The X-Minute City: improving quality of life across the whole urban area

The text below was written by Zakiyya Adam and edited by myself, and first published at the website of the Transport Studies Unit.

The15-minute cities seek to enhance quality of life for all. It’s a very simple premise: individuals should be able to access all of their daily needs within 15 minutes of walking or cycling from their home. The basic needs that should be accessible in this radius include: healthcare, education, commerce, entertainment, and employment. Where travel times on foot or by (e-)bike cannot be reduced to less than a quarter of an hour, high-quality and inclusive online services should offer a suitable alternative.

The concept is flexible and can be adapted. For instance, in Australia they speak about 30-minute cities (Sydney) and 20-minute neighbourhoods (Melbourne). This is why academics researchers increasingly refer to the X-Minute City as an urban planning approach that gives individuals and communities better access to everything they need to live full lives. 

By reducing the separation between individuals and everything they need to flourish, the X-Minute City unlocks numerous social, economic and environmental benefits, at both the City and the individual levels. Reducing the time spent travelling frees citizens up to use their time and money in ways that serve them better. Drawing resources into neighbourhoods unlocks new employment opportunities, inspires innovation and creates a sense of community. Reducing dependence on cars enables the creation of more green spaces, makes streets safer, reduces congestion, and lowers the air and noise pollution that makes local communities suffer.

First proposed in 2016, the 15-Minute City concept gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic when working from home became the norm for many, and the importance of having resilient local communities increased. The empowerment of individuals to access amenities without the need for a car has been viewed by some as a curbing of their right to use their vehicle. This is a misplacement of grievance. Unlike other urban planning initiatives, the X-Minute City does not restrict behaviour. It does not stop residents from driving, it simply seeks to make walking and cycling a viable and attractive option to them. 

Professor Carlos Moreno, the creator of the 15-Minute City concept, will be giving the Transport Studies Unit’s inaugural Annual Lecture on 29 February in Oxford. Carlos will introduce the 15-Minute City concept, explore its origins and evolution, and discuss the impacts the concept has had on urban planning and mobility around the globe to date. He will also explore the potential of the 15-Minute City in future urban and transport planning.

The X-Minute City warrants further academic attention, and so the TSU is excited to be leading SPECIFIC – a new research project that tries to identify how the X-Minute City can be realised in suburbs and outer areas in European cities with up to approx. 0.5m residents. It is much easier to fulfil all of your daily needs within a short time in suburban and outer areas than in city centres, even if only the use (e-) bikes are considered. And yet it is on those suburban and outer areas where most people live. 

With 14 partners, the TSU will organise ‘transition experiments’ in five cities – Bellinzona (Switzerland), Bristol, Graz (Austria), Maastricht (Netherlands) and Poznan (Poland) – in which local policymakers, communities, businesses and cycling advocacy groups will be brought together to design and test different interventions to enhance the feasibility and attractiveness of short cycling trips. These can be by commuters needing to get to work, people wanting to visit friends, or (e-)bike couriers delivering parcels or means. 

All experiments will centre the experiences and voices of individuals and communities that are often marginalised in transport planning, and so hope to make cycling and mobility in suburban and outer locations more equitable and socially just. 

In a participatory process of social learning, the teams in each city will develop lessons that will be shared across the cities. The researchers will also develop a tool or online game that will help other small and medium-sized cities help to support cycling in suburban and outer locations. In this way SPECIFIC will contribute to the practical realisation of 15 minute cities and to more healthy and sustainable ways of life for everyone in suburban and low-density settings across Europe.

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