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21/06/2021

Can the 15-minute city concept survive contact with reality?

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The concept of the '15-minute city' presents a challenge to policymakers, businesses and planners - but it also opens up a host of opportunities for improving the way we live, argues Mandy Owen

The concept of a 15-minute city introduces the idea of ‘living locally’, with communities located within a short walk or cycle of where people can live, work and play.

Several local authorities are taking the idea on board, including Winchester; within its February 2021 draft local plan consultation document, it highlighted its importance in improving sustainability. This is because 15-minute cities cut car dependency and promote more sustainable modes of transport.

Other benefits include greater local interaction and better social cohesion, with communities providing a mix of housing to suit different life stages. The pandemic has made most people cherish their local area more, and the adoption of 15-minute cities has the potential to continue this trend.

It’s challenging to turn an established area into a 15-minute city, but new communities can be formed from the principle, although there will naturally be implications on future site selection. This concept highlights the importance of site location at the outset.

“The pandemic has made most people cherish their local area more, and the adoption of 15-minute cities has the potential to continue this trend”

If there are no retail, employment, healthcare, education or leisure services within 15 minutes’ walk or cycle ride, then the site will not be viewed as sustainable. This has knock-on effects on site viability and limits opportunities for development surrounding villages or urban areas with limited facilities, favouring sites on the edge of cities and towns where services already exist.

If local authorities support the 15-minute idea, it will increase competition on the ‘right’ sites and drive up land prices, to the detriment of small housebuilders.

Another road block is jobs. Pre- pandemic, key industries chose to agglomerate in city centres to reap the benefits from the concentration of population, services and labour. Covid has also shown that many jobs can’t be done from home. Is it unlikely that, even with some degree of homeworking, those working in industries that choose to be city centre based will not have the option of living within  15-minutes of their workplace?

This idea is one that UK planning must consider. It will emphasise the importance of local communities and force a re-examination of our car dependency – which can only have a positive impact.

Mandy Owen is a planning associate director with Boyer

Image credit | iStock

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