Ensure access to essential services within all neighborhoods.
The fifteen-minute city shifts urban life away from the unit of the car and puts people at its heart. Such cities already exist. In Paris, Portland, Melbourne, and Madrid, fresh food, health-care, schools, offices, shops, parks, gyms, banks, and entertainment are all within a short distance of one’s home. While the exact blueprint for such transformation lies in the specific culture and history of each city, what is clear is that improving access to essential services benefits everyone, but especially the young, the disabled, and the elderly. Designing at a hyperlocal scale does not box us into our neighborhoods. Rather, it allows us to improve livability, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and build meaningful community. The fifteen-minute (or even twenty- or thirty-minute) city allows us to experience the entire city not out of necessity, but out of the joy of urban living.
Switch to low-carbon transit. When commuting, try as much as possible to use public transit, walk, or cycle within your neighborhood. If you are currently using a car for short trips, consider switching to low-carbon transit such as walking or biking if able. See Micromobility Nexus, Urban Mobility Nexus, and Electric Vehicles Nexus for more information.
Support local businesses. Instead of shopping at hypermarkets or big chain retailers, you can support local and home businesses that provide similar services. Local businesses are likely to cater to individual needs, charge less of a markup, and foster meaningful relationships.
Become a local placemaker. Placemaking is both an idea and approach to strengthening the relationships between people and the places they share. Centering community-based participation, effective placemaking strengthens the community’s assets and enhances public spaces for health, happiness, and well-being.
- People all around the world are participating in Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper (LQC) placemaking interventions by putting together open-air cinemas, building playgrounds, creating public art, starting community gardens, and pedestrianizing streets for neighborhood potlucks. For more information, you can read Jay Walljasper’s DIY Guide to Placemaking, The Great Neighborhood Book.
Speak up. Write an op-ed to a newspaper or post on a social media site about the value and applicability of the fifteen-minute city model for where you live. Consider writing longer pieces for online sites such as Medium, like this one about the application of the fifteen-minute city model to London.
Commit to the vision of a Fifteen-Minute City. Join a growing network of mayors who believe that the fifteen-minute city typology is the future of just and green cities. Publicly announce your commitment to the principles of a fifteen-minute city and mobilize the financial resources and the technical capacity to start implementing the changes needed.
Urban Planners and Architects
Establish a citywide goal. Determine a target that is feasible for your city context guided by the fifteen-minute city core elements. Use a participatory approach to ensure that the plan has a broad base of support. Such a goal can be aligned with existing transit-oriented strategies and land-use plans.
Analyze existing services available within local planning units. By looking at how each square meter within the city is currently being used, planners have the best chance of understanding what each space is being used for, by whom, and how. Identify the existing health providers, pharmacies, fresh produce stores, markets, sports centers, schools, parks, and green areas in order to assess gaps in service provision.
- Portland’s mapping analysis is one such example. By identifying gaps in service provision, planners can best allocate resources to reduce the infrastructure inequities between different parts of the city.
Prioritize neighborhoods furthest away from the goal. It is critical that neighborhoods that have been underserved are prioritized for investments in fifteen-minute-city programs. Involve residents and local businesses in designing measures for improvement.
- In Seoul, the Seoul Innovation Bureau has been created with the sole purpose of increasing citizen participation in city governance by opening channels for citizen input. This involves inviting citizens to debate current policy issues both online and offline, hosting town halls with mayors, and inviting a group of citizens to work alongside city administration on implementing policies.
Leverage citizen participation. Digital tools are making it easier for planners and mayor’s offices to receive citizen feedback on proposals in order to implement projects that have the widest support.
- In London, for example, the mayor’s office started a citywide crowdfunding program allowing Londoners to propose and fund projects they wanted to see.
- In Melbourne, residents are encouraged to submit online feedback on city projects.
- In Bristol, You Decide is an app that allows citizens to share preferences about neighborhood decisions and give feedback to local councils.
Use regulation and tax incentives. A range of regulatory and tax incentives can be used to promote compact, diverse, and lively urban spaces:
- Switch from conventional to mixed-use zoning. Instead of designating areas to one use such as retail, office, or residential, switch to mixed-use zoning codes. In the U.S., the Form-Based Codes Institute highlights good practices for the flexible use of space for cities of all sizes. Planners can also change zoning codes to reflect smaller block sizes, which improves walkability and facilitates compact and mixed-use development through tax and regulation incentives.
- Build human-centered streets. Busy first floors and streets not only creates pedestrian safety but also supports the local economy. By adjusting planning rules to mandate street-facing activities on the first floor and converting underutilized street parking as walkways and bicycle lanes, planners can bring life back onto streets again.
- Improve pedestrian safety. An estimated 38,860 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents in 2019, with accidents affecting communities of color the most. The WHO manual on pedestrian safety outlines some key considerations for planners in reducing risk factors (speed, pedestrian facilities, visibility) and improving land-use planning and infrastructure.
- Provide affordable housing. Whether through building low-carbon affordable housing or incentivizing developers to provide affordable housing through regulation, policy makers play a key role in ensuring that housing remains accessible for residents. Support can also be provided for collaborative and community-focused housing developments such as cooperative housing, or for encouraging Community ownership of real estate through community land trusts.
- Ensure diversity while avoiding displacement. Despite the transformations that need to take place, planners should make sure residents are not displaced through gentrification. Policy makers can put in place affordable housing requirements and several antidisplacement policies to retain the original diversity of the neighborhood.
- Provide public Wi-Fi access. Partner with internet providers to offer free and fast Wi-Fi in public spaces and transport routes to address inequities in access to digital services and job opportunities. City services can also be accessible on digital platforms to reduce unnecessary trips and lower costs. e-Estonia is one such example of a government digitizing over 99 percent of its services.
Allow multiple uses of your commercial space. Beyond your usual business hours, you can open up your shops and restaurants for the public as community gathering spaces, or even consider temporarily renting your space for coworking and meeting spaces, daytime cafés, pop-up shops, and galleries.
Open shop in compact, mixed-use areas. Traditionally, many businesses prefer to operate in parts of the city specifically zoned for retail or in city centers. However, many local businesses (food trucks, barbers, tailors, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.) benefit from the loyalty and footfall of customers within a specific neighborhood.
- In Toronto, accessory commercial units (ACUs) are increasingly an attractive option for local businesses that are seeking affordable commercial space with neighborhood-friendly density.
- In cities of Southeast Asia such as Singapore, Melaka, and Hanoi, shophouses are an age-old example of hybrid commercial and residential spaces, where the first floor is occupied by a local business, and the top floors by residents.
Real Estate Developers
Encourage active first-floor usage. Contribute to vibrant urban life at the street level by designing the first-floor for commercial and community spaces, instead of closing off streetfronts, where zoning bylaws allow this. The first floor is especially appealing to cafés, restaurants, and retail, which depend on customer footfall. This may involve designing buildings with slightly different floor heights, depths, and frontage, to invite customers. You can also temporarily rent out first-floor spaces (e.g., for pop-ups) to attract more visitors, and in turn convince longer-term buyers of the property’s success.
- Design mixed-use buildings. Design buildings with affordable housing that allow a mix of activity to take place, including commercial uses on first-floors and access to public spaces like community gardens.
- Nightingale Housing is one such development by the developers Lucent in Australia, which primarily provides affordable housing. The buildings are without a car park, contain a grocery store on the first-floor, and house a communal vegetable garden and beehive on the roof. The development process involved engagement from potential residents. For example, residents collectively decided to build communal laundry facilities instead of providing individual units in each house.
- Dallas-based developer Monte Anderson converted a 26,000-square-foot commercial space, DeSoto Market Place, into microretail areas, restaurants, and office spaces. The development primarily serves as a launching pad for local and minority-own
Include good transit connectivity. Ensure your development is connected adequately with the wider neighborhood and takes into account different access requirements. This includes designing good pedestrian connectivity and providing links to public transit.
Allow flexible working options. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen remote working become the norm across industries where it is possible. While remote working typically reduces emissions from daily commutes, the exact change depends on employee lifestyles and other company practices. Flexible work policies also take pressure off public transit infrastructure, and allow for safer travel during pandemics.
- Tools such as Watershed, allow companies to model the impact of remote work policies on their company greenhouse gas emissions.
Open up buildings after hours to the public. Companies that rent out buildings can open up their plazas and first-floors to the public after hours, and can host pop-up exhibitions, shops, and eateries. Companies with bigger office campuses can consider opening up their campus grounds to improve pedestrian connectivity and provide their neighboring community with access to green spaces.
Provide essential amenities and community infrastructure. Health care, education, child-care services, administrative services, and green spaces can all be considered essential services. Libraries, recreation facilities, and outdoor gyms bring neighborhoods to life. Use parcel-scale zoning regulations that mandate that certain land can only be used for specific types of activities. Redevelop underutilized or abandoned public property to better serve the needs of the neighborhood.
Promote the flexible use of space. Increasing the flexible use of space in buildings and areas in neighborhoods creates more vibrant, safe, and inviting spaces.
- In Paris, for example, the Oasis Project is turning schoolyards into public gardens that can be accessed by local residents outside of school hours.
- In Sweden, design firm Lundberg Design has built Street Moves, which inserts semipermanent wooden furniture (benches, bicycle stands, tables) into the dimensions of vacant parking lots, essentially accelerating the pedestrianization of space.
Encourage temporary use of space. Enabling the temporary use of vacant buildings and plots for eateries, gardens, urban farms, sports, or cultural gathering spaces can bring activity to neglected areas quickly, allowing test uses and encouraging urban experimentation. In several cities, parking areas have been reclaimed for seasonal, occasional, or even weekly activities and events.
Provide safe and reliable transit. Prioritize the upgrading of sidewalks, provide more bike-friendly lanes, and ensure integrated public transit services. See Urban Mobility Nexus and Micromobility Nexus.
Expand green public space. High-quality green space improves well-being and provides spaces for communities to interact while providing refuge from the impact of heat, flooding, and drought. Take inspiration from Buenos Aires to upgrade vacant plots and underutilized spaces, where an urban landfill was restored to become a wetland nature reserve. See Nature of Cities Nexus.
Automotive companies are reported to be among some of the key opponents on climate action. Lobbying from the car industry in the U.S. and Europe has blocked and delayed efforts to reduce emissions in the transport sector and create dense and compact urban forms. Influence Map’s research suggests that since 2015, the following companies in particular have been among the strongest opponents of legislation that meet the Paris agreement’s 1.5C warming limit:
- Fiat Chrysler: Michael Manley is the CEO. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
- Daimler: Ola Källenius is the CEO. His email is not publicly listed, but the company can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- BMW: Oliver Zipse is the chairman of the board of management. While there is no publicly listed email, the company can be contacted through their website.
Block by Block: Empowers communities to transform neglected public spaces using Minecraft as a powerful tool for visualization and collaboration.
Qualities of a Good Place by Shophouse and Co.
Walkable City by Jeff Speck
Car-free Sundays in Delhi, India: 3 Reasons Raahgiri Has Become India’s Urban Movement
Cities Alive: Towards a Walking World by Arup
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
15-Minute City Core Elements
Give residents of all neighborhoods access to essential goods and services, particularly fresh food and health care.
Encourage every neighborhood to include housing of different sizes and levels of affordability (including in former office buildings) that accommodate many types of households, enabling people to live closer to where they work.
Advance mixed-use retail and office space, coworking opportunities, teleworking, and digitization of certain services, all of which limit the need for travel.
Spotlight underserved and lower-income neighborhoods for investment and encourage residents and businesses to become involved in measures for improvement.
Tailor design to a city’s unique culture and conditions to respond to specific local needs.
Provide frequent and reliable public transport connections to other neighborhoods.
Promote street-facing uses at ground level, which helps streets thrive.
Encourage the flexible use of buildings and public space, including buildings designed to easily be converted to different uses.
Boost the need for attractive streetscapes, green spaces, and other amenities.
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