Welcome to the 15-minute city. This new concept could be the key to rebuilding our post-pandemic world by transforming cities into spaces that humans can comfortably inhabit and that evolve and function at a slower, more reasonable pace.
The underlying idea is that, in this type of city, anyone should be able to satisfy all their basic needs without ever having to travel more than 15 minutes on foot or by bicycle from their home to any destination. This city model’s urban planning unit, of course, is the neighbourhood, designed as a comprehensive entity comprising everything that is needed not only for the citizens’ primary needs but for their overall well-being. This makes longer journeys much rarer, “special” occasions (such as seeing a live concert by a particular artist or visiting a friend), but never obligations that weigh on the citizens’ time management and finances.
Focusing on the local
This urban planning model, based on connected and comprehensive neighbourhoods, envisages the decentralisation of services and city administration and encourages a deeper connection between the citizens and their territory. During times like the ones we are living through, the idea of limiting mass travel (especially on public transport) in favour of individual mobility, encouraging cycling and walking, can be instrumental in limiting the spread of the pandemic.
The 15-minute city’s neighbourhoods
This urban planning model is in stark contrast to those that have been almost universally adopted since the Industrial Revolution, which clearly distinguish between commercial areas, residential neighbourhoods, areas reserved for offices and banks, and so on. Of course, there are and there always will be certain establishments and facilities that cannot or should not be located close to residential areas, but most offices and commercial premises can coexist peacefully with the spaces in which the population lives. This is why every neighbourhood in the City of 15 minutes is designed to provide immediate access to all essential goods and services, from groceries to health care, from schools to plenty of parks and public spaces. There should also be variety in the type of housing provided, which should range in price and size, so that communities can be formed organically and inclusively, avoiding the forming of “ghettos”.
How do we build a 15-minute City?
This new concept of urban development fascinates many, but it is natural to wonder how an existing city, with pre-existing buildings and social structures stratified over the years (and, in the case of Italy, often through the centuries and millennia) can be reshaped into something completely new. Clearly, this is not an easy or quick task and the concept must be applied flexibly, but the operative word is “filling in the gaps”. It is always necessary to start from what each neighbourhood already has and work around the available resources to introduce what is missing. As a mainly theoretical model, the 15-Minute city does not yet have any real and complete instances to draw from, but its blueprint gives us a chance to imagine the future developments in our urban environment.