What is the 15-minute city?
The 15-minute city is a new urban model that promotes a human-centric and environmentally sustainable urban future.
The idea at its core is that cities should be designed – or redesigned – so that residents of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities in all parts of the city are able to access their daily needs (housing, work, food, health, education, and culture and leisure) within the distance of a 15- minute walk or bike ride.
The model supports a decentralised city and a modal shift away from private vehicles, which at the same time reduces the use of fossil fuels and increases the quality of life for citizens.
The model does not call for a return to village life, however. Instead, the 15-minute city is a decidedly urban theory that heralds urban life with all its advantages: vibrancy, creativity, diversity, innovation, active citizenship, and technology used for the common good. The 15- minute city model reintroduces the qualities of older cities, adapted to contemporary lifestyles.
The 15-minute city is based on universal human needs and is flexible enough to work in all cities regardless of size, geographical and cultural differences. It can also be applied both when redesigning existing cities as well as in the planning of new cities or urban areas. In addition, the model is easily translatable to specific urban policies and encourages citizen participation and cross-disciplinary action between architects, landscape architects, urban planners, other professionals, politicians, businesses, developers, and owners.
The decentralised, polycentric, and multi-service 15-minute city promotes the common good to guarantee a city for all and avoid gentrification.
The 15-minute city breaks with the primacy of the car and the dysfunctional urban patterns brought about through decades of large-scale modern urban planning.
Robotics and urbanism
Carlos Moreno is trained in mathematics and computer science, specifically robotics and artificial intelligence. Just after the internet revolution in 2000, the professor was one of the proponents of “smart cities” and using computer science and mathematics to optimise the functions and management of cities. However, with time and with the increasing awareness of climate change as the most important threat for humans, he changed his mind.
I decided that my duty was not to continue to propose tech solutions but to orient my professional activities towards understanding the complexities of cities, understanding the impact of climate change, the role of the economy, and the social aspects of cities, he says.
The shift from robotics to urbanism was not as radical as one might think, however. According to Carlos Moreno, there are many similarities between the two fields, and he found that he could apply his knowledge of complexity to gain a better understanding of cities.
Cities are the most complex systems created by humans. And one of the characteristics of a complex system is the non-possibility of predicting its evolution. So, as complex systems, cities are totally unpredictable. Cities are incomplete systems, imperfect systems, in permanent evolution – fragile. We need to consider cities as complex systems and imagine new ways to generate adaptable solutions. This is how I came to propose the living city instead of the smart city. We need to abandon this idea of the city controlled by technology, he says.
Architecture in a complex system
The concept of the 15-minute city and the theory of complexity that lies behind it are highly relevant to architects. If cities are complex systems, and therefore unpredictable and fragile, architects must create solutions that adapt to changing conditions, according to Carlos Moreno.
Architects generally focus on a building and the functionalities inside. But we need to develop a holistic vision. When you decide to embrace the discipline of complexity and see the city as a complex system and a living organism, buildings are also part of the ecosystem. In this way, a building needs to live and breathe, and it needs to transform and to change its uses over time, he says and continues:
With the current climate emergency, it is totally necessary to have an adaptable environment in the city if we want to be resilient. Therefore, I think that we need to generate a new movement with architects, urbanists, landscape architects, etc., to propose a new paradigm for transforming cities into living, sustainable, resilient cities with a human scale.
Expanding a new urban lifestyle
The 15-minute city promotes walkability and cycling in big cities. However, in less dense areas, it may not be possible for people to access all essential urban functions by foot or by bike.
Today, the 15-minute city is based on high-density, compact urban zones. We need to broaden our focus to include different densities and territories: from the small cities to the mid-sized cities and even to the rural territories. We need to keep the concept of the 15-minute city but imagine new ways to implement its principle of proximity in other densities, says Carlos Moreno.
At the moment, the professor and his team have started a new experiment in the South of France to understand behaviours at this lower level of density: the 30-minute territory, based on the same scientific concepts of polycentrism and new proximities. The OBEL AWARD prize will help him and his team for future efforts to focus on different urban and territorial densities. This will allow for the full use of the 15-minute concept and its potential to reduce CO2 emissions globally and increase the quality of life for people, he says:
The OBEL AWARD for me is a very important recognition of my work. I think that it is a wonderful opportunity for me and my team for continuing and upscaling our work and for spreading this new urban lifestyle.