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15-minutes cities: is it time?

Blog 15-minutes cities: is it time?
More and more cities across the world are eager to adopt the 15-minute city concept theorized by Professor Carlos Moreno. A phenomenon that has been increased by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the time has come to go from theory to practice.
Are hours spent stuck in traffic jams to the music of angry horns a soon-to-be memory? The 15-minute city caught international attention last year when the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, made la ville du quart d’heure a focal point of her reelection campaign. Besides Paris, many cities around the globe have already been experimenting with this concept: Melbourne, Ottawa, Copenhagen, and Nantes, just to name a few. But what exactly is a 15-minute city? 

The concept of the 15-minute city was theorized in 2014 by Carlos Moreno, a scientist and professor at the University of Paris 1. The idea is to enhance the positive aspects of urban life by making work, education, grocery, health, and culture accessible within a 15-minute walking or cycling distance from home. Such an approach changes the rhythm of a city and urban life: citizens have more time for themselves and others. Six years ago, many saw this theory as utopian, criticizing the difficulty of living near one’s workplace. But the pandemic has disrupted our lives, including our work habits, giving us the opportunity to think about the city of tomorrow and moving from theory to practice. 

Shifting from car-sized cities to human-sized cities requires political will. While authorities must take strong political decisions, there is no need to make it expensive, argues the French-Colombian scientist. It is about making better use of the existing and hidden resources of the city and thus creating a “big bang of proximity”. In practical terms, it means that schools could be used as community centers at night and during weekends and that cafés could host language classes for instance.

“Why do we have to be the ones to adapt and potentially deteriorate our quality of life? Why isn’t the city responding to our needs?” Professor Moreno asks.

Four principles are at the bases of the 15-minute city: ecology, solidarity, proximity, and civil society’s participation, with common goods as a shared pillar. Urban common goods and sharing resources are a way to avoid gentrification and urban stratification, two rising problems of modern city-life. And as Moreno says: “We can talk about a humanist ecology, that is, new urban policies that will defend not only the environment – air and water quality, Nature, lower carbon emissions – but also develop a new economic model for cities, with an emphasis on neighbourhood businesses, digital technologies, a new work balance, which will have a social impact contributing to more conviviality, and less racism and intolerance”.

Is Lisbon on track to becoming a 15-minute city?

Over the last few years, Velo-city 2021 host city, Lisbon, has been showing strong will and effort in leading the city towards a greener and human-sized urban life. The city has built more than 150 km of cycle lanes with the promise to arrive at 200 km by the end of 2021. A bike and e-bike sharing system complements Lisbon’s aspirations to become a true bicycle-friendly city.  By taking over car space, its “One Plaza in each neighbourhood” programme has considerably increased the number of its green areas and quality public spaces, making the city more walking friendly. Moreover, since 2008, the city makes sure that its citizens are involved in the decision-making process through a participative budget. No wonder the city was awarded the title of European Green Capital 2020!

Hear more about the 15-minute city concept at Velo-city 2021 from Carlos Moreno himself and at the following sessions:

2.2: Rethinking Cities: Regaining Space for People
5.2: Making Room for Walking and Cycling
6.3: From the 15-min City to Neighbourhood Revival

Check out the whole programme here: Programme - Velo-city 2021 Lisboa
Register to the conference here: Individual - Velo-city 2021 Lisboa

By Adèle Saingenest
20th of May, 2021