Thought up by Colombian-French scientist Carlos Moreno, the ‘15-minute city’ concept is based on universal human needs and can be scaled to work in different cities “regardless of size, geographical and cultural differences.”

The 15-minute city is “a new urban model that promotes a human-centric and environmentally sustainable urban future,” news materials say. “The idea at its core is that cities should be designed – or redesigned – so that residents of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities in all parts of the city are able to access their daily needs (housing, work, food, health, education, and culture and leisure) within the distance of a 15- minute walk or bike ride.”

According to the model, the city should be decentralised and private vehicles should be used less and less. This reduces the use of fossil fuels while increasing the quality of life for citizens.

It is this very urban model that has just won the third ever Obel Award – a new, international prize for architecture “that honours recent and outstanding contributions towards changing the physical, designed environment for the common good.” The award is worth 100,000 euros ($115,993) and honours “recent and outstanding architectural contributions to human development all over the world.”

The jury says “Carlos Moreno and his team who developed the concept, have come up with “an ambitious and complex urban strategy – but also a refreshingly pragmatic approach.”

Explaining why they have chosen the 15-minute city for the award, the jury notes “the 15-minute city is an intuitive concept and has the capacity to deliver tangible change in people’s lives. For these reasons, it has proven easy to translate into political programmes and policies that transform cities,” adding that “the 15-minute city model has already created real, positive change in cities as geographically and culturally diverse as Paris, Chengdu, Melbourne, and Bogota.”

Chair of the Jury Martha Schwartz says “I truly respect the power, the breadth, and the scale of the 15-minute city vision. It holds the potential to help 70 percent of the global population who will be living in cities by 2050. It’s an urban- scale idea, but also focuses on the individual's experience of life.”

The jury also salutes the interdisciplinary nature of the 15-minute city, saying it is needed for “the challenge of transforming our cities and our built environment,” adding that they hope that this year’s winner “will inspire architects, other professionals, politicians, and local citizens alike to work together towards a better urban future for people and for the planet.”

Carlos Moreno, scientific director and professor at University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, is trained in mathematics and computer science, specifically robotics and artificial intelligence. He used to be a proponent of “smart cities” and “using computer science and mathematics to optimise the functions and management of cities.” Yet as time went on and he became more aware of climate change as the most important threat for humans, he reformulated his beliefs.

“It's funny if you think of it: the way many modern cities are designed is often determined by the imperative to save time, and yet so much time is lost to commuting, sitting in traffic jams, driving to a mall, in a bubble of illusory acceleration,” he says.

While the 15-minute city is reminiscent of old towns, it doesn’t demand a return to village life. News materials note that it is a “decidedly urban theory that heralds urban life with all its advantages: vibrancy, creativity, diversity, innovation, active citizenship, and technology used for the common good. The 15-minute city model reintroduces the qualities of older cities, adapted to contemporary lifestyles.”

Moreno proposed the 15-minute city model five years ago, but it wasn’t until the coronavirus pandemic that really brought it to the forefront of people’s thinking. Initially, people thought it was a good yet utopian idea. But with more and more people working from home because of the pandemic, discovering ways to eliminate commuting time and using it towards a better work-life balance, the thinking has changed.

“Covid is the spark for transforming our cities,” Moreno says.

The idea was popularised globally when the urban network C40 cities began promoting the model “as a new roadmap for a post-pandemic world.” In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo worked closely with Moreno in her re-election campaign.

“The close collaboration between Hidalgo and my team of scientists made it possible to transform the city of Paris and to inspire cities worldwide to follow the example. As a result, I was contacted by mayors around the world telling me that they were implementing the 15-minute city in their city. I think that in the history of urbanism, this situation is very original: that we have scientists developing new concepts, and at the same time, we have mayors who listen to scientists such as myself and decide to implement the concepts in their cities,” says Carlos Moreno.

The 15-minute city aims to provide “better health and quality of life,” create “a more environmentally sustainable city”; offer “a more equitable and inclusive city” and bring “a boost to the local economy,” the news materials note.

While many have hailed the 15-minute city as a good solution to congested cities with low quality of life, there are also critics of the idea who say the model could lead to “increased marginalisation of disadvantaged neighbourhoods.” 

Moreno and his team believe this could be avoided by focusing first on underserved areas of the city when implementing the model. News materials explain that “the management of resources with an urban policy based on the urban commons is essential for a 15-minute city for all.”

Thumbnail photo: Scientist and winner of the third Obel Award Carlos Moreno rides his bike in Paris.  Photo by Mathieu Delmestre.

Headline photo: Mother and daughter bike in Copenhagen. Photo by Emilie Koefoed.

Source: TRT World