A New Vision of Urban Living: The 15-Minute City
July 18, 2020 9:06 AM   Subscribe

How the '15-Minute City' Could Help Post-Pandemic Recovery - "A new C40 Cities report touts Paris's model for putting essentials within close walking or biking distance as an economic boost for coronavirus-ravaged municipal budgets."
Local governments may face a cumulative shortfall of hundreds of billions of dollars, small businesses are closing at staggering rates, and when the temporary boost in unemployment benefits expires, municipal sales tax shortfalls may get even worse.

An international coalition of cities believes that the only path forward for mayors is funding green stimulus plans focused on job creation. The newly released Mayors’ Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery, released July 15 by C40 Cities, an international coalition of urban leaders focused on fighting climate change and promoting sustainable development, was developed by the organizations’s Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force. The far-ranging series of plans offers a green prescription for financial stabilization that emphasizes several familiar pillars of progressive urbanism—renewable energy investment, energy-efficient buildings, improved mass transit, and spending on new parks and green space. One core idea: Cities are the “engines of the recovery” and investing in their resilience is the best way to avoid economic disaster.
Welcome to the 15-minute city - "It's trying to ensure that people don't hop in their car to get a pint of milk; it opens up a more accessible world."

also btw...
How Pandemics Wreak Havoc—and Open Minds - "The plague marked the end of the Middle Ages and the start of a great cultural renewal. Could the coronavirus, for all its destruction, offer a similar opportunity for radical change?"
Italy at the beginning of the fourteenth century was a conglomeration of prosperous city-states that had broken free of the feudal system. Some of them, such as Venice, formed merchant republics, which became seedbeds for capitalism. Venice and other coastal cities, including Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi, set up trading networks and established outposts throughout the Mediterranean and as far away as the Black Sea. Other Italian cities, such as Bologna, became free communes, which meant that peasants fleeing feudal estates were granted freedom once they entered the city walls. Serfs became artisans. A middle class began to form. The early fourteenth century was robust and ambitious. Then, suddenly, people began to die.
posted by kliuless (28 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 


Pandemic or no, the concept of the "15 minute city" would solve a few other problems as well - like the existence of food deserts.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:15 AM on July 18 [22 favorites]


I am really struggling with the "but but but cultural renewal!!!" attempt at putting a silver lining on several million deaths (currently 14 million worldwide, and still rising), a substantial proportion of which should have been preventable. It's one step better than "I learned to make macarons in quarantine!!!!!" but is still extremely tone-deaf and in poor taste. If nothing else, the abrupt border closures provoked by covid has prevented, and will continue to prevent, the sort of cultural mixing that leads to new hybrid ways of doing things.

From the first 15-min city link:
“A crisis does have a way of revealing what’s already broken,” Bosacker says. “If cities aren’t using the revealing nature of this pandemic, how it’s highlighting disparities and racial inequities, shame on them. As difficult as it’s going to be, it’s a real opportunity.”

Again, I don't know enough about European cities to comment, but most US cities are so deeply segregated (including everyone's darling NYC -- I lived 5 years in a Manhattan neighborhood without a grocery store, greenspace or public library within 50 blocks; and yes, it was an immigrant neighborhood, why do you ask) that only the wealthy and/or white actually live within a 15 min walk of anything. The "islands of walkability" dynamic definitely describes most US cities. I'm not surprised they chose to mention the fiasco of "walkable" Tysons -- my family lives in that area, and yeah, trying to cross a ten-lane highway (Rt 7) is reserved for those with a deathwish.

Is there a good way to achieve this 15-min city idea without falling prey to gentrification?
posted by basalganglia at 10:20 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I live in a neighborhood that has almost everything within a 15 minute walk but my neighbors will still get in the cars and drive a 1/4 mile to go somewhere.
posted by octothorpe at 10:45 AM on July 18 [9 favorites]


but my neighbors will still get in the cars and drive a 1/4 mile to go somewhere

This is me. I spend 8-9 hours a day on my feet in a warehouse carrying 30-50 pound objects around all day long and at the end of my day, I'm going to drive to that grocery store that is 6 blocks away from my house because I've already put my steps in for the day and I'm exhausted.

I don't get the desk job people who drive to places, but I feel entirely justified in my personal choices.
posted by hippybear at 10:59 AM on July 18 [10 favorites]


If you had to wear a mask all day at work, would you still wear one to go to the grocery store?

I recognize that there are legitimate reasons for some people to use motor vehicles in a world designed around them. I also recognize that one doesn't actually need to feel justified to make a decision about how to live one's life. But in the absence of further information, this use of a motor vehicle doesn't actually sound justifiable to me.
posted by aniola at 12:04 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


The 15-minute city is a great idea, but it needs some pretty bold legislation and enforcement to become real most places. I live in a neighborhood that works that way, and I get how it is possible in Paris for many reasons. But for most places, you'll need regulations about commercial spaces' sizes and rent, as well as regulations securing some percentage of cheap housing. Even here in Social Democratic Denmark that is a hard sale.
Thanks for posting, though. I'm trying to write a coherent piece on sustainable planning and this is obviously important.

The thing about a 15-minute city is that you don't even have to walk a 1/4 mile. In my block, there is a shawarma bar and a very fancy, but cheap café. I can get food there if I can't make it the 250 meters to the nearest real (Indian) grocery store, or the 400 meters (1/4 mile) to the nearest of several supermarkets. the population density here means they are all economically sound businesses, but it also means a lot that the café and the bar and the grocery store pay low rents. So you need both high density and low rents.
An astounding percentage of the people who live here work here too. I don't, but I'm looking to get a job within my block. The other day I took a walk into the next neighborhood and it was like going on holiday -- a completely different atmosphere. One day on the bus, I heard two old ladies talking about how they had never been to another neighborhood within the city. (The bus went there, and they were talking about what would happen if they fell asleep on the bus).
posted by mumimor at 12:06 PM on July 18 [7 favorites]


Here's why
posted by aniola at 12:06 PM on July 18


Pandemic or no, the concept of the "15 minute city" would solve a few other problems as well - like the existence of food deserts.

Well... yeah...

I'm pretty critical of the whole idea of food deserts. But yes, if you live somewhere that isn't a "food desert", however you define it, you've made a major hurdle of the "15 minute city" goal.

So I think I'll also add the "15 minute city" to my list of concepts I'm critical of, not as a reasonable goal for one to seek personally, but as an unreasonable goal for a lot of places one might also consider a "food desert". Which gets to one of the biggest reasons for criticism: privilege. It's all fine and dandy of you can afford to exist in such a place. But a place with access to goods, services, work and/or good transportation to work, culture and recreation, costs a lot of money, and a lot of population density, if you think this is a worthwhile goal for the masses. It's a top-down, ass backward solution that's great if everyone has the same goal and thinks the same way.

It'll be no surprise that some folks don't think the same way.

Keep in mind, my criticism comes from my view only, someone who actually lives in a place that's pretty close to a "15 minute city" kind of neighborhood, actually likes riding bike as a form of transportation (as opposed to recreation). And really, when proponents make declarations like, “We want to encourage people to buy local, and forget Amazon”, just fuck off already.

This is me. I spend 8-9 hours a day on my feet in a warehouse carrying 30-50 pound objects around all day long and at the end of my day, I'm going to drive to that grocery store that is 6 blocks away from my house because I've already put my steps in for the day and I'm exhausted.

I don't get the desk job people who drive to places, but I feel entirely justified in my personal choices.


SHAME!
posted by 2N2222 at 12:11 PM on July 18


Don't need the competency to maintain a transportation and transit network
If no one goes anywhere
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 12:24 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


The fundamental problem about talking about privilege and gentrification around denser, walkable, urban places being more expensive is that they are not more expensive by accident in the auto-oriented West. Suburban and exurban lifestyles are wildly subsidized, and urban places have been destroyed and the ability to build them has largely been banned. If just 20% of the people want to live in walkable places, but only 5% of a city is walkable, then of course a few blocks in a single neighbourhood becoming more walkable will drive up the price. If half the city was walkable, it would be cheaper to live in a walkable place.

Meanwhile, the suburbs are crazily subsidized - from the tax breaks given to homeowners, to the way car drivers are subsidized by everybody else. Here's a fun calculator based on Vancouver numbers. For an 8 km / 5 mi trip, a car user pays only 70% of the total cost of their trip. For transit users, it depends on the route - a low ridership community bus (the C routes) they pay 85% of the total cost of their trip; for the very high frequency 99 bus, they actually pay 104% of the cost of their trip. Pedestrians and cyclists subsidize even more; 115% and 125% of the cost respectively. Note this is Vancouver, where fuel taxes are 60 cents a litre, about four times higher than the average US fuel tax. And this is, for example, before the current coronavirus which disproportionately affects those who have been exposed to the pollution caused by motor cars. Not to mention the century of public framing of the suburbs as wholesome and the cities as evil and the underlying racism tied in with this.

It's like opening a cafeteria where the tuna salad sandwich is 25 cents and the ham and cheese costs $25 and a punch in the face, and then concluding that there just isn't much demand for ham and cheese sandwiches, and that people just naturally love tuna salad.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:07 PM on July 18 [31 favorites]


> Is there a good way to achieve this 15-min city idea without falling prey to gentrification?

If you make one little neighborhood a "15-minute neighborhood" then suddenly it looks a lot better than almost all of its otherwise-similar surrounding neighborhoods, prices go up, different people are attracted to move in, gentrification.

If you systematically do this throughout an entire city and region, in every neighborhood the dynamic is completely different.

It's sort of like the difference between raising the pay for one particular job by $5/hour vs raising the minimum wage for an entire city or region by $5/hour.
posted by flug at 1:30 PM on July 18 [23 favorites]


I came across the 15-minute-city idea a couple of months back and I think it's a useful shorthand for getting across what a walkable (or bikeable) city might be.

I'm hoping it could actually be a way to help resist gentrification, rather than encourage it. I realise this is in my framing, but if you want a city where people can get their everyday needs within a 15 minute walk, you have to include some of the industry, warehousing, etc. within that 15 minute zone.

I've been exploring the idea of what it might look like for Liverpool (where I live) as a side project. So far it's just got isochrones on a map showing how far you can get in 15 minutes' walk, ride, etc. Next I want to show land usage types, so you can see if there's residential/shopping/offices/industry/parks/... in your zone.

If nothing else it's letting me have a bunch of conversations with fellow citizens about the idea.
posted by amcewen at 3:04 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


If you had to wear a mask all day at work, would you still wear one to go to the grocery store?

I do wear a mask all day at work. I also wear one to the grocery store. I've been wearing masks in public shopping places for weeks before I was required to wear one at my work. My work is much safer than the grocery store. Fewer people, much higher ceilings, much more air flow. Grocery stores and gas stations scare the fuck out of me. I'm not even in a supposed hot zone. Why would anyone not wear a mask to a grocery store?
posted by hippybear at 3:32 PM on July 18 [7 favorites]


That’s interesting, amcewen, I don’t think I’ve run across anyone else trying to integrate industry in cells this size. The roads need to be so big for even medium scale industry that the intersections are hard for pedestrians, IME.

I’m more familiar with plans and retrofits to put a transit connection in each 15' neighborhood and connect those to industry jobsites. "String of pearls" of neighborhoods connected to the industry that has to be by the wharves, rails, airfield, etc.

I’d like the neighborhoods to be traversed by slow free quiet milk floats serving as package delivery, traffic calming, and very local public transit.
posted by clew at 4:45 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


If you had to wear a mask all day at work, would you still wear one to go to the grocery store?

Is your implication that physical weariness is somehow different from the public compassion of wearing a mask in public. I am not entirely sure why you even typed this sentence. I assume it was directed at me about driving to the grocery store.
posted by hippybear at 4:57 PM on July 18 [5 favorites]


How about building cities where there are convenient, safe, low-effort transportation methods that don't require people to take an entire living room furniture set capable of 100 MPH with them everywhere they go? It's not like the only two options are walking and driving an automobile for every quarter-mile trip.
posted by asperity at 5:24 PM on July 18 [6 favorites]


Instead of a 15-minute city, the neighborhood became another “island of walkability,”

I think this is an important point that is often overlooked when we talk about mixed-use, especially in an existing suburban environment.

For instance, where I live which was planned and plotted when hippies ruled the earth, there are lots of mandated alleyways, cut-throughs and connections, so one neighborhood, although built by different developers, connects to another seamlessly, so I can walk to the commercial area that is a couple of neighborhoods over.

But at some point, the political winds shifted, and the later neighborhoods are mazes of cul-de-sacs, truncated streets and no alleyways, such that you may be able to see the grocery store but not be able to get there from here without turning a half mile walk into a 2 mile car trip.
And once you're in the car, you might as well drive out to the big grocery store near the bypass.
posted by madajb at 5:31 PM on July 18 [12 favorites]


Which has free-at-point-of-use parking.
posted by clew at 6:38 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


hippybear - yes, that is correct. I see not driving a car as being about having compassion for the lives of fellow members of the public. Especially (as with covid) compassion the most vulnerable members of the public (in this case, people who walk, bike, have asthma, etc.).
posted by aniola at 8:51 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I lived in Queens for a bit and had something fairly close to this. I could walk to just about everything except my job, for which I used public transit. Most of the basic essentials were within a few blocks: restaurants, grocery stores, laundromats, banking, bars, shoe repair, friends.
posted by bunderful at 9:39 PM on July 18


That’s interesting, amcewen, I don’t think I’ve run across anyone else trying to integrate industry in cells this size. The roads need to be so big for even medium scale industry that the intersections are hard for pedestrians, IME.

That's true clew, I suppose for larger industrial sites I'd expect them to be at the edge of a couple of neighbourhoods (more like your "sting of pearls"), and the 15 minute cycle areas are pretty large.

Plus what I'm broadly classing as "industrial" would include car mechanics and similar smaller engineering and wood workshops, which don't need as much infrastructure. It's more about providing the possibility of employment-within-your-15-minutes to all skill levels, rather than telling all the low-skilled workers that they either need to work in a shop, or schlep out to the edge of town.

I think more variety in factory size would help with that too, and also be a good thing.

I’d like the neighborhoods to be traversed by slow free quiet milk floats serving as package delivery, traffic calming, and very local public transit.

That sounds good to me. We've got a local bike co-op doing deliveries by cargo bike for that :-D
posted by amcewen at 2:14 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


If you systematically do this throughout an entire city and region, in every neighborhood the dynamic is completely different.

Definitely. But absent a massive infusion of municipal cash (which, last I looked, most towns and cities aren't exactly sitting on deep coffers right now), it's going to be a piecemeal process. And piecemeal --> gentrification, as you noted.

Honestly, I'm skeptical that a top-down approach will work at all, particularly in areas that gained urban-level density after the postwar rise of car culture. That's what the Tysons attempt was like -- the mall/shopping complex has been there since 1968 and was always a "drive, park, walk" destination; surrounding area was farmland and gradually got built up into SFHs in the 70s and 80s. Now, in the last ~10 years, they've been building enormous high-rise apartments and a commuter rail line, so the population density (and property values) have skyrocketed. And a few new "drive, park, walk" areas have sprung up to accommodate a younger, gentrified crowd, like Mosaic (formerly Merrifield shopping center, which was deeply sketch when I was a kid in the 90s) -- but the fundamental car-centricity of the area has not changed. Even Reston, right up the road, which was specifically designed as a "15-minute city" (and I think what the Tysons developers were using as their model) is still a car-centric space which is mostly a swath of parking lots/garages and strip malls.

Until you make having a car more of a hassle than not having a car (e.g. narrow winding streets like many European city centers, or hefty parking fees/moving your car every two days for street cleaning/massive gas taxes like some North American cities), you're not going to achieve true walkability, at least not in a way that alleviates rather than accentuates inequity and privilege.
posted by basalganglia at 6:04 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I am really struggling with the "but but but cultural renewal!!!" attempt at putting a silver lining on several million deaths (currently 14 million worldwide, and still rising), a substantial proportion of which should have been preventable.

There have "only" been ~603,000 deaths worldwide directly attributable to Covid-19 so far. Undercounting means there have probably been more like a million and perhaps some hundreds of thousands more due to knock-on effects. But that is more like 1.4 million, not 14 million.

I hope that helps assuage some of the feelings of despondency that might come from thinking about such an almost unfathomable figure. It's still a horrible, largely avoidable tragedy but at least on a somewhat smaller scale than that.
posted by jedicus at 8:13 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Sorry yes! I misread cases for deaths. Inexcusable!
posted by basalganglia at 8:49 AM on July 19


There have "only" been ~603,000 deaths worldwide directly attributable to Covid-19 so far. Undercounting means there have probably been more like a million

Basalganglia might have inadvertantly been more correct. The 2009 Swine Flu epidemic (H1N1) had officially recorded 18,000 deaths, however the CDC estimates it caused roughly 280,000 deaths, a factor of 15x higher.

So 600,000 official deaths x 15 = 9 million. Implicit in the 600,000 are some districts purposefully counting "probable" deaths as Covid, but others are not, so it's not likely that we will undercount Covid to the same level that H1N1 was, however it's still likely to be very significant especially in poorer countries around the world.
posted by xdvesper at 7:05 PM on July 19


> But absent a massive infusion of municipal cash (which, last I looked, most towns and cities aren't exactly sitting on deep coffers right now), it's going to be a piecemeal process.

Complementary currencies for municipal finance
posted by kliuless at 11:11 PM on July 19


It's all fine and dandy of you can afford to exist in such a place. But a place with access to goods, services, work and/or good transportation to work, culture and recreation, costs a lot of money, and a lot of population density, if you think this is a worthwhile goal for the masses. It's a top-down, ass backward solution that's great if everyone has the same goal and thinks the same way.

I'm actually now living another alternative.

I now work in one of two former naval shipyards which Brooklyn has been turning into business parks. The one I work in is surrounded by six different Brooklyn neighborhoods, each of which has a different demographic; it also has 450 different business in a wide variety of industries, all offering jobs at a wide variety of skill sets; everything from tech stuff developing apps to machinists in manufacturing to tour guides with a couple museums to bookkeeping in a ton of places to stage hand for a movie studio to security guards to gardener for the rooftop farm. The business park is also committed to community outreach; they have a program that lets the businesses create open-to-the-public events which the business park promotes, they have a job office that heavily recruits from all the surrounding communities, they have dedicated shuttle buses that collect people from each of the nearest subway stops that can pick them up and bring them the rest of the way to the business park and drop them off at various stops within it. Finally, the business park has a major supermarket within it, plus smaller food shops also within it.

The jobs office told me that they recruit so heavily from the surrounding neighborhoods expressly because "we want to build walkable communities." The couple times I was in to visit the job center, they were working just as intensely to get me (middle-aged secretary) placed as they were to place a guy in a night-watchman job.

This business park could easily have been razed when the shipyard was decommissioned, and turned into a couple of office buildings that catered only to a handful of types of work and workers, leaving everyone else to shift for themselves. Instead, the city sought to attract a broad variety of businesses which called for a broad spectrum of workers, so people of all of the surrounding neighborhoods had an equal shot at being able to walk to work, and then bring that money back home to their own neighborhoods.

That sounds like a 15-minute city to me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:26 AM on July 20 [9 favorites]


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