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The 15-Minute Village

The subject of this article is a variation on the theme of “The 15-minute City”. A concept pioneered in 2016 by Professor Carlos Moreno of the Paris 1 – Panthéon Sorbonne University. The idea is straightforward, “a decentralised urban planning model, in which each local neighbourhood contains all the basic social functions for living and working” (Antunes, Barroca & de Oliveira, 2022). Everything you might need for daily life, within a 15-minute walk or cycling distance. As previously discussed on this site, Paris has served as an active prototype for this model. The incumbent Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has made it the subject of her successful re-election campaign in 2020.

Figure 1: An illustration of the 15 minute city concept pioneered in Paris by Professor Carlos Moreno

A World Without Cars

The genesis of Moreno’s original idea stems from a desire for reduced traffic flow in urban centres. His lengthy list of objections to the ubiquitous presence of automobiles in urban districts includes the psycho-social and economic downsides of traffic congestion. Alongside the immensely detrimental impact on air quality from the accompanying carbon emissions (Moreno et al., 2021). Traffic is stressful, costly, inefficient, and damaging to the environment. Why would we not want to reduce it? Increased usability and reliance upon sustainable travel mechanisms such as walking and cycling would mean lower emissions by default. The Covid-19 Pandemic and the accompanying fall in global travel and industrial production levels allowed for a real-life application of this concept on a scale that would have been impossible to replicate under almost any other circumstance.

This assertion is backed up by data collected by NASA, which showed a global fall in CO2 emissions of 5.4 percent for 2020. (Emission Reductions From Pandemic Had Unexpected Effects on Atmosphere, 2021). However, of note from Nasa’s study is that these emission levels rebounded rather rapidly, returning to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the same year. The authors conclude that a permanent reduction in emissions output from residential and industrial sectors will require a transition to low-carbon emitting technology. This is precisely the kind of transition that could prove sustainable under a more localised living model.

Figure 2: Cycling and Walking are both essential provisions of any wider sustainable living concept

Rising Urbanisation

The growing appetite for a local living model comes when the world has never been more metropolitan. While global urbanization levels have been rising noticeably since the turn of the 20th century, this movement has gained significant and rapidly accelerating momentum from around 1950 onward. The United States had already begun to demonstrate evidence of this pattern some 100 years prior. While more recently, in the 1990s and 2000s, China’s share of Urban residents more than doubled, now accounting for 58 percent of its overall population. This translates to more than half of the current world population now living in urban areas. A trend that is expected to continue. Current projections estimate that some 68 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2050. (Ritchie and Roser, 2021). While some researchers have even speculated that this will result in the world’s first 100 million cities by population by 2100 (Hoornweg and Pope, 2016).