15-minute cities gain popularity in times of social isolation

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New mobility concept promises to reverse the car supremacy by encouraging the decentralization of cities

Imagine being able to live, work, study and access essential services for our quality of life just 15 minutes from home, on foot or by bicycle. This concept is already practiced in some cities around the world, and has gained more prominence since the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the popularization of the home office and made people avoid mass displacement to distant places.

Known as “15-minute city” or “the quarter-hour city”, the proposal promotes urban planning at the neighborhood level, discouraging the circulation of cars, decentralizing services and making life possible without the need for long commutes.

Popularized during the re-election of Parisian mayor Anne Hidalgo in 2020, the concept was theorized by the Franco-Colombian urbanist and scientist Carlos Moreno, who since 2015 works as a mobility advisor in Paris. Not least, the French capital is a reference in the matter: there, the cycle paths already form a network of about a thousand kilometers, without counting the public incentives for the rental or acquisition of bicycles and with future plans to discourage the use of motor vehicles.

For Moreno, it is urgent to rethink the metropolises around four guiding principles, which are the key to structuring the 15-minute cities: ecology, proximity, solidarity and participation. “The 15-minute city must have three main characteristics: first, the pace of the city must follow the man, not the cars. Second, each square meter must serve different purposes, and, finally, neighborhoods must be designed so that we can live, work and thrive in them”, defends the scientist in TED Talk published at the end of last year.

Going even further, Sweden is pursuing a hyperlocal variation, on a national scale: there, the proposal is for local communities to become co-architects of the layout of their own streets, transforming curb parking spaces into recreation stations designed by and for local residents. This is what Dan Hill, director of strategic design for the Swedish government agency Vinnova, calls the “one-minute city”. Far from wanting everything to be reduced to the level of a street, the initiative promotes more direct ways for cities to get involved with the public, creating critical connection spaces for local communities.