Over recent months the ‘20-minute neighbourhood’ concept has spread rapidly across the world. Spurred on by the pandemic, which has dramatically limited individual movement, the 20-minute neighbourhood is an urban planning strategy that focuses on the decentralisation of cities by bringing amenities into neighbourhoods. This strategy centres on the principle that residents would have access to the services they need – workplaces, schools, shops, healthcare and leisure facilities – within a 20-minute radius from their home.
In November 2020 the LGiU published a briefing which took a deep dive into the 20-minute neighbourhood concept and in recent weeks we have developed two further blogs looking at the 20-minute concept. Building on these pieces, this blog looks at two international examples of where the 20-minute neighbourhood is being implemented and reflects on the importance of developing sustainable neighbourhoods as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although the pandemic has sparked a renewed interest in this concept, the 20-minute neighbourhood is an idea that has been around for decades. Over the last ten years, the Australian city of Melbourne has pioneered the 20-minute neighbourhood as a way of “creating accessible, safe and attractive local areas where people can access most of their everyday needs within a 20-minute walk, cycle or local public transport trip”. As part of its work in this area the city has worked with stakeholders to identify the hallmarks of a 20-minute neighbourhood which must:
- be safe, accessible and well connected for pedestrians and cyclists to optimise active transport
- offer high-quality public realm and open spaces
- provide services and destinations that support local living
- facilitate access to quality public transport that connects people to jobs and higher-order services
- deliver housing/population at densities that make local services and transport viable
- facilitate thriving local economies.
The definition and approach to 20-minute neighbourhoods changes across different geographies. Please see our recent blog on creating a strategy for the 20-minute neighbourhood for more information actions that town and city planners can take to work toward a 20-minute neighbourhood plan. In Melbourne a key element in the development of this approach has been collaboration between stakeholders to align decision making on local assets around key ‘activity centres’. These activity centres act as co-location hubs which provide services such as entertainment facilities, retail services and health centres.
While Melbourne has led the way on the 20-minute concept for a number of years many European cities have incorporated this accessible idea into urban planning strategies. Across Europe the idea of a 15 or 20-minute neighbourhood is increasingly popular measure of urban accessibility and liveability. Early in 2021 for example, Arup conducted a survey of 5,000 residents across five major European cities: London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin and Milan. The survey used the 15-minute city concept to roughly assess the liveability of each city and asked respondents how far they had to travel to green space, a shop that sells groceries, a medical facility, a school, a restaurant or café, and a leisure centre or gym (Figure 1).
Thanks to their pre-industrial architecture, a significant proportion of many European cities already fulfil the criteria of the 15 or 20-minute neighbourhood. However, with urban centres expanding with every passing year, in Europe this concept is being used to guide new developments and to improve the quality of existing, less well-connected neighbourhoods which are often on the outskirts of major cities.
The most widely cited example of the 15-minute neighbourhood in Europe is Paris since 2014, the city has seen a radical overhaul of its mobility culture. In the last seven years Paris has banned high-polluting vehicles, closed major arteries to private cars and created hundreds of mini green spaces across the city including more than 40 school playgrounds that have been transformed into “oasis yards”. Now, in the wake of Covid-19, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has turned her attention to the 15-minute neighbourhood as a way of creating a ‘city of proximities’. This vision takes a holistic approach which focuses on ease of travel, walkability and public services as well as considering changing workplaces, cultural activities and social connections. More than 50km of cycle routes have been created since the start of the pandemic, the has City plans to create new ‘urban forests’, and over $1.2bn/year has been allocated to the maintenance and beautification of streets, squares and gardens. By putting nature back into urban life Paris aims to become Europe’s greenest city by 2030.
From Ottawa and Bogota, to Seoul and Barcelona, the 20-minute concept has captured people’s imaginations. Focused on core issues of accessibility and liveability, this concept is tangibly shaping the way that people interact with the places they call home on an international scale. However, although the simplicity of this idea has captured imaginations, it’s important to recognise that its development in geographies across the world will not come without challenges, particularly during this uncertain and unstable period. In particular, questions of funding, social mixing, monitoring, infrastructure and data gathering have emerged as key barriers to the practical implementation of this concept.
Despite these challenges, the importance of change cannot be ignored and, from linear parks that create ribbons of green between Seoul’s skyscrapers, to Portland’s large-scale 20-minute heat maps, and Oulu’s world-renowned wintery cycle paths, the need for accessible, sustainable and happy neighbourhoods is being recognised across the planet. As the pandemic continues to influence daily life on a global scale, the 20-minute neighbourhood provides an important framework through which to explore and plan for a more sustainable future. As governments across the world turn their attention to recovering from the pandemic, LGIU staff look forward to supporting our members navigate the 20-minute concept and to continue sharing local, national and international examples of best practice.
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