Mark Watts, executive director, C40 Cities and Claus Mathisen, CEO, Urban Partners, explain why the 15-minute city concept represents a major opportunity to transform the world’s cities for the better
Why now is a pivotal moment for urban climate action
Mark Watts, Executive Director, C40 Cities and Claus Mathisen, CEO, Urban Partners, explain why the 15-minute city concept represents a major opportunity to transform the world’s cities for the better
It’s time for a new model of sustainable, resilient and inclusive urban planning that reduces emissions, and enhances people’s quality of life, health and wellbeing
Imagine a city where every urban resident is able to meet the majority of their needs within a short walk or bike ride from home, if they so choose. Where all the places you need to get to every day – work, school, shops, doctor’s appointments, parks – are conveniently located within easy reach. A city filled with greenery and clean air, capable of delivering wide-scale health, quality of life and economic benefits to everyone, not just those in central and wealthy neighbourhoods.
This vision is becoming reality in cities across the world, right now, through a model of urban renewal that puts nature and people at the front and centre of all planning decisions.
The need for a completely different form of planning, which restores health and prosperity to the world’s cities, has never been more pressing. A 2017 survey showed that long urban commutes are linked to higher levels of stress and poorer work performance, costing firms around a week’s worth of productivity on average.
According to estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO), almost the entire global population (around 99 per cent) breathe air that exceeds WHO air quality limits, and people in low- and middle-income countries suffer disproportionately from its ill effects. At the city level, almost nine out of ten people living in urban areas (equivalent to 2.5 billion people) are exposed to illegal levels of air pollution, contributing to 1.8 million excess deaths in 2019.
Sustainable urban planning
It’s becoming clearer to everyone – city leaders and residents alike – that the 20th century model of urban planning is no longer fit for purpose. Designed around the car rather than people, it leads to congested streets and long commutes, dirty air, urban sprawl and carbon pollution. It’s time for a new model of sustainable, resilient and inclusive urban planning that reduces emissions, and enhances people’s quality of life, health and wellbeing.
The 15-minute city approach is being adapted in a variety of urban contexts, and known by many different names, from Portland’s “complete neighbourhoods”, to Shanghai’s “15-minute community life circles” and Bogota’s “vital neighbourhoods.” What they all share is the vision of a polycentric city made up of green and thriving neighbourhoods, with improved access to basic services for all, interconnected with accessible and affordable public transportation.
The 15-minute city model, which combines co-location of residences and jobs, mixed land use and good access to public transport, can help cut urban emissions by 25 per cent
This model does not keep people from travelling further afield, but by putting amenities within easy reach, it enables a more socially vibrant, pleasant, connected and healthy form of urban life to materialise. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the compact and resource-efficient nature of the 15-minute city model, which combines co-location of residences and jobs, mixed land use and good access to public transport, can help cut urban emissions by 25 per cent.
It represents a major opportunity to transform the world’s cities for the better, by engendering a holistic form of urban renewal that puts people first, delivers lower emissions, improved quality of life, enhanced community cohesion and significant health, social and economic benefits. Most importantly, it is also a model that has equity and inclusivity at its heart, prioritising low-income and marginalised communities, as well as local small and medium-sized enterprises.
Green and Thriving Neighbourhoods
That’s why C40 (a network of the world’s 100 biggest cities) and Urban Partners are collaborating on the Green and Thriving Neighbourhoods programme, aimed at supporting cities to turn the 15-minute concept into reality, and ensuring concrete projects aligned with it reach fruition. We have agreed to provide support for 22 pilot projects in cities around the world, from Austin, Texas, to Guadalajara, Mexico. These pilot projects are city-led and show the transformative power of urban planning and design.
Neighbourhoods have the ideal scale with which to experiment: they encompass different facets of city life, yet are small enough to allow for high ambitions, community engagement and new approaches tailored toward local needs.
One of the most ambitious projects we’re supporting is focused on the Jernbanebyen area in central Copenhagen, Denmark. This 365,000m2 former railyard is being transformed into a thriving and sustainable neighbourhood with 25 per cent social housing, car-free zones and 11 acres of green space. Another exciting development is happening in Dakar, Senegal, where the city will expand public green spaces, promote micro-gardening, and build pedestrian and cycle paths to connect public and commercial infrastructure. An integrated solar energy production system will be set up to improve waste management at the household level.
Global climate targets
Projects like these serve as a reminder that cities are climate leaders and incubators for the kind of innovations that will help us meet global climate targets.
C40 and Urban Partners will continue to work with partners to empower cities around the world to create net-zero neighbourhoods and advance climate actions at the neighbourhood level that can be scaled up to transform the world we live in.
As the world gathers for New York Climate Week and the UN General Assembly, we urge leaders to step up and join us in our quest to create greener, healthier, equitable and livable cities. We also encourage urban developers, city leaders and other stakeholders around the world to work with us to scale up science-driven, locally-led initiatives that deliver a better quality of life for all urban residents.
Mark Watts has served as the executive director for C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group since December 2013. Prior to joining C40, Mark was the director of consultancy firm, Arup’s, energy and climate change team. Earlier in his career, he was the climate change and sustainable transport adviser to the mayor of London, in which role the London Evening Standard described him as “the intellectual force behind Ken Livingstone’s drive to make London a leading light of the battle against global warming”. He is also senior associate of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, a member of the Council of the Global Green Growth Institute, and a member of the Yale Climate Dialogue.