work from home the 15-minute city seemed impossible but now it is a real possibility. Working from home was often viewed by many managers and business operators as something that was not possible. How would they supervise their employees if they couldn’t see them throughout the day? COVID-19 had the result of making working from home a practical necessity. People retained contact with their workplaces through email, telephone and teleconferencing. The impossible became possible and perhaps is something we can retain into the future. I’m certain many business owners would welcome having to pay rent for less office space or to only rent office space when needed. This could represent a major saving in their budget.

This could mean smaller offices established in residential areas and vacant shops repurposed as co-working hubs. For example, in my suburb there is a vacant building in a small local shopping precinct. It was once a supermarket but has been vacant for some time. If the landlord and owners were open to repurposing this building it could serve as co-working hub. It would require some funds to refit and perhaps an application to the local council for a change of use but it is a resource that could once again become useful in creating the 15-minute city.

Let’s look at some of the other things we need to work on as a community to make the complete neighbourhood a reality.

Government Planning Requirements and Mechanisms

One change we need to see is in the area of planning requirements and related mechanisms. This would include making a variety of developments possible in residential areas such as a mix of office space and residential buildings. In some jurisdictions this is not currently permissible but this only requires a change in legislation or planning policies to make it a reality.

Housing

The complete neighbourhood is one with a diversity of populations and demographics. It is one where housing is affordable and where housing is adaptable. It is one where a person can age in place, where there is a representation of people from different economic, cultural and religious backgrounds. It is a lively and diverse environment.

Planning for the Future

A 15-Minute City demands for planning to be future focussed. Schools, libraries, health facilities, retail will need to be planned so they are in the areas where people live. This may require a move away from the big box shopping centres and malls that seem to litter our urban environment. It will require a focus on demographic trends and plan for growth with funds dedicated to these projects. In this there is no expectation for each suburb to have their own hospital for example but that basic health needs should be available locally. This would include doctors, pharmacies and community-based health practitioners.

Economic Development

Many Local Council maintain Economic Development units or officers. My experience is that often the focus of these units is on the “big end of town”. Brining in the big employers. The major retailer, the big Defence project, The large manufacturing industry.  A focus will need to be on small business in both CBD areas and the suburbs. This should include supporting and promoting local retail, particularly fresh food options. Economic Development could also be inclusive of alternative trading such as markets and bartering. In this the importance of local community gardens should not be forgotten. They are important in the production of local food, in people learning how to grow their own food and in building a strong sense of local community.

Bumping Places

Jim Diers has coined the phrase Bumping Places to describe those places where people meet each other i.e. bump into each other. This could be the local park, the coffee shop, the convenience store, the fruit market, the pop-up park built on a forgotten piece of land. In the 15 Minute City these are essential meeting places. People can meet in these places on a formal or informal basis. With the move from office-based work places to working from home these will become important for people to meet with each other, exchange ideas, develop business ideas and partnerships. They will replace the watercooler discussion in developing ideas.

Walkability

This is the big one. The complete neighbourhood has a feature of being walkable. This will represent a shift from a focus on cars to a focus on pedestrians and bicycles. The development of better and well-located footpaths and cycleways will be the priority over ever increasing space dedicated to motor vehicles. For many planners, government leaders and community members this is a major change but one not without precedent. Major cities have been reducing vehicle traffic in their CBDs for some years. It is a possibility.

It is All Possible

The 15-minute city has at its heart sustainability and wellbeing.

Increased pedestrian networks, reduced road traffic, more people walking and cycling, work, food and recreation being available locally is all about our wellbeing and making our communities more sustainable.

The actions required are not barriers but opportunities for growth and change. With many of us now working from home we have started to appreciate the value of the 15-minute city. Let’s retain that appreciation and rebuild our village lifestyle.

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