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Why 15-minute cities are a good idea

The simple idea of “putting stuff closer together so it’s easier to get to the stuff” is driving the popularity of 15 (or 20) minute centres. But, asks Juliana O’Rourke, should we know more about the implications of narrowing travel patterns, the potential for inequality, impacts on travel demand and the big picture for infrastructure investment?

18 May 2021
Barcelona’s superblocks are focused on neighbourhoods of nine blocks, with traffic restricted to roads around the outside. It’s one approach supporting the idea of 15 minute centres, and focused on local commerce, supporting affordable housing and boosting public transport as well as active streets
Barcelona’s superblocks are focused on neighbourhoods of nine blocks, with traffic restricted to roads around the outside. It’s one approach supporting the idea of 15 minute centres, and focused on local commerce, supporting affordable housing and boosting public transport as well as active streets
Elements of a 20-minute neighbourhood, from Victoria State Government`s ‘Creating a more liveable Melbourne’ plan
Elements of a 20-minute neighbourhood, from Victoria State Government`s ‘Creating a more liveable Melbourne’ plan
The 5,000-plus dwelling development at Woodberry Downs, north London, ticks a lot of 15 minute centre boxes: dentist, health centre, chemist, library, restaurants and bars, schools, gym, retail, green and blue spaces, onward transport hub, good public transport links, mixed tenures, a diverse community – even outdoor swimming and a marina – and all within a 15 minute walk or cycle. And working from home options tick one more box – quality jobs.
The 5,000-plus dwelling development at Woodberry Downs, north London, ticks a lot of 15 minute centre boxes: dentist, health centre, chemist, library, restaurants and bars, schools, gym, retail, green and blue spaces, onward transport hub, good public transport links, mixed tenures, a diverse community – even outdoor swimming and a marina – and all within a 15 minute walk or cycle. And working from home options tick one more box – quality jobs.

 

Compact centres are back on the agenda. They may be described as 5, 15 or 20 minute neighbourhoods or cities – and, as ever, the more popular the concept gets, the more variants are proposed and discussed (the most compact version of this theme I’ve come across so far is the Swedish ‘Street Moves’ 1 minute neighbourhood, which advocates hyperlocal attention to the participatory design of every street). There are many models: intensification, densification, proximity or...

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