Community Talks! Vol. 1, ep. 31.
In the interest of full transparency, I should probably admit now that I’m a bit of a city geek. Public transit, cycle infrastructure, city squares, you name it and I’m all over it. This love of cities even led to a short-lived (and probably ill-conceived) career in urban planning. After studying Planologie here in Amsterdam, I tried my luck in the London property game. It was unforgiving and definitely not for me.
But the love of all things urban has stayed with me. These days, I experience cities as they are meant to be experienced. Not in PowerPoint presentations and meeting rooms, but in the streets and parks with my own five senses. And I do. A lot. I’m lucky enough to live in one of Europe’s truly great cities, and there’s always something to explore around the next corner.
The 15-minute city
One of the things I love most about living in Amsterdam is the immediacy of the city. By that, I don’t mean it has the rough and tumble of New York or Paris. Anyone who’s visited the Dutch capital on a summer afternoon (when locals laze around parks and nearby canals), will know that this is definitely not the full-throttle metropolis of those cities.
So, what do I mean? Let’s take my neighborhood, for example. At first glance, it’s a fairly typical Amsterdam locale, albeit with a uniquely revolutionary past. There are shops, cafés, and restaurants. But stay a little longer and you’ll notice the book exchange, the streets given over to children’s play areas, the launderettes and music bars, and the hardware rental shop. And even more than that, the tangible sense of community.
In short, everything I need is never more than a 15-minute walk.
This is the core tenet of the 15-minute city, an urban concept that creates self-sufficient neighborhoods. Instead of funneling people into central areas, these neighborhoods ensure residents can access everything they need for daily life within a short 15-minute walk. As well as promoting accessibility, inclusivity, and sustainability, this polycentric concept also brings the immediacy of city life to the front door of each and every resident.
The benefits of the 15-minute city
The advantages of living in a 15-minute city are plentiful. But I only have 500 words, so here are just a few:
A fairer, closer community
Instead of dormitory districts where workers simply sleep, 15-minute neighborhoods embed residents into their local areas. With less time spent commuting for work and leisure, people spend more recreation time connecting with their neighbors and local places and spaces.
Greener living through convenience
Without the need to travel into central areas, residents can make greener travel choices that promote health and well-being. Walking to the local shops quickly becomes the norm, and streets can be opened for play and recreation thanks to less through traffic.
Having a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves, such as a local community, is an intrinsic part of what makes us human – and what makes us happy. And, from personal experience, I definitely know a forty-minute tube ride in rush hour does not spark joy.
The next 15 minutes
There’s currently a lot of great work going on around the world on the concept of 15-minute cities. Places like Melbourne and Paris are actively implementing similar policies, and hopefully, it’ll spread to other countries and communities. Maybe it’ll even spread to yours?
But a 15-minute city is more than simply a concept of urban planning. It’s a way of life that brings us back to basics. Back to a time that has, in many places, been forgotten in favor of a more commodified, compartmentalized existence.
Because what transpires in the name of progress doesn’t always make us happier. Sometimes we need to stop and smell the roses. And sometimes we need to go back to go forwards.
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