Planning for 15 Minute Centres
20 August 2021

Planning for 15 Minute Centres

Most of the world’s cities are highly populated, but can differ in density; from sprawling commuter belts to built-up high rises. The concept of localism and convenience can mean different things depending on which of these models you fall into, if at all (if you live in a rural area).​​​​​​

The notion of 15 minute cities revolves around proximity and having equal access to core, ‘compact’ localities where most day-to-day items and needs (such as supermarkets and GPs) can be met within a 15 minute walk or cycle from where the user works or lives. Cities can be defined by neighbourhoods and clustered districts. Within these 15 minute ‘clusters’, there is more focus on pedestrianised and mixed use inner city streets. People want to feel safer around their community and incorporating an integrated transport model of walkways, extended public transport routes and cycle lanes would achieve this. There also needs to develop a deeper understanding of what people consider to be ‘convenient’; some want local amenities to be within a shorter walking distance; otherwise will need to take a car. Others will find walking difficult or inconvenient, so a mixed model is important.​

Which amenities are required? Aside from more obvious requirements such as shops, education, doctors and supermarkets (placed at the heart of these ‘centres’), walking needs to be incentivised with opportunities to meet others in cafes and parks. Walkers want quiet places to rest and shelter from the elements and environments need to be made greener and safer; with passive surveillance if required.

How will this be achieved? COVID-19 has meant that we are now living in a smaller, shrunken world, forcing people to frequent their own neighbourhoods; prohibited from travelling too far. The flipside of this is that some commuters have enjoyed the additional opportunities for recreation, exercise, interaction and collaboration; provided by working from home. To take advantage of this trend, communities need to become more decentralised and ‘polycentric’ in order to reduce the requirements to travel outside of the user’s neighbourhood on a day to day basis. To incorporate these changes, buildings need to be more adaptable instead of having a single-use purpose; creating more communal and multifunctional areas for people to work, socialise, shop, learn and live within one space. Local councils need to talk to members of their community to understand its needs; helping to create a sense of social inclusion and tackling isolation and loneliness. In order to achieve this, the private sector needs to be incentivised to develop higher quality mixed used developments rather than large housing estates.

What are the benefits? Pedestrians have (potentially) less commuting stress, more time for themselves (quality of life) and accessibility. Greater social inclusion leads to equal access to services and opportunities. Local civic, cultural organisations and businesses profit from more footfall and a greater sense of community. There are also massive benefits to councils; with fewer means of CO2-producing transport, councils have fewer forms of separate infrastructure to consider as well as a general easing of pressure upon public transport at peak-traffic times. An additional green benefit is a decrease in air pollution and parking spaces ‘sustainably repurposed’ and reclaimed towards green infrastructure. The private sector can benefit too from increase land values generated by better access to services and public transport.

What are the pitfalls and disadvantages? The necessary infrastructure already exists within some UK cities, however; the movement towards out-of-town shopping centres and business parks has led to some neglect within inner city areas. In cities and towns where this infrastructure is not set up; pedestrianisation can be a gradual incremental process and will not be agreeable or practical to all commuters. It is also difficult and expensive to retrofit this principle to many mono-use suburban housing areas. These types of alterations face resistance because of potential gentrification; and falling into the trap of creating further inequalities rather than solving them.​​​​​​​
The route forward. How do we fix the problems with our new towns and cities? How do we come up with cost effective solutions for these areas? Research will be required to identify the best approaches for any one situation. There are some cities that will find difficulties in its success based on existing infrastructure. There are some planners who argue that the ‘one-minute’ city model is a more realistic outlook; working at street level first and moving from there.

None of this takes into account that as remote working becomes the norm for some and there is less requirement to base home location on work locality; huge number of city workers are moving into rural communities. These forecasts do not account for such a dynamic shift to countryside spots where cars are the main source of transport.

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