Listen out: the 15-minute city is coming to a neighbourhood near you. We’ve all heard the term flying around, but what are the benefits and how does it look in practice?

Jo Davis

Jo Davis

The framework of the 15-minute city, created by Professor Carlos Moreno, calls for all the facilities we need to live a successful, sustainable lifestyle to be within a 15-minute walk of our home. For many of us, to visit the cinema, shops or even the office, we still jump into a car or wait for a bus. It’s become so routine that we might not realise there could be a much simpler alternative.

Thanks to how our new communities are being planned, we’re changing our attitudes, and creating good, safe cities for people to move around in, without reliance on a car.

This reliance has been encouraged through our historic approach to zonal planning, with homes in one location, employment in another, shops in another. We all recognise the scenario. But as we moved from the requirements of the 1947 planning act to the 1990 planning act, we began to pose the question: what does a sustainable city mean?

Challenging whether travelling by car is the only option has allowed us to start breaking down the barriers to creating sustainable cities.

Unlike Paris or Amsterdam, in the UK, we don’t have a 15-minute-city planning policy, but we do have best practice. Through that best practice, we have begun to challenge what makes a good place, how it functions and what you need to have a successful lifestyle. We are now asking what people’s priority is for the way they live.

In the UK, Covid-19 fundamentally changed our attitudes when everybody flipped from eating inside to outside. Therefore, our outdoor public spaces and the quality of air in those spaces had to change – not through policy, but through people’s demands and expectations of the city.

This is what makes the 15-minute city concept really interesting in terms of the way we move forward now.

My home city of Bristol is ahead of the game. Its cycle strategy in 2000 moved the goalposts as to how people were encouraged to get around the city. The Brunel Mile was developed to run from the central train station, through the city centre and into the residential areas, creating the space for people to walk and cycle safely across the city.

In Bristol’s Harbourside area, every new development is required to have a walkway in front of it so people can do a circular walk around the harbour. These are really good policies that have been put forward by the city through its planning process, to blend the 15-minute city centre and removal of cars from the city.

Target market

The city centre lifestyle appeals to those who can do without their cars. It’s very much geared towards younger people, singles and couples. Yet there are cities in other parts of the world, such as Chicago, where the concept works well for families too. These cities are addressing key questions such as what does a safe, green park look like? Are there schools within a 15-minute walk? How is the air quality?

Right up until the 1980s and early 1990s, the UK was just designing housing estates. It wasn’t designing mixed-use developments on the edges of our city centres. That’s now fundamentally changing as our developments are incorporating not just recreation space but employment space too.

For our bigger cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester, the 15-minute-city concept can work equally well with the development of zones and quarters – perhaps we call it the 15-minute neighbourhood. Covid has reintroduced us to our neighbourhood facilities – and most of them are really good.

But with 4% of the country getting into the car to travel just one mile, we still have a mindset to change.

UK city leaders are constantly talking about these things. There will be a time when it’s not unreasonable to expect that the car won’t be the predominant way of moving in the city centre, and developments will be intensified around public transport hubs.

The process of development is changing. The next thing will be the redevelopment of multi-storey car parks for housing. It’s on its way.

Jo Davis is principal and UK executive chair at real estate adviser Avison Young