From Paris to Portland, cities are attempting to give residents everything they need within a few minutes of their front doors.
The Minimes barracks in Paris don’t look like the future of cities. A staid brick-and-limestone complex established in 1925 along a backstreet in the Marais district, it’s the sort of structure you pass without a second glance in a place as photogenic as Paris.
Paris' 15-minute makeover.
— World Economic Forum (@wef) July 17, 2021
A closer look at its courtyard, however, reveals a striking transformation. The barracks’ former parking lot has become a public garden planted with saplings. The surrounding buildings have been converted to 70 unusually attractive public housing apartments, at a cost of €12.3 million ($14.5 million).
Elsewhere in the revamped complex are offices, a day-care facility, artisan workshops, a clinic, and a cafe staffed by people with autism, the Bloomberg BusinessWeek said.
The green, mixed-use, community-friendly approach extends to the streets beyond. Five minutes down the road, the vast Place de la Bastille has been renovated as part of a city-funded €30 million revamp of seven major squares.
No longer a roaring island of traffic, it’s now dedicated mainly to pedestrians, with rows of trees where asphalt once lay. A stream of bikes runs through the square along a freshly repaved, protected “coronapiste”—one of the bike freeways introduced to make cycling across Greater Paris easier during the coronavirus pandemic.
City Hall has since announced that the lanes will be permanent, backed by €300 million in ongoing funding from the region and top-ups from municipalities and the French government.
Taken together, the new trees and cycleways, community facilities and social housing, homes and workplaces all reflect a potentially transformative vision for urban planners: the 15-minute city.
“The 15-minute city represents the possibility of a decentralized city,” says Carlos Moreno, a scientific director and professor specializing in complex systems and innovation at University of Paris 1. “At its heart is the concept of mixing urban social functions to create a vibrant vicinity”—replicated, like fractals, across an entire urban expanse.
Such measures can, to a degree, counterbalance Paris’s trends toward high rents and social polarization.
With climate change, Covid-19, and political upheaval all challenging the ideals of globalism, the hope is to refashion cities as places primarily for people to walk, bike, and linger in, rather than commute to.
The 15-minute city calls for a return to a more local and somewhat slower way of life, where commuting time is instead invested in richer relationships with what’s nearby.