Introducing the 15-Minute City – Moving Towards Sustainable Living

by Irene Domínguez Pérez

For a long time, cities have been growing in a way that necessitates long-distance commuting and traffic and air pollution. Cities have developed according to the citizen’s need for mobility (physical ability to reach destinations) instead of their need for accessibility (ability to gain access to services, goods and activities at destinations) [1]. Consequently, urban design has become car-focused, rather than addressing reasons for travel.

It is in response to this that the concept of the 15-minute city was popularised when Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, made it the driver of her re-election campaign. Her renowned scientific advisor and professor at the Sorbonne, Carlos Moreno, explains the 15-minute city as he proposed it back in 2016: ‘Cities should be designed (or redesigned) so that within the distance of a 15-minute walk or bike ride, people should be able to live the essence of what constitutes the urban experience: to access work, housing, food, health, education, culture and leisure.’ [2,3].

He proposes that cities need to be rethought following four guiding principles: ecology, proximity, solidarity and citizen participation, all while making sure that every single person has access to all key services within this 15-minute radius [3].

This can be done by ensuring that the 15-minute city has three key features. The first is that the rhythm of the city follows humans instead of cars. The second is to provide multipurpose spaces, i.e. every built square metre should be used for different activities. The third is that neighbourhoods are designed to avoid constant commuting, by guaranteeing an appropriate land use mix [3].

Of course, changes at this scale come with certain challenges. Every city is different, and it is likely that the measures to achieve a sustainable mobility within them differ as well. It is important to make sure that this transformation is adapted to the context and characteristics of each urban area, all while making sure the transition leaves no one behind.

This concept has inspired change not only in Paris, but also in other cities in the form of similar initiatives. Some cities like Madrid, Ottawa, Milan and Seattle have declared plans to copy this approach [4]. Others, like Amsterdam, are subscribing to the Doughnut City model, based on Kate Raworth’sDoughnut Economics”. This model builds on the circular economy concept to foster the transition towards a new economic system, while pushing for the redesigning of mixed-use districts and buildings [5]. Even citizen-powered projects have started to appear, such as the 15-Minute City Project, an information resource created by San Francisco-based urbanist Dan Luscher [6].

As seen, this innovative idea has been gaining popularity around the world recently, in no small part because the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of cities in their current organization [7]. Among its many devastating consequences, this situation has also made us rethink our standards for what is possible and offers a chance to build back better [8]. What is certain is that cities will play a key role in achieving sustainability in a post-pandemic world, and that the 15-minute city model constitutes a relevant starting point for policy-makers all around the globe.

Featured image from Dossier de Presse: Le Paris du quart d’heur. Anne Hidalgo, Paris en Commun (2020).


[1] Cathy Macharis & Joeri Van Mierlo. Handbook edition 2017 for the Sustainable Mobility and Logistics course at Brussels Faculty of Engineering (BRUFACE).
[7] Carlos Moreno et al. Introducing the “15-Minute City”: Sustainability, Resilience and Place Identity in Future Post-Pandemic Cities. Smart Cities 2021, 4, 93-111.
Categories Transport/Urban Policies

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