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The 15 Minute City: An Urban Revolution

Health and happiness are the mainstays of modern living – even more so following the events of the past two years. As we have re-connected with our neighbours and neighbourhoods during lockdowns or periods of restriction, closeness and connectivity have become imperatives rather than luxuries.

The ideals of ‘local life’ embedded in the idea of the 15 minute city (15MC) are therefore shaping how we design and evolve urban spaces, and how we take steps (literally) to combat another global threat: climate change.

What is a 15 minute city?

The 15 minute city is a concept that reimagines urban spaces, promoting the idea of mixed-use, community-based and environmentally-friendly infrastructure and development. The basic premise is that no matter where they live, all residents should be able to go to school, enjoy leisure activities, work and shop within walking or cycling distance of their homes – and enjoy a better quality of life as a result.

Carlos Moreno, an urbanist and professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris, reinvented and theorised the ‘La ville du quart d’heure’ concept with six social and urban functions at its core: living, working, grocery shopping, education, healthcare and self-development.

There are six things that make an urbanite happy: dwelling in dignity, working in proper conditions, [being able to gain] provisions, well-being, education and leisure. To improve quality of life, you need to reduce the access radius for these functions.

Carlos Moreno Urbanist and Professor at the Sorbonne, Paris

In truth, the concept can also incorporate 15 minute ‘neighbourhoods’ or ‘villages’ within a wider city region. The ideal is that in fact, each ‘district’ has everything a person might need to work, rest and play – and can access them quickly without the use of a car.

Why is the ‘15MC’ concept building momentum in 2021?

The idea of a 15 minute city was already becoming popular and gaining traction amongst cityscapers before COVID-19. The pandemic has led to a bigger focus on mental and physical health.

People in general have become much more conscious of time spent travelling to access the services or amenities they need – and of the impact these longer trips have been having on the environment. Having experienced life without long commutes, many of us have discovered local businesses we perhaps wouldn’t have had time to explore pre-COVID, taken up hobbies we rarely had enough free time to pursue, and patronised hospitality venues (when allowed) that we may previously have simply driven past during rush hour.

15 minute city imperatives

The non-negotiable elements any 15-minute city needs to succeed include:

  • Healthcare clinics and pharmacies
  • Primary schooling and nurseries
  • Green spaces and parks
  • Firefighting/policing/emergency services
  • Local government offices
  • Grocery stores and other essential retailers
  • Leisure and dining venues

At the heart of any successful 15 minute city must also lie an efficient, sustainable and appealing active transport network. The provision of high-quality bike lanes and facilities, along with safe and pleasant pedestrian areas as well as green spaces, is critical to ensure that a short journey is not just possible, but practical.

Top 10 aims of a 15 minute city

1. Reduce car use and unnecessary long-distance trips

2. Improve key service and amenity accessibility for people from all backgrounds

3. Create and grow social and park space for people across communities

4. Improve personal health and wellbeing across whole regions

5. Create more time for activities, such as connecting with friends and family

6. Give flexibility to how people live – eg. flexible or hybrid working

7. Promote densification to make local amenities and services self-sufficient

8. Enhance connectivity based on cycle routes and walkability

9. Reduce through-traffic and the negative effects that come with it

10. Unlock a more sustainable way for us to live and move around

Key 15 minute city enablers

  1. Sustainability assessment tools to evaluate area performance
  2. Transport planning to create and implement strategies and policies
  3. Modelling to identify and present business cases or funding bids
  4. Landscape architecture – tree planting, rain gardens etc
  5. Behaviour change that embraces travel evolution

15 minute cities in the UK

While European cities have set the pace for this game-changing concept, smart urban plans are being considered and rolled out cross the UK too.

Birmingham

Birmingham City Council has an ambitious transport vision for a “sustainable, green, inclusive, go-anywhere network.” The City Council wants to make walking and cycling the first choice for short journeys with integrated public transport being the “go-to choice for longer trips”.

Sweco is delivering this vision with programme management support of the c£4.5m Active Travel Fund 2” programme with Mark Philpotts, one of our walking & cycling design specialists, seconded to City Council’s delivery team.

Ipswich

Ipswich is aiming to become the UK’s first truly ‘connected town centre’, in line with the 15 minute city concept. Plans, put together by Ipswich Vision, would reshape the Suffolk town as more of a neighbourhood than a shopping destination with more housing, green spaces, schools and recreation. There will be an emphasis on the town’s waterfront, and will ensure other key features, including its train station, central park and square, are within a 15 minute walk.

The plan recognises that in the new, post-COVID world, a town centre will need to rely less upon retail and develop a new purpose as a place to live and visit. This new strategy for Ipswich commits to many more people living centrally and having around them all that they will need to live their lives locally.

How is Sweco championing the 15 Minute City?

Developing corridors and streets for ‘people areas’ in Manchester and Leeds that prioritise walking and cycling, making it easier for people of all backgrounds to move around their local area without needing to travel further by car to access key services and amenities.

Supporting liveable neighbourhood plans in London through modelling key schemes – we are providing transport appraisal support for large developments and wider local plans to show how best to link these locations to the local community and maximise their viability within the areas they sit.

Helping provide the facilities required for 15MC by demonstrating the positive impacts on the transport network of major regeneration schemes.

Leading on town centre regeneration at Canning Town (Hallsville Quarter – St Modwen/Notting Hill Genesis), Woolwich (Woolwich Exchange – Bouygues/Linkcity/LB Newham) – Leisure/Retail/Community Uses/Housing. Housing Estate

Undertaking regeneration with a greater provision of local leisure, community and retail facilities at Winstanley and York Rd Regeneration (Taylor Wimpey/LB Wandsworth).

Helping to create Masterplan Frameworks at Leyton for LB Waltham Forest.

Working with local authorities and transport authorities to understand public and stakeholder issues and visions for their area, in particular in West Yorkshire for the A641 project. We are using the key principles about sustainability and 15MC to design schemes that promote cycling, walking and public transport use and moreover schemes that reinforce the importance and proximity of the local town centres along the A641 corridor.

Going forward, city planners, engineers, local authorities, private sector agencies and of course the public must engage on what the 15 minute city concept means in real terms.

We need to understand all queries, concerns and opportunities as we redesign cities and go way beyond what was the norm before COVID-19. In doing so we will create healthy, clean and vibrant cities with travel networks and buildings that allow us to make the most of every minute.

Mark Fitch Transportation Planning Lead

To open up the conversation around 15 minute cities, talk to our travel advisory & planning experts today via the form below. Or, to learn more about healthy cities in general, download our full Urban Insights report.

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