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15-Minute Cities: A Shift in Urban Living

a walkable city, people can walk to school and work

The 15-minute city is a growing concept in urban planning circles around the world; cities created to keep all necessities, such as schools, workplaces, healthcare facilities, and stores within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from residents’ homes. This form of urban planning aims to reduce car dependency and create more inclusive and accessible amenities for all residents in an area. In promising a new way of living for cities worldwide, there has been no shortage of pushback. 

History of the 15-Minute City

Ideas of building cities in this fashion are not new. Carlos Moreno, a French-Colombian urbanist and professor at Pantheon-Sorbonne, is credited with developing the concept of 15-minute cities in the 2010s to improve the quality of life of people living in densely populated metropolitan areas. Although Moreno is credited with the concept itself, his idea was based on decades of principles and visions from urban planners before him. Clarence Perry, an American urbanist, had proposed the idea of the neighborhood unit early in the 20th century. [1] The neighborhood unit had a very similar goal to 15-minute cities: to meet all of its inhabitants’ basic needs within the same neighborhood.

Redefining City Life

These cities don’t just promise a more convenient way of life for their inhabitants but also aim to give urban areas a stronger sense of community and social cohesion. With essential services and amenities all being closer to each other and within a short distance of residents, 15-minute cities encourage a much higher level of interaction among neighbors and local businesses compared to the car-centric communities of today. This proximity not only enhances the social cohesion of the area but also increases the economic prosperity of businesses in the area. [2]

Shifting away from car-centric cities to cities that are built for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation users can provide communities with numerous benefits. Lowering the dependence on cars can lower traffic congestion and pollution which can improve public health through increased physical activity of citizens and better air quality. [3]

Roadblocks in Development

Implementing this model is not without its challenges. For many cities, particularly in the United States, the shift from a car-centric layout to a 15-minute city has many hurdles. American cities are deeply engrained with widespread urban sprawl, creating a necessity for lengthy commutes and a dependency on cars as the main method of transportation. Shifting these cities from their dependency on cars to tighter-knit communities that promote different methods of transportation can be a challenge. [4]

Ensuring equitable access to amenities and resources in the city can be a challenge as well. Proximity to essential services can significantly influence socioeconomic outcomes, and disparities in access may exacerbate existing inequalities. High-density living, which is typical of cities that follow this model, can also lead to overcrowding and can increase strain on resources, potentially leading to a higher cost of living in the area.

Misinformation and Conspiracy Theories

One of the biggest challenges to the development of 15-minute cities has been the myriad of misinformation and conspiracy theories used to push back against them. Many theories have been floating around claiming that 15-minute cities are a tool governments will use to control citizens. In Britain, for example, these conspiracy theories have entered mainstream politics. In October of 2023, British Transport Secretary Mark Harper pushed back against 15-minute cities, saying “There's nothing wrong with making sure people can walk or cycle to the shops or school” but that “we shouldn’t tolerate the idea that local councils can decide how often you go to the shops and that they ration who uses the roads and when, and they police it all with CCTV.” This is a massive mischaracterization of what 15-minute cities are; they do not give government bodies the power to decide when people can go shopping or who can use the roads at what times. Harper’s speech came after the British government had announced plans to fight back against policies that “aggressively restrict” where people drive, taking aim at advocates of 15-minute cities. Carlos Moreno responded directly to the government's stance, calling for a reconsideration. [5]

Making the Change

Globally, cities like Paris and Melbourne have been at the forefront of adopting the 15-minute city model. Paris, under Mayor Anne Hidalgo, has been integrating this concept into urban planning policies. [4] Melbourne is working toward a model where residents can meet most of their daily needs within a twenty-minute walk, cycle, or public transport trip. [6] Portland, Oregon has been developing “20-minute neighborhoods,” which are very similar in concept to 15-minute cities and to what is being tried in Melbourne; the goal is to create neighborhoods where residents can meet their daily needs within a short walk from their homes. [7]

[1] Grover, N. (2023, June 29). What is a 15-minute city? | Planning Tank.

[3] Mattioli, Giulio, et al. “The Political Economy of Car Dependence: A Systems of Provision Approach.” Energy Research & Social Science, vol. 66, no. 66, 1 Aug. 2020, p. 101486,,

[4] Simon, J. (2023, October 8). It’s a global climate solution — if it can get past conspiracy theories and NIMBYs. NPR.

[5] Silva, M. (2023, October 3). 15 minute cities: How they got caught in conspiracy theories. BBC News.

[6] The Mambourin model: from fields of green to a ’20-minute city’ where everything’s in reach. (2019, July 9). Monash Lens.


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