On today’s show we’re talking about one of the latest ideas in community design. It’s the 15 minute neighborhood. The idea behind the 15 minute neighborhood is that everything you need to live your daily life should be within 15 minutes walking distance of your home. That means a trip to the grocery store, a trip to the office, and a trip to the dry cleaner would all be within a 15 minute walk. Trips further afield could rely on a 15 minute walk to a public transit stop.
The idea of walkable communities is not new. If you spend any time in Europe, you’ll find communities that were centered around the town square. These places were built before the advent of the automobile and they’re some of the most livable communities, despite the lack of parking. But if you go to even small communities in Europe of, say, 40,000 people, you will find 6-10 story apartment buildings, dense main-streets with clothing stores and a local deli, a neighborhood restaurant serving simple food, and a fine dining restaurant.
You’ll find the local flower shop, the pharmacy and the health food store.
The design of North American cities have created a separation between the commercial center and the places where people live. The suburban lifestyle where row upon row of identical houses with manicured lawns is an artifact of the 1970’s and 1980’s. This trend created a band of abandoned real estate outside the core of each city. Drive a bit further and you get into the suburbs. But really it makes no sense. Communities all over North America have rediscovered that band of real estate and started redeveloping it.
My home town of Ottawa Canada has adopted the concept of the 15 minute neighborhood into its latest incarnation of the official plan. But if you research the concept, you’ll find other communities like Boulder Colorado and Portland Oregon adopting a similar concept. All across North America, we have bankrupted our cities and states by putting the everything ever farther apart, and then building huge networks of roads and public transit to connect it. Our cities have ballooned far faster in land mass than they’ve grown in population, and face ever-mounting maintenance costs for all that pavement, at the same time as residents clamor for yet more roads to deal with congestion caused by all the driving we’ve forced ourselves to do. If you’ve ever built a road, you know exactly how expensive they can be to build and maintain.
The best way to lower these costs is to fill in the spaces left vacant in the middle of our cities that have fallen out of fashion. That means no new roads, no new public transit, no new schools. It’s re-using the infrastructure that’s already there and being paid for.
One of the big tragedies of urban sprawl is the way we get children to school. I’ve lived in the suburbs for the past 30 years. My children have been walking distance from school. When I grew up, I used to walk to school, but my children never experienced that. They had to take a 30 minute drive on a school bus instead of a 20 minute walk to school. Frankly, that’s pretty messed up. I’d love to see the return fo the neighborhood school and get rid of all those school busses that are taking kids 30-60 minutes twice a day all over North America.
As you look at opportunities for development projects, study the 15 minute neighborhood and inspire your local communities to make old world sensibility part of the new world city.