The 15 Minute Neighborhood – Back Again

The 15-minute neighborhood is not necessarily a new concept. It has been around for quite a while, with different names or definitions.

What is it?

It is really nothing more than being able to do daily tasks within your neighborhood by either walking or riding a bike. Instead of driving to food shop, 15-minute neighborhoods support the idea of walking, riding a bike or if accessible and easy, use transit. In a more perfect world, we could perhaps walk or ride a bike to work versus getting in our cars and commuting long distances. But we have long history of planned for cars versus people.

Source: C40 Cities https

This is not a new idea,  based on previous work by American planner Clarence Perry –  the 1900’s – the “neighborhood unit”. A later, but perhaps a more well-known advocate was Jane Jacobs and her landmark book – The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

A more recent advocate is Carlos Moreno, Scientific Director, Pantheon Sorbonne University, Paris. A recent TED Talk summarizes his thoughts.

Below is how Paris envisions their 15 minute neighborhood.

Source: The Alternative UK

So why now?

The pandemic has accelerated the desire for functional and human scale cities, towns and neighborhoods., This is evidenced by the significant increases in the designation of open/car free streets, and increases in biking and use of parks/recreation areas.

Where is this done?

Other places pursuing this include:

Melbourne, which adopted a long-term strategic plan for 20-minute neighborhoods

Detroit, which organized a 20-minute-city concept around its defunct streetcar grid

Portland, whose Complete Neighborhood concept plans for 90% of the city to have “safe and convenient access to the goods and services needed in daily life”

Ottawa, which launched a 15-minute-neighbourhood plan to have residents take half their trips by foot, bicycle, public transit or by carpooling.

C40 Cities, a city-led coalition focused on fighting climate change, elevated the 15-minute city idea as a blueprint for post-Covid economic recovery

Source: What is a 15 Minute City? City Monitor, September 21, 2020

Source: Place Northwest , December 2020

Can it Work in Smaller Places?!

Cities with higher density (those referred above and others) have a built in advantage for this concept . These also may have robust transit options as well. But still the challenge will be to overcome car centric planning, with its attendant sprawl and low density , particularly in the US.

There is a new app Do You Live in a “15 Minute City? that “lets you check whether an address meets the criteria for such a city. Input an address, and see whether you can access medical care, grocery stores, cultural attractions, transit stops, education facilities and leisure spots within 15 or 20 minutes of walking. In its current iteration, the map is focused on the United States. ”

I first used the app, with my home address, a single family neighborhood, with 1+ acre lots. The results – “Not quite there yet” . There is limited opportunity to walk 15 minutes to the grocery store, medical office and cultural facilities , medical, education or leisure activities. Expansion to a 20 minute walk does provide access to a neighborhood park. This is contrasted by driving 15 minutes that provides easy access to all necessary places for daily living.

I then tried my Town, La Plata, Maryland and easy meet the criteria for a 15 minute city – walking to all places needed for daily living.

Residential units in downtown La Plata is somewhat limited, but this is encouraging by demonstrating that additional residential housing are needed and could be accommodated with more mixed use projects (first floor commercial office/ upper floors residential) and increases densities, consistent with the town.

What’s Next?!

Here is a list of “rules to create a 15- minute neighborhood that could be applied to your community:

Bring back the neighborhood school.

Make sure food and basic necessities are available locally.

Third Places come in all shapes and sizes

House enough people, and all kinds of people

Density isn’t enough

Sweat the small stuff for true walkability

Know when to get out of the way

Source: Strong Towns

The Ask

  1. Apply the 15-Minute Neighborhood app to your place
  2. What are the results and what does it mean?
  3. Research your zoning and development rules to determine how can you change your neighborhood
  4. Actively engage in your community – talk to your local elected officials, participate in their meetings, work sessions; participate in planning commission and related meetings and hearings.

Further Reading:

The 15-Minute City—No Cars Required—Is Urban Planning’s New Utopia

Can This App Tell You If You Live in a ’15 Minute Neighborhood’?

7 Rules for Creating “15-Minute Neighborhoods”

How to build back better with a 15-minute city

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