15-minute city // 30-minutes territory

Carlos Moreno is a Professor and the scientific director of the ETI Chair - Paris Pantheon Sorbonne University. 
He introduced the concept of the 15-minute city and the 30-minutes territory and supports many international organisations and cities.
This article is an extract of the interview he gave to Marie-Lorraine Dangeard, Senior expert in the ANCT for the ESPON seminar "Stronger together: recovering through crises"

Professor, digital just and green transitions are the EU pathway to resilience. As a pioneer in green and digital cities, do you think we can weather consecutive crises? Do cities have the proper mechanisms to get over it?

Cities today are the places where the majority of the population lives. 77% of the European population lives in cities. We have, of course, the big metropoles, London, Paris, Madrid. But we also have the middle cities and small cities.

In all cases, the common point is that they all share the same global threats. What is the most important global threat today? Climate change. This is a reality, a real climate emergency, and it is no longer possible to continue living with the same urban lifestyle.

Cities are the biggest contributors of CO2 emissions with transportation, buildings, and technical networks. It's not enough to decide on technical measures on capitation or the sequestration of CO2. We need to change our urban lifestyle radically if we want to reach the carbon neutrality in 2050, because this is the common goal of humanity today.

Cities should be today the place for implementing this new urban lifestyle concretely. So I proposed radically reducing our CO2 emissions with this concept of shorter distances for urban life.

You're the author of the 15-minute city concept. What new things does it bring to the table and I'd like to know, is it for big cities only? How can you adapt this concept to other sizes of cities? Does it work for any city and territory, like rural and cross-border areas? And finally, is the 30-minutes territory an alternative?

My scientific contribution is based on defining a new model for cities regardless of their size, density, economic and social particularities. We consider that in all cities, we have six crucial points for delivering a real quality of life:
Good living conditions, social housing, quality materials, sufficient surface for living
Radical reduction of long commuting with the decentralized work
Supplies providers in short distances with the shortest circuits
Medical care for mental and physical health
Access education and culture
Access to clean water and air and green areas

With the COVID pandemic, we needed to change our daily commute radically in just a few days, a few weeks. But the most relevant point was our new perception of useful time.

The concept of the 30-minutes territory is the same as the 15-minute city with a different implementation. In the 15-minute city, we can offer access within a short perimeter on foot or by bike. In the 30-minutes territory we need to include other mobilities and in particular electric vehicles, on-demand transport etc. With this model, we can implement the same concept in a city like Paris, Rome, Milan but also in very small cities, even ruralities.

I understand that the 15-minute city concept is not a magic wand. However, can you make it work under a critical mass, in low-income neighbourhoods, for people who commute to get better jobs?

Indeed, the 15-minute city cannot transform 7 decades of traditional urbanism based on the segmented city, fractured city, specialized city that we have today. In many cities in Europe, it is natural to commute every day, even three hours for a round trip, just to join the office from home. This is unsustainable.

We cannot change the global economic model or the European system. Our contribution is to develop a new urban policy with new measures and administrative tools. A new urban management to rebalance the living and working conditions and the access to essential services in the cities.

In fact, we want to transform the ancient model and develop a new one that supports local economies and jobs and develops more local commerce and sociability.

In the 15-minute city, we can offer access within a short perimeter on foot or by bike. In the 30-minutes territory we need to include other mobilities 

When I first proposed this concept during the COP 21, six years ago, several people said to me that it was just a nice utopia because it wasn't possible to work close to home. Six years after, with the COVID-19this concept symbolizes the essence of local measures.

Because we have the possibility to offer not just solutions but a new framework, a methodological guideline to transform the traditional urbanism budget and centralized decisions, we can offer a new trajectory for developing more intersections, more public services, and optimize our investments.

In your last book, "urban life and proximity in times of COVID", you argue for a more human approach. In cities, how do you see the role of stakeholders, and how do you anticipate that you won't always have the same usual suspects meddling?

The COVID was and still is a real drama; it is the first time in the modern era that we have this planetary pandemic with tragic consequences. On the other hand, I consider the pandemic as a great opportunity to change our urban and territorial life.

With the COVID pandemic, we needed to change our daily commute radically in just a few days, a few weeks, embrace new technologies, and learn how to access remote jobs. But the most relevant point was our new perception of useful time.

Because during the lockdowns, it was compulsory to live in proximity, explore our public space in proximity, green areas, and find local shops in our neighbourhoods. We could take back control of our useful time.

For the 15-minute city, for the 30 minutes territory, it was a totally new way to develop this concept on a worldwide level. International associations of mayors, for example, global networks of mayors fighting against climate change and private stakeholders were actively involved and embraced this concept. And they proposed a new, ambitious roadmap, imagining to live differently during the recovery and -the most important- to continue developing this new trajectory after COVID.

Two years after the beginning of the pandemic, we have today a radical change in the mindset of several mayors around the world. They propose new ways of taking proximity as the core of the new urban and territorial policies.

And the private sector today is a great partner. For example, the real estate sector is developing projects for reusing buildings, hosting several different activities in the same place, introducing local shops in cities. It is developing more green areas in public spaces, reducing the places for cars, opening more public services in the neighbourhood and offering more health services because the COVID is the first global pandemic but certainly is not the last.

In a recent ESPON study on the territorial impacts of COVID, we observed that the pandemic contamination,the main culprit, was interactions between people. How can we imagine reconciling health rules, observance and a minimum social cohesion?

Today, with the new situation, proximities are a way to reconcile the local economic development, have more social activities, and develop strong social links with the involvement of the citizens.

One example: With the new technologies, several new corporates wanted to deploy this dark store concept. The dark store is this idea of shopping only online and ave in less than minutes your purchases. However, today several mayors consider that this concept brings no value in developing a human-scale cities, and in Europe, in France, for example, the dark stores are not authorized.

We need to preserve this convergence between the economy and its social impact with the creation of real employment and to develop more and more vitality.

When proposed in the 70s the concept of "living city", Jane Jacobs, the North American activist said a livable city is a city where we could have any time, anywhere, multiple choices.

For the 15-minute city, for the 30 minutes territory, this is the golden rule. To have in all moments, for economic and social activities, multiple choices for working, supplying, and using public spaces.

We have a powerful proposal to satisfy the economic needs and develop a more resilient economy while improving sociability because we need sociability in cities. Otherwise, we may have a very interesting economy without people that take a real social benefit.

And this is today our challenge. We don't have only ecological challenges; we have social, economic and ecological challenges to create viable, livable and equitable cities. It is vital to protect people against gentrification because gentrification is our common enemy, regardless of the size of the city.

I would like to close playing the devil's advocate: with all these policies that we have to change every other day, and measures we have to take that are constantly changing, do you think we can afford the luxury of having visions in times of crisis?

It's a good question. I'm not a politician, I'm not a candidate, I am a thinker. And our role is to develop more analysis and anticipate the evolution in the future. Our social role is to develop new proposals new ideas and move towards a new urban and territorial lifestyle.

In reality, we don't have many choices: carbon naturality is not an option it's compulsory. Climate emergency is a reality. We have millions of people in Asia and India under a catastrophic heat wave. This spring, we had a new heatwave in Europe for the first time. This is the reality. It is not a luxury to propose a new way of transformation. 

I am not a perspectivist, I am a thinker, and I am proposing concrete actions, here and now, to change. Our role is to discuss, exchange, spread this idea when we have the possibility. If our thoughts, even a small percentage, will be implemented just by one person, I will be very happy because this one person, this small percentage, might transform the lives of many people.

This article appears in the Stronger together Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the Stronger together Issue of TerritoriALL