The 15 minutes city: the era of urban hyper-proximity

Jimena Ranero
3 min readFeb 14, 2021
Montorgueil District in Paris, France © Getty Images

For over 100 years, from the industrial revolution until now, cities have been designed around gas vehicles and not people. We’ve had to adapt to dysfunctional cities, sacrificing valuable time in long commutes. Carlos Moreno, Director of ETI Chair at Paris1 Panthéon Sorbonne University, makes us question why we’ve let cities develop into an “inhuman bigness” instead of creating human-sized spaces to increase happiness and well-being. His theory of the 15 minutes city looks to reconcile cities with their citizens.

This concept is based on decentralization and the relationship of citizens with space and time dedicated to mobilization. In Moreno’s words, “It’s time to move from city planning to urban life planning” by creating more inclusive, healthy, and pleasurable cities that include the six essential social functions for a happier urban life, which are: living, working, supplying, caring, learning and enjoying. The whole city, not only the center, should be equipped with all key services allowing dwellers to reach them within a 15-minute approach radius by soft mobilities: walking or biking.

La ville du quart d’heure © Paris en Commun

Followed by the C40 cities, Paris adopted the methodology as an effort to create a more community-centered urban fabric in the upcoming years. Named mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has committed to a 5 key actions plan to bring the concept (la ville du quart d’heure) to each Parisian neighborhood.

The plan focuses on the creation of new services for each district and support of new economic models: new street organization, new local services to promote the local economy, redesign of crossroads into squares, the transformation of the neighborhood school promoting the creation of the “oasis courtyard” transforming the school gardens into parks on weekends and holidays. And last, strategic kiosks for local associations all focused on the neighborhood’s development.

Paris local business © Onefinestay via Booking

But Paris isn’t the first — Many other cities have had similar initiatives for a while now. For instance, Melbourne seeks to transform into a 20-minute city by 2050; or Barcelona’s Superblocks composed of 9 blocks each where pedestrians and cyclists were prioritized over cars. Stockholm, on the other hand, proposes an even more ambitious plan in which it seeks to redesign all the streets of the city. The Street Move proposal is based on tactical urban planning through interventions in parking spaces and creating meeting points for citizens.

Some North American cities such as Portland, Detroit, and Ottawa have already joined the hype, but it seems that a global pandemic was necessary for others to create a space for people to enjoy the city in outdoor spaces, and interact within their own neighborhoods. This being the case in Washington, New York, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Oakland, California. Although it seems we are talking about a new global proposal, this is not the case for most emerging cities across Asia, Africa, and Latin America facing a weak regulatory system and higher population density.

46th Street, New York City © Getty Images via Forbes

One thing we can be sure of is that the 15-minute cities are here to stay and are being embraced by people around the world seeking a better and healthier relationship with their community and surroundings.