What Is a 15-Minute Neighborhood?
Thursday, Feb 18, 2021 - 6 mins
In 2020, Anne Hildago stepped into her second term as the Mayor of Paris. Her re-election campaign hinged on a community-minded idea that captured voters’ imaginations: turn Paris into a city of 15-minute neighborhoods. But the people of Paris weren’t the only ones taking notice.
Here’s why 15-minute neighborhoods are inspiring optimism around the world—and what we’re doing to help bring them to life.
What Is a 15-Minute Neighborhood?
Also known as a complete community or walkable neighborhood a 15-minute neighborhood is a place where you can easily access all of your day-to-day needs—like food, education and outdoor space—within a 15-minute walk from your home.
A collection of these walkable neighborhoods make up a 15-minute city, designed to minimize the use of cars and make it easy for pedestrians and cyclists to get around.
REEF is helping to build both 15-minute neighborhoods and 15-minute cities by creating neighborhood hubs: mixed-use spaces that make essentials (like food, bikes, and healthcare) more accessible.
Why Are 15-Minute Neighborhoods So Desirable?
Here’s what living in a 15-minute neighborhood looks like: you don’t lose hours of your day to your commute, and your children can safely walk or bike to school. You shop at a neighborhood grocery store, and you know the people you interact with on a daily basis. Yes, you even know your neighbors! With green space and parks nearby, it’s easy to get outside for exercise—and you rarely need to use your car.
Where Did The Idea of 15-Minute Neighborhoods Come From?
In many ways, 15-minute neighborhoods aren’t new. A hundred years ago, when cars were still a novelty, most people living in cities could meet all their essential needs within a short walk from their homes.
But as cities grew during the 20th century, many older, mixed-use, inner-city neighborhoods were considered “blighted” and torn down. Then, these neighborhoods were replaced and “renewed” with public housing developments that didn’t support mixed-use development.
Those who could afford to often moved out of cities and into new developments full of single-family homes, leading to the rapid growth of suburbs. But it also led to an increased reliance on cars, as people living in these sprawling communities could no longer easily walk to access everyday essentials.
Who Reignited Desire for the 15-Minute Neighborhood?
One of the biggest critics of this “urban renewal” was Jane Jacobs, who argued that rather than revitalizing cities, the flight to the suburbs was devastating for urban communities.
She believed that cities should be living ecosystems made up of mixed-use neighborhoods where people could live and work in close proximity. Sound familiar? That’s right—Jane Jacobs laid the groundwork for today’s 15-minute neighborhood movement.
Now, Jacob’s ideas have found new life in the work of Professor Carlos Moreno. A passionate advocate for building “living smart cities,” Moreno played a key role in Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s plans to make Paris more livable by turning roads over to pedestrians and cyclists. In 2020, he helped develop plans to transform Paris into a 15-minute city.
Here he is speaking about 15-minute neighborhoods at Blueprint’s Future of Cities Townhall:
What Do 15-Minute Neighborhoods Look Like Around the World?
One of the first cities to embrace the idea of the walkable city was Copenhagen, which turned its main shopping street over to pedestrians in 1962.
Since then, several other European cities (including Oslo, Amsterdam, London and Milan) have made their city centers more pedestrian-friendly or have extended bike lanes in order to create 15-minute neighborhoods.
Many North American cities are also adopting more walkable neighborhoods. Portland, Oregon has a city plan that promotes 20-minute neighborhoods, “in which 90% of Portland residents can easily walk or bicycle to meet all basic daily, non-work needs.”
Detroit is also taking steps to turn its densely populated urban neighborhoods into 20-minute neighborhoods with enhanced public transit plans that hearken back to its history as a city designed for streetcars. And Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, has plans to create a network of 15-minute neighborhoods that will keep the city livable while also allowing for continued population growth.
What Are The Challenges to Building 15-Minute Neighborhoods?
While the mixed-use neighborhoods imagined by Jane Jacobs are still worth striving for, building them by traditional means won’t be easy.
Cities have been developed to a point where there simply isn’t enough space to add more infrastructure—for large warehouses, say, or more parks. And in suburbs, where there may be enough space, local governments face a lengthy, expensive process to develop the infrastructure that will bring people closer together and make neighborhoods more livable.
How Can We Bring 15-Minute Neighborhoods to Life?
We at REEF would like to help make the future of cities better—for people, not cars. For us, the key to this is in creating 15-minute neighborhoods.
REEF is turning underused urban spaces—like parking lots—into mixed-use neighborhood hubs. From thriving restaurants to shared bicycles, fresh vegetables to family doctors, these hubs are designed to make the essential accessible.
It’s a new normal and a new era of neighborhood living—reimagined with you in mind.
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