The 15-Minute City: meet the micro-commute of the future

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Imagine bookending your day with a 15-Minute Commute, made on foot or two wheels. That’s the future, according to a new study

Commuting times in major cities around the world are remarkably similar. Research shows that whether you’re in London, Sydney, New York or Berlin, you’re likely to be sitting on a bus or train for between 45 minutes and an hour on your way to and from work each day.

However, a new study by IWG has found that these time-consuming treks may soon be drastically reduced. A radical new town planning philosophy known as the ‘15-Minute City’ is aiming to make your commute no more than a quarter of an hour’s walk or cycle ride – not only from your place of work, but also from all the services and leisure venues you need on a weekly basis.

A close-by community

This concept of communities where work, home, shops, entertainment, education and healthcare are all accessible within a 15 minute journey was created by French academic Carlos Moreno. The idea is that the trip to work should be around the same time a commuter might wait on a railway platform at present. It’s an idea that stems from his wider philosophy of “chrono-urbanism”, which reimagines how city dwellers spend their time, promoting a slower, healthier pace of life.

Moreno’s vision has been enthusiastically embraced in recent years by Anne Hidalgo, the forward-thinking mayor of Paris, who has embarked on a project to effectively turn the city into a series of decentralised mini-villages – each with its own car-free green spaces, homes, shared spaces and workplaces.

Now the environmentally friendly, sustainable, health-enhancing 15-Minute City concept is increasingly finding support worldwide, with cities including Milan, Edinburgh, Seattle and Madrid all working on developing the idea for a smarter post-pandemic future. “As cities work towards Covid-19 recovery, the 15-Minute City is more relevant than ever as an organising principle for urban development,” says C40, a network of nearly 100 mayors from megacities around the world.

Work where you live

Pre-pandemic, the lack of affordable housing close to many workplaces presented a challenge to the concept of the 15-Minute City. In the wake of Covid-19, though, the rise of the hybrid working model has seen more and more companies realise that there’s a third option: one beyond simply working from home or basing staff in a central office.

The ‘hub-and-spoke’ model allows workers the flexibility to attend collaborative, face to face meetings at a company HQ, but also to base themselves at a flexible workspace closer to home when working solo. This way of working will be crucial in helping to establish the world of the 15-Minute Commute. Earlier this year, IWG collaborated with the Advance Strategy Practice of global design and consulting firm B+H, to get a sense of what that world might look like.

Everything in one place

To see how such a community might look, architects B+H created a ‘City Mind Map’, visualising an intersecting system incorporating work, play, eating, wellbeing, shopping, learning and contributing to society. And it wasn’t just pie in the sky: changes are already happening, says Jill Jago, Director of B+H’s Advance Strategy Practice, who is currently working with a community bank in Seattle on their new HQ.

“But what should that headquarters be?” she asks. “Is it office space or is it more of a community amenity space? They’re in a small community where a lot of housing is going up but there currently aren’t many amenities, so rather than a conventional HQ, does the bank invest in creating yoga studio space, a community centre and restaurants for lease, and make their workspace a smaller part of it? These are the kinds of questions we’re looking at with clients right now.”

According to IWG Founder and Chief Executive Mark Dixon, we are witnessing the dawn of a profound change in the way that communities live and work. “The realisation of the 15-Minute Commute will be one of the most dramatic and long-lasting legacies of the pandemic,” he says.

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