What is a 15-minute city?

Definition of 15-minute city concept

The 15-minute city is a revolutionary urban planning concept that has gained popularity in recent years. It proposes the creation of compact urban areas where citizens can easily access all everyday needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. This vision of a walkable city is not new and has its roots in urbanist movements of the past, such as Jane Jacobs’ advocacy of livable cities.

The concept was formalized by Clarence Perry in the 1920s under “neighborhood unit” principles but was not fully developed until its modern interpretation by Carlos Moreno, a French-Colombian urban planner and consultant, who introduced the idea in 2019. Moreno’s vision of the 15-minute city is a promising solution to current urban challenges such as traffic congestion, carbon emissions, and social isolation, to name a few.

15-minute city

Related: The surprising stickiness of the “15-minute city”

Historical Context

The 15-minute city concept has its roots in the idea of the neighborhood unit proposed by Clarence Perry in the early 1900s. Perry proposed the creation of self-contained neighborhoods that could satisfy all the basic needs of its inhabitants. This idea was further developed by Jane Jacobs in her seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, where she argued for mixed-use urban areas and vibrant street life.

Recently, the 15-minute city concept has gained renewed attention due to the ongoing climate crisis and the global COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has highlighted the need for accessible and walkable communities that can support the basic needs of their inhabitants.

The key elements of the idea include the reorganization of mobility, which aims to reduce the use of private cars and promote walking, cycling, and public transport. Another element is the (re) naturalization of the city, which involves the creation of green spaces and the promotion of biodiversity. Additionally, the proposal calls for the de-commodification of housing, which aims to put an end to the speculative practices in the real estate market. Lastly, the proposal advocates for de-growth, which means prioritizing the social and environmental functions of the city over economic growth.

In summary, the 15-minute city concept has a rich historical context that dates back to the early 1900s. Recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis have brought renewed attention to this concept, further paving the way for the development of more sustainable and livable cities.

Carlos Moreno and the 15-minute city idea

Carlos Moreno is a Colombian-born professor of entrepreneurship at the Sorbonne Business School in Paris, known for his concept of the “15-minute city.” Moreno’s idea of a 15-minute city was first introduced in a widely-read article in 2016 entitled “La Ville du Quart d’Heure: Pour Une Revolution de la Proximite” or “The Quarter-Hour City: For a Revolution of Proximity.”

At the heart of Moreno’s idea is the concept that a city should be organized such that its residents can satisfy their daily needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. According to Moreno, there are six essential functions that a 15-minute city should fulfill, including housing, working, supplying, caring, learning, and enjoying. Through optimizing these functions, Moreno believes that cities can be healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable as they allow people to live more connected lives.

In his article, Moreno outlines four components that are necessary for the development of a successful 15-minute city. These components include mixed-use buildings, optimal density, transit-oriented development, and the promotion of local solutions. In a mixed-use building, people can shop, work, and live, reducing the need for long commutes. Optimal density refers to the idea that a 15-minute city should be compact and have a range of building sizes, from high-rises to low-rise buildings. Transit-oriented development involves the idea of promoting public transportation to reduce the need for cars. Lastly, the promotion of local solutions means using local resources such as food and labor to create a more self-sufficient community.

Moreno’s philosophy has been influenced by other urban theorists and planners. For example, he has discussed the ideas of Nikos Salingaros, who argues that architectural design should aim to reflect the needs of human beings rather than just aesthetics. Moreno’s ideas also align with New Urbanism, a movement that advocates for walkable neighborhoods, mixed-use development, and a focus on sustainability in urban planning.

Overall, Moreno’s 15-minute city idea represents a shift away from traditional urban planning, which has often prioritized economic development over the well-being of residents. Through promoting connectedness, sustainability, and diversity, Moreno believes that the 15-minute city can help to create a more livable and equitable city.

The Benefits of a 15-minute City

The 15-minute city concept, introduced by Carlos Moreno, brings numerous benefits to residents. By organizing cities around the idea of catering to daily needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride, the 15-minute city model achieves sustainable living while building a sense of community. In this section, we will explore five main benefits that the 15-minute city brings – improved quality of life, positive environmental impacts, increased social interaction, reduced traffic congestion and jams, and access to green spaces.

1. Improved Quality of Life

The 15-minute city model brings about a major improvement in the quality of life for urban residents. By reducing the distance between homes and daily needs, this urban model saves people precious time and energy that they would otherwise spend commuting to and from work or other essential activities. The benefits of having a shorter commute time are extensive. Not only does it provide individuals with ample free time at their disposal, but it also leads to lower stress levels and an overall positive impact on emotional well-being.

Furthermore, the 15-minute city model emphasizes active travel, which includes walking and cycling, leading to numerous physical and mental health benefits. Active travel is an environmentally friendly and healthy alternative to driving that promotes cardiovascular health, strengthens the immune system, and reduces incidents of depression and anxiety. The presence of quality green spaces enhances the effects of active travel by providing a mood-boosting environment that reduces stress levels and encourages exercise.

In the 15-minute city model, neighborhoods play a crucial role in boosting the quality of life of urban residents as they are complete, vibrant, and people-friendly. Known as the human-scale city, this urban model fosters stronger community ties by promoting social interaction and reducing loneliness. Complete neighborhoods contain amenities such as schools, hospitals, grocery stores, and other essential services that cater to the daily needs of residents, making it less likely for individuals to feel socially isolated.

To connect these complete neighborhoods together, the 15-minute city model emphasizes quality public transport and cycling infrastructure. The presence of reliable public transport options, such as trains or buses, provides easy access to essential services and employment opportunities, further reducing the need for longer commutes. By emphasizing cycling infrastructure, the 15-minute city model also promotes environmentally friendly modes of transportation, leading to more livable and sustainable urban environments that contribute to a higher quality of life for urban residents.

2. Positive Environmental Impacts

The 15-minute city concept comes with a plethora of positive environmental impacts that make it an ideal urban model for the future. Firstly, by reducing the distance between homes and essential services, the 15-minute city model helps decrease transport emissions, leading to a significant reduction in carbon emissions. This reduction carries a considerable environmental significance that can help mitigate the climate crisis. Fewer cars on the road also mean less noise pollution and cleaner air quality, making cities safer and healthier places to live for everyone.

Another significant environmental benefit of the 15-minute city model is the emphasis on creating more green spaces such as parks, community gardens, and other natural habitats. This focus on green space not only promotes better air quality as trees and plants act as natural air filters, but it also reduces the urban heat island effect. The urban heat island effect occurs when pavement, buildings, and other structures absorb heat from the sun, making cities much warmer than rural areas. More green spaces can help reduce this effect and boost biodiversity in the city while creating an attractive urban environment.

Moreover, the 15-minute city model emphasizes pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, which can reduce flood risks by minimizing the amount of paved and impermeable surfaces in cities. These surfaces increase runoff during heavy rain, leading to floods. By reducing the amount of impermeable surfaces, the 15-minute city model contributes to better stormwater management and lessens flood risks. This approach also helps improve public health and safety.

Lastly, the 15-minute city model can support the zero-carbon agenda by reducing the carbon footprint of urban centers. It achieves this by promoting active travel, green spaces, and quality public transport. By emphasizing these sustainable modes of transportation and environmentally friendly practices, cities can reduce their carbon emissions, protecting the planet and creating more livable and sustainable urban environments.

3. Increased Social Interaction

One of the core ideas behind the 15-minute city model is to create vibrant, walkable communities where daily tasks can be accomplished within a short distance from home. This compact nature of the city brings people closer together, fostering a sense of community and encouraging greater social interaction.

By reducing the reliance on cars and promoting active transportation, the 15-minute city model provides opportunities for people to interact with their surroundings at a human scale. When people walk or bike, they become more sensitive to the details of their environment and are more likely to engage with others along their route. This can manifest in simple greetings with neighbors, casual conversations in line at local shops, or impromptu meetings with friends at nearby parks or squares.

By living in a 15-minute city, residents would have the chance to establish closer relationships with their neighbors, shopkeepers, and other local stakeholders. People would be more likely to frequent the same neighborhood businesses, parks, and public spaces regularly, creating a sense of familiarity and community. This would also increase opportunities for voluntary social interaction and strengthen the social fabric of the city.

A vital aspect of the 15-minute city concept is the idea of fulfilling six social functions. These functions include living, working, supplying, caring, learning, and enjoying. Each neighborhood should contain facilities and amenities that can support these functions, allowing residents to live their lives within the confines of their community.

For example, a neighborhood with accessible healthcare facilities would have an inherent advantage in caring for its residents’ health needs. At the same time, neighborhoods with public spaces, parks, and playgrounds would have more opportunities for families and children to socialize. In ensuring that all neighborhoods can fulfill these social functions, the 15-minute city model provides the basis for a healthy, equitable, and socially cohesive urban environment.

In conclusion, the 15-minute city model is not just a transportation solution; it is also an urban model that can help communities build stronger social bonds and improve overall well-being. By infusing local communities with the six social functions underlining the 15-minute city principle, we can create neighborhoods with a true sense of community and an abundance of opportunities for social interaction.

4. Reduced Traffic Congestion and Jams

Traffic congestion and jams are major problems in urban areas. Limited public spaces, lack of walkability, and unsustainable development practices are some of the major causes of this issue. Urban sprawl and decentralized development have led to longer commuting distances, which in turn, contribute to increased traffic congestion.

However, a 15-minute city has the potential to reduce traffic congestion and jams in urban areas. By creating walkable and bikeable communities that provide access to essential services and amenities, individuals can reduce the use of cars and engage in more active travel. This reduces the overall number of cars on the road, thereby reducing traffic congestion.


Moreover, a 15-minute city promotes the use of public transport, which is an efficient and sustainable mode of transportation. Instead of focusing on private cars, public transport systems can be developed to provide frequent and reliable services, encouraging individuals to use it as their primary mode of commuting.

A 15-minute city also promotes local businesses, creating more footfall, and generating revenue for the community. When neighborhoods have all the amenities they need within reach, individuals are more likely to walk or bike, rather than drive to access them. This reduces car use, leading to a reduction in traffic congestion.

For example, Portland, a city in Oregon, introduced the 20-minute city concept, which aimed to provide essential services within a short distance from homes. As a result, the city witnessed a reduction in car traffic, leading to an additional $1.2 billion staying in the local economy. This emphasizes the impact of a 15-minute city in reducing car use and traffic congestion, leading to a thriving economy.

Overall, a 15-minute city can help reduce traffic congestion and jams by reducing car use and promoting sustainable transportation options. By providing access to essential services and amenities within a short distance from homes, individuals are empowered to engage in active travel, while generating revenue for the community through thriving local businesses.

5. Access to Green Spaces

Access to green spaces is an integral part of the 15-minute city concept, particularly in light of the challenges discussed in the Background Information. Limited public spaces, lack of walkability, and unavailable green spaces are major causes of traffic congestion and environmental degradation. Green spaces offer numerous benefits that improve the quality of life in urban areas, including improved mental health, access to community gathering spaces, and the creation of walkable neighborhoods.

Green spaces are vital to promoting mental health and well-being in urban areas. Studies show that access to green spaces has a positive effect on mental health, reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Green spaces also provide a community gathering place, offering an opportunity for social interaction among residents and a place for community events.

Green spaces are integral to creating a walkable city since they encourage active travel. When neighborhoods have accessible green spaces, residents are more likely to interact with their community and participate in outdoor activities like walking, jogging, and cycling. In turn, this reduces car use, leading to a reduction in traffic congestion.

However, creating green spaces in urban environments comes with its challenges. Limited space and resources in cities make it difficult to develop and maintain parks and green spaces. Additionally, the need for more parking spaces creates a barrier to converting unused land into green spaces.

To address these challenges, communities can consider alternative solutions such as converting unused parking lots into parks, implementing community gardens, and introducing green roofs. These options help reduce the impact of limited space for greenery in urban areas.

Prioritizing green spaces is crucial when planning a 15-minute city. A focus on green spaces, either through conversion of parking lots or rooftop gardens, can create a healthier, more walkable city. In addition, parks serve as gathering places for community events, promoting social cohesion, and enhancing the community’s quality of life.

To summarize, the 15-minute city approach has numerous positive environmental impacts that can bring significant change to urban life. These positive impacts include reduced transport emissions, more green spaces, improved air quality, a decrease in the urban heat island effect, less flood risk, and improved biodiversity. By promoting sustainable modes of transportation and environmentally friendly practices, the 15-minute city model can support a zero-carbon agenda.

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