The 15-Minute City: Keeping It Local, Green and Thriving

"There is an appetite for more livable, people-oriented cities that has been reinforced by the Covid-19 crisis, driving a surge of interest in the 15-minute city," said Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris and former chair of C40 Cities, a network of 95+ big city mayors who collaborate to confront the climate crisis.

A GREEN AND THRIVING NEIGHBORHOOD SHOULD ENABLE RESIDENTS OF ALL AGES, BACKGROUNDS AND ABILITIES TO MEET THEIR DAILY NEEDS CLOSE TO HOME.

Anne Hidalgo

Mayor of Paris, former Chair C40 Cities

Mayor Hidalgo envisions the ideal as a 15-minute city where everything a resident needs can be reached within 15 minutes by foot, bike or public transit.

A 15-minute city supports the local economy and green jobs, provides opportunities to walk, cycle and take public transport, offers better waste management solutions and cleaner energy systems and incorporates green infrastructure, she commented last September in an article for C40 Cities.

The 15-minute approach to city planning contributes to "accelerating climate action, while benefiting other critical urban agendas, such as promoting equity, prosperity, resilience and quality of life," Mayor Hidalgo said.

Dr. John Montgomery FRSA has worked in urban regeneration, economic development, and the built environment for 35 years, in London, the UK, Ireland, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. To him, the 15-minute city is "a modern take on walkable urban parishes."

"This is one policy response and it cannot be replicated in all types of towns and urban places," Dr. Montgomery observed in a 2020 comment to the RSA, known more formally as The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. "In the UK, it probably is only relevant for London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. What about all these outer suburbs, market towns and small cities, old seaside resorts?"

Perhaps the 15-minute city is just for urban areas, but from Paris to Seattle to Melbourne to Nanjing, cities around the world are using the 15-minute planning model for its walkability and accessibility.

Late last year, hoping to influence the COP26 UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, the British multinational design and engineering firm Arup and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group released a new guidebook on the importance of neighborhood action in the climate crisis.

The first of its kind to offer a framework for delivering net zero emissions at neighborhood scale, the guidebook is written for city authorities, developers and communities and can be applied in both new and existing neighborhoods globally.

Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, Mayor of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Vice-Chair of C40 Cities, said, "As urban populations increase, we know that compact and connected communities are the best way to preserve global resources and fragile biodiversity."

WE MUST HARNESS A MODEL FOR LOW-CARBON URBAN DEVELOPMENT THAT IS HUMAN-SCALE, THRIVING AND INCLUSIVE FOR OUR FUTURE, A MODEL THAT PROMOTES SUSTAINABLE AND EQUITABLE NEIGHBORHOODS THAT CITIZENS AND THEIR LEADERS CAN STRIVE FOR – AND THEN REPLICATE IT WIDELY.

Rodriguez Larreta

Mayor of Buenos Aires, Argentina and Vice-Chair of C40 Cities

The C40 guidebook sets out key approaches to deliver green and thriving neighborhoods and create 15-minute cities.

The primary concept is "Celebrating adaptable spaces that can be used by all residents, providing a compact neighborhood."

As an example, the guidebook cites the use of the Blue House Yard site, previously vacant, by London’s Haringey Council to provide affordable workspaces for small businesses, as well as public spaces, using existing infrastructure to support community networks and create jobs.

Another key 15-minute city concept is "promoting people-centered streets and mobility by prioritizing active travel over the private car."

A 15-minute city reimagines streets and public space to prioritize people not driving, but instead building more vibrant neighborhoods where walking and cycling are the main ways of getting around.

This means reclaiming car-dominated space for more productive, social and community-building uses, upgrading walking and cycling infrastructure to better serve the daily, local trips of people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, and expanding green space in every neighborhood.

For example, the Superblocks program in Barcelona, Spain uses temporary street furniture and painted road markings to give priority to pedestrians and cyclists. Mobile tree planters were installed to green the streets and provide shade. In the first Superblock, the areas occupied by cars diminished by 48% in the first year and the green area increased by 91%, while economic activity at street level increased.

Catalyst Cities Needed

With 55% of the world’s population already living in cities, the C40 Cities has asked cities across the world to identify suitable neighborhoods that could embrace the green and thriving neighborhoods model and act as catalysts for climate action at city, national or international level.

Ben Smith, director for Energy and Climate Change Consulting at Arup, a global firm of designers, planners, engineers, and architects, said, "We believe there are great opportunities to deliver emissions reductions in neighborhoods around the world - both existing and new. Crucially, this scale of project can provide opportunities for innovation - in policy, in the use of technology and in community engagement and participation. We know that the next decade is critical in terms of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. We must act now to create green and thriving neighborhoods around the world."

C40 Cities has issued a global call for pilot neighborhoods to test the "green and thriving neighborhoods" framework through 10 recommended approaches.

Mark Watts, executive director of C40 Cities, said, "’Green and thriving neighborhoods’ provide a template for the way people want to live as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, enshrining access to essential services and public luxury alike so that everyone can share in growing prosperity and, crucially, providing a framework for pollution-free neighborhoods that will enable cities to eliminate the emissions that are causing our climate emergency."