Imagine living close to a park, a shopping center, the kids’ school, a medical center, public transport, and maybe even your workplace. Everything would be within a 20-minute stroll or bike ride. You might be tempted to call it utopia, but this is what the concept of the 20-minute neighborhood wants to bring to our cities.
The idea of the 20-minute neighborhood was developed in Melbourne as part of the city’s long-term land-use plan “Plan Melbourne”. It was then adapted in Paris to the concept of the 15-minute city by Carlos Moreno, the scientific director of Sorbonne University’s ETI Lab when he was an adviser to Mayor Anne Hidalgo. The idea aims at dealing with some of the issues of modern cities.
As Jane Jacobs pointed out in the book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, many cities have well-separated residential areas, commercial areas, and shopping malls. This separation of uses leads to lower safety, as each area becomes empty at different times of the day. There is a lack of social connections because people do not meet outside of the intended use of the building, and there is segregation because specialized neighborhoods also cater to different income classes.
Putting together housing, workplaces, parks, shops, and leisure activities in the same neighborhood and connecting them with sustainable transportation such as walkways, bike lanes, and public transit would solve many problems of the traditional planning of current cities.
The environment would be the first to benefit since cars are not needed when everything is within reach. The population’s general health would also improve because walking to the store is a source of much needed exercise. The safety of the area would increase because it would never be empty, and people would care more about a place where they feel at home. Finally, this type of community would foster human interaction and integration by increasing the encounters of local inhabitants and creating “reference points” such as the local bar or the park.
One ambitious goal of the 20-minute neighborhood is to reduce inequality and promote inclusiveness. From an architectural standpoint, urban planners could achieve this by having a mix of apartments and houses in the same neighborhood, to assimilate people of different incomes. In practice, this is harder to achieve as the housing price also depends on variables like location and quality of the surrounding services. Existing 20-minute communities in Portland and in Melbourne are not immune to the problem of gentrification.
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