What is a 15 minute city? 

The idea behind a 15 minute city is that all the services you need are within a 15 minute walk or bike ride, so that you do not need to use your car as much. The services include your work, food, healthcare, education, culture and leisure (The Guardian). 

The reduction in car travel and public transport would help to reduce traffic emissions. Domestic transport added 99 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2020, reduced from 128 million tons in 1990. All transport modes have reduced their emissions in the last 30 years, except vans (UK Government). 

52% of the 2020 transport emissions are caused by car use. Car emissions are greater than HGVs, vans, shipping, buses, international aviation and international shipping. And domestic traffic emissions are increasing again – provisional data for 2021 says that they have increased by 10% to 107.5 million tons. 

The government has set a target for net zero transport by 2050. This would require a reduction of 55% in transport emissions by 2030 and a 90% reduction by 2040 (National Highways – PDF). The 15 minute city concept would help with this target. 

Who created the 15 minute city concept?

The concept of a 15 minute city was proposed by Carlos Moreno, an urban planner. He is behind plans to make Paris a 15 minute city. He gave a TED Talk on the concept in October 2002. His talk was part of a series called Countdown, a global initiative offering solutions to the climate crisis (C40 Knowledge Hub). 

“For too long, those of us who live in cities big and small have accepted the unacceptable. We accept that in cities our sense of time is warped, because we have to waste so much of it just adapting to the absurd organization and long distances of most of today’s cities.”

Carlos Moreno

In his talk, he asks why people have to adapt to cities and not the other way around. He thinks that cities have been left to develop ‘on the wrong path’. Instead he thinks that cities ‘should converge life into a human-sized space rather than fracturing it into an inhuman bigness’.

The idea of a 15 minute city revolves around four main concepts: 

  • Ecology – for a green and sustainable city
  • Proximity – to live with reduced distance to other activities
  • Solidarity – to create links between people
  • Participation – should actively involve citizens in the transformation of their neighbourhood

The golden rule is that every existing building should be used for different things. In Paris for example, one of the first cities to take up the idea, schools would be used for the community after hours. 

In the UK, 15 minute cities are not always a popular concept. In Oxford residents protested against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. They burned bollards and vandalised planters used to redirect traffic (ITV). 

The conspiracy theory is that the government wants to lock people in their neighbourhood. There is concern that a 15 minute city will take away personal freedoms and cause economic harm. 

Whatever the result is, whether we implement the idea of a 15 minute city or not, we need to do something to reduce our domestic transport emissions to meet the net zero targets the government has set and that is likely to impact on our daily lives.

If you are a business and you would like to measure and reduce your carbon emissions, join Blue Patch and get free net zero training.

Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.