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The Origins of the 15 Minute City

The Origins of the 15 Minute City
19 May 2022

15 minute city concepts have been demonstrated in Paris, Adelaide, London and Dublin. But is the concept as new as we might have thought?


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What is a 15 Minute City?


A 15 minute city must provide must human needs and desires within a travel distance taking approximately 15 minutes. Crucially, this is not based on travel by car, but walking or cycling.

Many credit urban planner Clarence Perry as the original proponent of the term, promoting a walkable “neighbourhood unit.”


15 Minute City Not a New Idea


Dr John Montgomery, writing for the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), explains that this concept is certainly nothing new.

In fact, Dr Montgomery looks to the 1800s and the all-encompassing role of religion in people’s lives as an early iteration of the 15 minute city. Towns were built based on walking distance to churches, ensuring people could hear the “bells summoning them to prayer.”

Dr Montgomery writes: “Most people would walk to get to church, and so the distance from the parish boundary to the church tended to be about seven to 10 minutes away, or about 440 yards. This would convert later to what urban designers’ term ‘ped-sheds’ or the 10-minute walk”

Aitor Hernández-Morales, writing for Politico, also argues that the idea of 15 minute cities borrows heavily from the past. Looking specifically at the Testaccio district of Rome, once a port, the area still holds onto the urban structure that was created to serve a late 19th-century city.

Residential areas were located close to workplaces and other services, and this remains today. Aitor writes: “For decades, Testaccio remained unchanged. Its robust housing and services, and its proximity to the slaughterhouse and other industrial sites meant locals — mainly tradesmen and blue-collar workers — continued to spend more time in their own neighbourhood instead of stuck in commuter traffic in their Fiat seicentos.”


Real-World Examples of 15 Minute Cities



  • France –  In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo, has long aimed to make the city flexible, adopting policies to reduce the number of car lanes to make space for cyclists and pedestrians. The aim is to on create a cycle lane in every street in the region by 2024 and remove 60,000 parking spaces for private cars.
  • Australia – Dr John Montgomery wrote that he first heard the term “15 minute city” in Adelaide in the 2000s. He wrote: “I was there to speak at “The City as a Stage”, a major conference organised by Adelaide City Council. It was explained that in Adelaide it is possible to get anywhere you would like to be in less than 20 minutes, including the airport and the start of the Adelaide Hills. This, of course, was by car but it was true enough and the city was remarkably easy to navigate. I next heard the phrase when chatting with Rob Adam, Director of Design at Melbourne City, who was explaining Melbourne’s goal to become a more walkable city.”
  • USA – In Portland, Oregon, a  plan to expand “20-minute neighbourhoods” was created as a part of the city’s "Climate Action Strategy". This included a target for 90 per cent of residents to have all their basic daily “non-work” needs within a 20 minute walk or cycle by 2030.


Picture: a photograph of a person standing as if they are about to cross a busy road at a pedestrian crossing. The road is out of focus, giving the illusion of movement. Image Credit: Pixabay

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 19 May 2022


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