Energy, Urban and Sustainable Affairs Analyst
How Will Our Cities Look in the Future: The 15 Minute Town
Historically, cities have always been built to facilitate flows and moves, often depending on the mobility means that were predominating at the time of their development.
Back at the Roman Empire, cities were built around two perpendicular straight streets connecting the entry points and main buildings, which allowed carts to easily move between
the important points of the town. At the end of the 19th century, cities grew at the time when cars became the main mean of mobility in the city. This can be observed in their structure, often with a grid pattern, large streets and ring roads to allow traffic to flow easily.
The issue raised by many urbanists and academics in urban affairs is that the structure
of cities which were developed by the past are becoming unadapted to the new demand and
today’s new challenges. Such a situation would not only cause issues in mobility within the
city but even more: “many cities’ mobility systems are standing on a burning platform and if
action is not taken in the very near future, they will play a major role in slowing the growth
and development of their host nations.” (Arthur D. Little Lab). A change in urban structures
appears therefore vital not only for cities but also for nations.
A new approach to urban planning and structure has recently attracted a lot of attention: the 15-minute city. This urban management concept was developed by Carlos Moreno, a professor at the Sorbonne University. According to him, humans are adapting themselves to cities, and their “absurd organization and long distances” (TED), whereas we should instead adapt them to human needs. The goal is to “converge life into a human-sized space” by “redesigning cities so that within the distance of a 15-minute walk of bike ride, people should be able to live the essence of the human experience” such as culture, food, education or green spaces.
This solution founds very strong support in the light of today’s modern challenges. Concerning fight against climate change, a city structured around this concept would drastically decrease its carbon emissions as the use of polluting means of transportation will be reduced by diminishing distances, while cleans means will be enhanced. Moreover, the 15-minute city would also reduce social inequalities by making sure that every neighbourhood of the city possesses key facilities, allowing inhabitants to access them within a 15-minute radius. On top of that, it would also reduce health problems by motivating people to walk and bike in their surroundings: studies have shown that biking and walking often reduces drastically heart and arterial problems.
Finally, this concept seems adaptable at every town level: big cities simply divide their map in 15-minute neighbourhood, whereas small ones apply the 15-minute city at their scale.
Example of cities that have applied the 15-minute principle, or similar plans built around the same ideas, do already exist. The most known example is Paris, who launched the “Paris en Commun” plan, promoting local, healthy and environmentally friendly lives for inhabitants. Portland presented in 2012 the “Portland Plan”, enhancing the benefits of local neighbourhood life on health issues such as obesity as well as for job creation and fight against climate change. The mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, introduced the 15-minute city in his plan for the city, to follow the objective of allowing people to be brought closer to “services and quality of life”. Melbourne also presented in 2017 the “Plan Melbourne”, seeking to provide affordable housing, reduce transportation time loss, promote green spaces and develop local job diversity in “20-minute neighbourhoods”.
Positive consequences of these plans have already been observed, with Portland having reduced by 14% its carbon emissions compared to 2000 and increasing jobs by 30,000 between 2008 and 2015 according to the Portland Plan Progress Report. On the other hand, Paris has saw a rise of 65% of bicycle lane use between May 2019 and May 2020 and a diminution of 24% of CO2 emissions between 2004 and 2018 (City of Paris Official Website). On its side, Melbourne has launched several plans to restructure the city, including the development of green spaces such as the Fishermans Bends, leading to a replanification of more than 450ha of the city. On top of that, with the Covid-19 pandemic, where lockdowns have forced people to stay at home and limit their moves to the strict necessary in their close neighbourhoods, the principle of the 15-minute city has regained attention. It has indeed shown that life in its own neighbourhood is possible and has brought light to cities on the improvements that should be made to make cities better places to live.
But every solution has some problems. As it has been presented in the previous paragraphs, it is mainly wealthy and developed cities of the western world that have presented plans following the “15-minute city” guidelines. As presented by academics, the issue is that by making the city adapt more and more itself to human needs, this will require “large systemic changes in resource allocation patterns and governance schemes in city- and metro-wide scale.” (Pozoukidou, Chatziyiannaki, 2020: 22). Not all cities can afford such changes and already have to deal with other more important issues.
The 15-minute city plan is a promising urban management concept for the future and has already shown great results in cities that have started to apply it. However, it still remains a solution for cities that have the ability and the resources to make such changes. Less wealthier cities could not afford such changes in their urban structures because of other important issues they must deal with.
Génération Maastricht – The European Youth Engagement Laboratory
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