The Complexities of the '15-Minute City'

What does a '15-minute city' truly mean–and how achievable is it in the U.S.?

2 minute read

July 29, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Walkable Urban Commercial District

Albert Pego / Shutterstock

Alan Ehrenhalt explores the complications of the popular "15-minute city" concept, asking "[w]hat exactly makes a 15-minute city, anyway? And is it a new idea or just a slogan that has been grafted onto some urbanist schemes that have been floating around for many years?"

The crux of "15-minute city" discussions is "the simple idea that we should be able to buy or do just about anything we want by walking 15 minutes or less." This mile-long walk, argues Ehrenhalt, may actually be unattractive to many Americans. "That’s why some critics have said that if we are talking exclusively about walking, the idea of a five- or 10-minute city might be more realistic. It will also be much more difficult to achieve, to say the least." When it comes to biking, Ehrenhalt worries that "the number of bike lanes required to create a central element of the redesigned city are far more than we have built anywhere so far, even in the most progressive cities."

Ehrenhalt poses similar questions about transit: "what does 15-minute transit really mean? If you’re talking about door to door, there really aren’t many transit trips that can be completed in 15 minutes. If you’re talking about a bus or train station within 15 minutes of home, it’s something we clearly ought to work toward, but it doesn’t suggest brief and convenient trips."

While laudable, the goal of truly creating 15-minute cities and neighborhoods in many U.S. cities, Ehrenhalt writes, is "[n]ot impossible, but very difficult."

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