Despite its many guises, a 20-minute neighbourhood is essentially a people-focused way of planning, placing daily activities within a reasonable walking distance from home.

Rebecca Dillon-Robinson

Rebecca Dillon-Robinson

Quality services, community infrastructure, community engagement and the temporal aspects of this concept are key to ensuring places function as walkable neighbourhoods.

The past year has been tumultuous for UK town centres, with figures showing that 17,500 stores closed throughout 2020. However, this does not need to lead to the suburbia of the past. In fact, implementing 20-minute neighbourhoods in our cities should increase residential use and revitalise high streets.

This requires challenging the status quo: from the types of housing permitted to lease agreements and permitted activity to support home working.

Mixed tenure and housing typologies are vital for equitable neighbourhoods. Town centre housing offers great living options for the elderly, with amenities within walking distance.

However, in building greener, walkable places, we must not price out lower-income households. Offering variety – rather than large, homogenous homes – can ensure equitable development.

Source: Shutterstock / Willy Barton

Working with an existing community in retrofitting, extending or building adjoining neighbourhoods will be essential to successfully implement this concept. Ramboll’s research of implementation globally shows different meaningful engagement methods, including participatory budgeting. Local community groups, businesses, landowners and residents must actively participate in the understanding, design, making and living process, requiring varying levels of support depending on the neighbourhood’s starting point.

Interventions (eg high-quality and safe cycling routes) must be defined and delivered locally through place-based understanding and as part of a local plan for change.

Local governments need to drive ambition locally, take ownership of the issues hindering 20-minute neighbourhoods and implement solutions.

Rebecca Dillon-Robinson is urban planner at Ramboll