The 15-Minute City

Micène Fontaine, February 18, 2021

Quick. Think of walkable cities. Ready? Did Houston, TX make the list?

I didn't think so. Houston has plenty of wonderful things to offer, but as a frequent (albeit not recent) visitor, traffic rhythm seems to rule over life in the city - not to mention the sprawling suburbs. Yet, somehow, even in Houston, a version of the 15-minute city (more on that later) is quietly taking shape in the form of the proposed Walkable Places city ordinance. Houston might be the least obvious choice for walkability. Still, its mayor, Sylvester Turner, is far from alone in realizing that "more than ever, our citizens want walkable places that connect to parks and activity centers. Our city needs to grow and develop responsibly and efficiently". Baby steps in Houston but steps in the direction of building more Sustainable Cities and Communities by Design.

Melbourne | Features of a 20-Minute Neighborhood (Image Credits: State Government of Victoria 2021)

Melbourne | Features of a 20-Minute Neighborhood
(Image Credits: State Government of Victoria 2021)

Seattle, Portland, Paris, Barcelona, Tempe, Vancouver, Shanghai, and countless other cities of all sizes have launched more daring initiatives that aim at placing the essential services we need for our daily lives within proximity of where we live. Each initiative defines "proximity" differently. There is the 1-minute city in Sweden, superblocks in Barcelona, the 15-minute city in Paris, Melbourne's 20-minute neighborhoods, etc. The common thread is a decentralized city with multiple centers where "living, learning, working, caring, enjoying, supplying" happen within a limited walkable or bikeable radius. Centers where the built environment serves the way we live our lives in symbiosis with our environment (not the car).

While the concept is as old as cities themselves, Paris-based professor and urbanist  Carlos Moreno coined the catchy "15-minute city" phrase in 2016. It has since gained renewed popularity as a possible path forward to meet current social, environmental, and economic challenges. Covid-19 made the idea even more desirable. Remember Houston? It's one of 97 cities (so far) "leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future."  And, you guessed it, the 15-minute city is a core component of "a green and just recovery from the pandemic." 

Some say it's utopian. Others argue it's dystopian. I say let's dare to dream a little.

What about you? Interested? If so, watch the quick video intro below or read a longer research paper on the topic or check out our Change by Design session dedicated to the 15-minute City and its implications for architects and designers. 


:Change by Design