Paris: the “15-minute city”
Many of these kinds of developments are already taking place today in a number of Western cities. But there are also visions that go far beyond this. One of these is the principle of the “15-minute city.” The aim of this idea is to bring residential neighborhoods, offices, shopping areas, schools, medical practices, and theaters closer together in the future in order for the city to be able to meet all of people’s needs in a small area. Carlos Moreno, a specialist in smart cities at Sorbonne University in Paris, is behind this vision.8 His approach is to change urban spaces in such a way that everyone can reach whatever they need in their own neighborhood on foot or by bicycle within a quarter of an hour.
The 15-minute city is a blueprint for optimized urban organization. If residents can reach everything they need within a 15-minute radius, this in turn will reduce traffic. Furthermore, if people rediscover their city on foot or by bicycle, this will benefit shops and restaurants. At the same time, the 15-minute city includes the use of buildings for living and working, thus reducing the amount of time spent commuting. But Carlos Moreno goes even further: he envisages that buildings could be used for multiple purposes, so that schools, for example, could be used for other activities on weekends.
Carlos Moreno won over Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo with his vision. She is backing the radical implementation of this approach to urban planning. Paris is on its way to becoming a cycling city: The plan is for all the streets in Paris to be bicycle friendly by 2024. A total of 72% of public parking spaces, around 60,000 in total, are set to disappear on the grounds that two-thirds of city residents currently do not own a car. What has been dubbed the “ecological transformation” of Paris is intended to improve air quality and local residents’ quality of life.
Achievable visions or utopias?
There is no silver bullet for reinventing and restructuring cities. The true test still lies ahead for many visions of the city of the future that have been euphorically received by the public. Because the radical rearrangement of cities is unlikely to be attainable in the short term, these at times utopian visions of the city should mainly be regarded as food for thought intended to suggest a possible way forward.
For example, Swiss sociologist Dr. Joëlle Zimmerli doubts whether the 15-minute city will be implemented with all its radical features. In particular, she questions the car-free approach. “Places are also brought to life through mobility. Not everyone can go shopping by bike, and stores and restaurants have to receive deliveries.” This is why, currently, the future of Western cities mainly lies in their renewal from the inside out, which involves continually optimizing the existing structures. We don’t know what our cities will look like in 50 years’ time. But who would have thought at the start of the 20th century that today’s world would be possible?