sustainability 15-minute cities

The 15-Minute City. Examples All over the World

Are you tired of long commutes, traffic jams, and urban sprawl? Imagine a city where everything you need is just a short walk or bike ride away. Join us on a global journey as we explore how cities like Paris, Barcelona, and beyond are embracing a revolutionary approach to urban design that prioritizes convenience, sustainability, and quality of life. Read the full article on the 15-minute city and discover how it’s reshaping urban living!

The 15-minute city is a concept that stands for the decentralization of life and services and the creation of urban infrastructure tailored to everyone's needs. Its main idea is to develop cities in such a manner that residents have access to all basic amenities and can reach all institutions within a quarter of an hour from leaving home. How to implement such a solution? What are the advantages of the 15-minute city? Let's find out what this urban planning model means in practice.

The origins of 15-minute cities. Foundations of the concept

The concept of the 15-minute city has its origins in 2016 when Professor Carlos Moreno proposed an urban planning vision that prioritizes proximity and accessibility to basic services¹. The approach has a clear goal: to reduce dependence on cars by encouraging the use of shared modes of transportation and physical activity in order to improve residents' quality of life and promote environmental sustainability.   The model involves meeting people's basic needs by providing a place to live and work, as well as easy access to shopping, education, health care, and recreation. This means that places such as a hospital, school, park, or post office can be reached by residents in no more than a quarter-hour walk or bike ride.  
The 15-minute cities are characterized by a number of elements aimed at improving the quality of people's lives. These elements vary depending on location and urban development practices, but generally address the key aspects listed below:

➡️ diversity in terms of architecture and culture
➡️ temporal and spatial proximity
➡️ optimal population density
➡️ ubiquity and accessibility for everyone
➡️ digitalization.

Methods for the implementation of the aforementioned goals can be as the following:

📋 planning urban development with regard to the 15-minute distance
📋 creating pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure
📋 designating areas of shared mobility (mobility hubs)
📋 ensuring the efficiency of public transportation
📋 promoting green areas
📋 focusing on environmental sustainability, including the use of renewable energy sources
📋 striving to improve social life
📋 supporting local businesses.

Advantages of the 15-minute city model

A 15-minute city brings benefits to both the environment and residents². Among the main ones we can mention:

Reducing car traffic means reduced emissions, less smog and air pollution, and less noise.

Optimal density, achieved by narrowing streets and building high-density housing, will result in preserving more undeveloped areas and protecting biodiversity.

Cleaner air and more green recreational areas are additional incentives for residents to enjoy walking and exercising.

Micro-electromobility, namely scooters, motor scooters, and electric bicycles, increases the size of the area available to a person in fifteen minutes. Shared mobility systems, on the other hand, mean that users don't have to carry their own means of transportation with them all the time. With the help of an application, they can find the nearest vehicle and use it to get where they need to be.

In addition, integrated neighborhoods allow the use of local services and stores, which supports the activities of small businesses.

Adopting the 15-minute urban model can help build communities and strengthen social ties in compact city areas.

An active lifestyle and opportunities for socializing are among the indicators of human well-being, which is, after all, the priority of the idea under discussion. Combined with convenience and comfort thanks to amenities within walking distance, all aspects of the 15-minute city guarantee a significant reduction in stress level and great time savings.

Examples of 15-minute cities

Paris, France

One of the first 15-minute cities in the world was created in Paris. Its originator was Anne Hidalgo, whose 2020 election campaign³, as The Guardian reported, referred to the idea of the “quarter-hour city”. The city council committed to improving the quality of life for all residents. Priority areas included, and still include, easy access to jobs, shopping, schools, clinics, and cultural events.

Monika Borycka, a guest on the Smart City Navigators podcast, talks about Paris, its innovations and radical changes:
Different neighborhoods from the center are gradually being excluded from traffic. These spaces are being used for some service points, for green areas, and all of this is also being done on a micro scale, explains the trend researcher, innovation analyst, and expert on past research. This is already happening in European cities, she adds.

Among other things, the plan includes the creation of multifunctional spaces that would combine business and recreational functions. So far, solutions introduced by the mayor of Paris have reduced car traffic and led to the greener surroundings of the Seine. School areas are also being greened with the idea of making them accessible to everyone after school hours. Currently, there are already fifty 15-minute compact cities in Paris⁴.   This trend is basically irreversible, Borycka concludes.  

Milan, Italy

Milan is investing extensively in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Over the next few years, the city authorities want to create the largest network of bicycle routes in Europe, with a total of 750 kilometers of paths⁵. Already during the coronavirus pandemic, 35 kilometers of bike paths have been created in the Italian fashion capital thanks to the closure of some streets to car traffic⁶. At the same time, there is a thriving investment being made in shared transportation. According to data from August 2023, there are 22,000 bikes for rent in Milan⁷. As part of the transformation, the city government has set four main goals: 

- create places for people to establish relationships and feel safe
- shorten the time it takes to reach places important in daily life
- increase the number of green spaces
- use high-quality materials that are easy to maintain.

The above‑mentioned aspects are to determine a new way of thinking about streets, parking lots, sidewalks, and bicycle paths. In some places, roadway narrowing and sidewalk widening are planned to ensure the safety and comfort of residents.

Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne's plan for 2017-2050 is a long-term strategy addressing the challenges of an ever-growing population and employment. These challenges include providing affordable and accessible housing, ensuring adequate numbers and diversity of jobs and transportation efficiency, limiting urban sprawl, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and adapting to climate change⁸. Melbourne is using such a city planning framework to meet the needs of residents and secure services and amenities for the future. It is implementing strategies to encourage walking and biking, and urban planning aims to promote self-sustaining neighborhoods with a wide range of local services, supporting local entrepreneurship.

Cleveland, OH, U.S.

When Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo's re‑election campaign sparked global interest in the 15-minute city concept, the Cleveland planning department set out to analyze how many residents of that American city enjoyed the 15-minute convenience of easy access to grocery stores, medical facilities, or schools⁹. Several neighborhoods were identified where residents could meet most of their needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride, but this access was not evenly distributed throughout the city. In 2022, Justin Bibb took office as mayor and announced that Cleveland would be the first metropolitan area in North America to implement 15-minute city planning principles that put people first. City planners found that while many neighborhoods had great access to amenities, the quality of those amenities–or the quality of the trip to get to them–varied greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood. According to planners, a walk on a crumbling sidewalk is not an “access” within the meaning of a 15-minute city. In June 2022, the Cleveland City Council adopted a Complete and Green Streets Ordinance to make sure road projects increase opportunities for walking, biking, and using public transportation. In March 2024, the planning commission recommended adopting the newly developed Form-Based Code in three pilot neighborhoods⁹. The Code–which draws on a neighborhood-specific needs analysis and is currently still under consideration by the Cleveland City Council–would allow denser multifunctional development near retail stores and transit corridors.  

Shanghai, China

Shanghai has become the first Chinese city to commit to an urban planning approach in line with the idea of 15-minute cities. Authorities plan to make 99% of public service facilities within a 15-minute walk and 90% of green spaces within 5 minutes by 2035¹⁰. In addition to Shanghai, 50 other Chinese cities also plan to adopt the concept, but in China, merely reducing the time spent commuting to work and getting to stores is not enough. In recent years, urban development and the increased mobility of people have caused the sense of community in neighborhoods to disappear. Now, backstreets are being revitalized, gardens are being created, and accessibility for disabled residents is being increased–all in an effort to encourage residents to participate in community life again.

Stockholm, Sweden

While cities around the world are considering transformation based on planning concepts such as the 15-minute one, Sweden is aiming to implement a nationwide variation of the 1-minute city. The approach focuses on implementing changes at the single‑street level. Through workshops and community consultations, residents will be able to decide how street space is used and changed. The goal is not to make everything accessible in a minute but rather to look at streets as key spaces that connect communities (through infrastructure that encourages integration, at least), rather than just places to move around and leave cars. If the test phase of the program is successful, Sweden plans to implement its concept on every street in the country by 2030¹¹.

Portland, OR, U.S.

In Portland's case, the focus is on developing long-term strategies targeting affordable housing, public transportation, income inequality, walkability, community engagement, and inclusion. The city is making efforts to address social inequality by building public housing in more affluent neighborhoods. It is currently working on initiatives such as a shared-use parking permit¹² and pricing solutions to ensure sustainable mobility. The city plans to prioritize improvements for pedestrians by building sidewalks and pathways along with removing barriers, namely steep slopes and difficult street crossings.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is seen by many as the ideal blueprint for a 15-minute city. Work is already in progress to improve sidewalks and bike lanes, and digital twins, digital replicas of systems and environments, are being used to simulate the impact of planning changes on the city⁴. Barcelona has a structure of quarters, which city authorities have begun to transform into larger functional units, within which car traffic is excluded, land is greened, and a housing structure is built that makes it possible for more people to live in a given area. Traffic and mobility are being reorganized to prioritize pedestrians and bicyclists, thus creating neighborhoods that are easily accessible to everyone.

Pleszew, Poland

Pleszew has been dubbed “the first 15-minute city in Poland.” Its residents can access all important points in less than a quarter of an hour. Investments are being made in bicycle paths not only in the middle of the city but also on its outskirts so that suburban green spaces can be easily reached. Both younger and older Pleszew residents can take advantage of sports facilities: a sports field, swimming pool, bowling club, or skate park. In addition to sports facilities, Pleszew also considers well-equipped educational institutions, a high level of medical services, attractive housing prices, a diverse cultural offer, and urban mobility to be its pride¹³. The aforementioned bicycle infrastructure, buffer parking lots, and cheap and frequent mobile transportation are all textbook key features of a 15-minute city. Pleszew is an example of the fact that smart city ideas and sustainable city models are not issues that concern only wealthy and highly developed metropolises. Changes can also be made in smaller towns and cities.   Other cities where the ideas of the 15-minute city concept are being implemented include Ottawa, Buenos Aires, Vancouver, Brussels, and Oxford.  

Challenges for city officials

Although the voices of radicals and conspiracy theorists, who see in the concept of 15-minute cities certain dystopian aspects and an attempt to enslave the population, are gradually quieting down, the urban model under discussion may pose certain difficulties and dangers.
If only in terms of mental health, the creation of 15-minute cities could be counterproductive. Like in the Peter Weir-directed production of The Truman Show, in which the main character follows a set routine every day, residents of modern 15-minute cities could feel overwhelmed. Taking the same routes every day, following a fixed pattern could result in mood disorders due to feelings of isolation and claustrophobia. The close availability of all services could lead to the disappearance of the need for exercise and a reduction in movement as a result of not having to go to more distant locations, resulting in a sense of alienation.

While ultimately, 15-minute cities are supposed to be synonymous with equality and common access, they could nevertheless mean the risk of creating involuntary class divisions, such as the creation of upper-class neighborhoods that exclude poorer people. Exclusion can also threaten the disabled and elderly, for whom the car is often the only form of transportation, since, according to the model's idea, urban and shared transportation would largely replace private personal cars. The focus on the 15-minute window may also impose a narrow way of thinking that prioritizes efficiency and speed, and not necessarily real accessibility for wheelchair users, for example. In addition, ideas aimed at reducing car traffic are often equated with infringing on personal freedom, limiting travel choices and times, and imposing dependence on public transportation¹⁴.   Although the concept is to create a coherent infrastructure, namely building single‑family houses in single‑family neighborhoods, and blocks of flats in the neighborhoods with blocks of flats, optimal density may prove difficult to achieve. It seems undeniable that the former housing estate will be less densely populated than the latter, where, in turn, overcrowding may occur. In this regard, the scales tilt in favor of the way most of today's cities are designed–development is diversified and density is more or less, but proportionately distributed.   Last but not least is the need to change the infrastructure and land use of existing cities. While the concept under discussion promises numerous benefits, it also requires significant investment and strategic planning. Municipalities must allocate resources to redesign infrastructure, create pedestrian-friendly spaces, and improve public transportation. In addition, funding mechanisms must be developed to support local businesses or cultural institutions.  

In this day and age, where the apparent comfort of daily life is often determined by mobility and motorization, it's easy to forget that our physical and mental well-being depends on the environment in which we live. Ubiquitous greenery, a sense of community, and the close availability of necessary servicesthis is what Paris, Melbourne, Cleveland, and Stockholm, the 15-minute cities, provide.

The advantage of accessibility over mobility is emphasized by Daniel Herriges, a member and co-founder of Strong Towns, an American non-profit organization that promotes the ways in which each city and neighborhood strives for growth and prosperity. Mobility is how far you can go in a given amount of time. Accessibility is how much you can get to in that time¹⁵, he says.

Meeting the financial and planning challenges to establish 15-minute cities requires taking incremental steps, but the promise of healthier and sustainable communities makes the efforts worth it. Any innovation requires cost and work, but to make a difference–you have to get started in the first place.

¹ Noworól, A., Kopyciński, P., Hałat, P., Salamon, J., & Hołuj, A. (2022). The 15-minute city—the geographical proximity of services in Krakow. Sustainability, 14(12), 7103.
² Moreno, C., Allam, Z., Chabaud, D., Gall, C., & Pratlong, F. (2021). Introducing the “15-Minute City”: Sustainability, resilience and place identity in future post-pandemic cities. Smart cities, 4(1), 93-111.
³ Willsher, K. (2020). Paris mayor unveils '15-minute city' plan in re‑election campaign. The Guardian.‑city-plan-in-re‑election-campaign
⁴ University College of Estate Management. (2024). A guide to 15-minute cities: why are they so controversial?‑city/
⁵ Città metropolitana di Milano. (2021). Cambio - Il Biciplan della Città Metropolitana di Milano.
⁶ Comune di Milano. (2020). Mobilità. A dicembre 35 km di nuove ciclabili a Milano.‑35-km-di-nuove‑ciclabili-a-milano
⁷ Comune di Milano. (2023). Bike Sharing.‑sharing
⁸ Pozoukidou, G., & Chatziyiannaki, Z. (2021). 15-Minute City: Decomposing the new urban planning eutopia. Sustainability, 13(2), 928
⁹ Luscher, D. (2024). Cleveland’s 15-minute city journey.
¹⁰ Shanghai Urban Planning and Land Resource Administration Bureau. (2018). Shanghai Master Plan 2017-2035.
¹¹ Bloomberg CityLab. (2021). Make way for the ‘One‑Minute City’.‑one‑minute‑city?sref=Y5NzbMHF
¹² City of Portland, Oregon. (2021). Apply for a shared-use parking permit (pilot).‑parking-permit-pilot
¹³ Urząd Miasta i Gminy w Pleszewie. (2021). Burmistrz Miasta i Gminy Pleszew: idea Miasta 15.
¹⁴  Marquet, O., Mojica, L., Fernández-Núñez, M. B., & Maciejewska, M. (2024). Pathways to 15-Minute City adoption: Can our understanding of climate policies' acceptability explain the backlash towards x-minute city programs?. Cities, 148, 104878.
¹⁵ Herriges, D. (2018). The Difference Between Mobility and Accessibility.‑difference‑between-mobility-and-accessibility
15-minute cities, sustainability, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Cleveland
Joanna Nowak
Junior Content Writer
Junior Content Writer

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