Cities around the world are trying to adopt new measures to ensure that everything their residents need is available within a 20-minute walk or bike
Many of Dallasâs urban challenges can be summed up in a single term: land use. Whether we are talking about affordable housing or public transportation, income inequality or fixing streets, quality public schools or walkability, at its core, we are really always talking about land use.
Our massive investment in light rail doesnât work? Thatâs because the city has developed with insufficient density around stations to make them useful. We canât afford to fix the streets? Thatâs because our low-density development model means we have more street surface area than tax base to pay for it, and our highway system has made it easy for new investment to continually seek-out cheaper, under-developed locations outside the city. Our schools are underfunded? Thatâs because for 70 years land use decisions have allowed urban neighborhood to erode and an endless succession of competing suburbs to spring up to siphon off students, teachers, and taxes from the inner city. At the end of the day, all of Dallasâ urban problems are land use problems.
Which is why a new trend that is being adopted by a number of cities around the world caught my eye. Itâs called the â20-minute neighborhood.â The concept is incredibly simple, and yet it promises to solve many of these problems listed above in one fell swoop. What if everything you needed from the city during your day-to-day life was located within a 20-minute walk or bike of your front door? Weâre talking groceries, job, social centers, schoolsâeverything. Twenty minutes away, tops. Sounds pretty convenient, right? It would be nice to walk to the grocery store, walk to pick up your kids from school, bike to a concert on a Friday night. But while 20-minute neighborhoods sound, at first, like convenient, fun places to live, their implications are much more profound.
Thatâs because the idea of 20-minute neighborhoods strike directly at the cause of so many urban issues: land use. What if cities began to regulate their land use so that every corner of a city was measured by their ability to ensure that basic daily needs could be met via a 20-minute walk? Thatâs the goal in Portland, which has set out to make it so 90 percent of Portland residents live in â20-minute neighborhoodsâ by 2030 as part of its climate action plan. The concept has been bouncing around for a long time. Back in 2010, The Atlantic looked at the effort not long after it was first introduced and pointed out that the idea was being tasked with taking aim at a whole host of urban challenges:
The 20-minute neighborhood plan is a part of Portlandâs long-term strategy to manage the challenges that face many urban environments across the country, including rising energy costs, population growth, roadway congestion, and demand for expensive public transit to connect more and more distant suburbs.
As cities around the world create their own climate action plans to respond to the existential threat of global climate change, weâre seeing 20-minute neighborhoods pop up as part of that solution as well. Melbourne, Barcelona, London, and Paris all have some version of the 20-minuteâor 15-minute, or âsuperblockââas part of their short- to mid-term development goals.
What would such places look like? The Parisian plan sketches out a vision that would promote a hyper-local approach to all city planning:
Paris en Communâs manifesto sketches out some details for what this future walkable, hyperlocal city would look like. More Paris road space would be given up to pedestrians and bikes, with car lanes further trimmed down or removed. Planning would try to give public and semi-public spaces multiple usesâso that, for example, daytime schoolyards could become nighttime sports facilities or simply places to cool off on hot summer nights. Smaller retail outlets would be encouragedâbookstores as well as grocery storesâas would workshops making wares using a âMade in Parisâ tag as a marketing tool. Everyone would have access to a nearby doctor (and ideally a medical center), while sports therapy facilities would be available in each of the cityâs 20 arrondissements.
To improve local cultural offerings, public performance spaces would be set up, notably at the âgatesâ of Paris â the large, currently car-dominated squares around the inner cityâs fringe which once marked entry points through the long-demolished ramp