How do we realise 15-minute cities in China and Europe?

The 15-minute city is aimed at assisting access-focused urban reforms in becoming what they need to be: ambitious, inclusive, quantifiable, and well-implemented.

In the Urban Lunch Talk #19 held on the 27th of January, with as many as 200 registrants and 150 attendees, the discussions dealt with how this concept would look like in the future, the possibility to apply this concept all over the world, and the differences between China and Europe.  Our three panelists, Tao Feng, Associate professor at Eindhoven University of Technology, Erik Verhoef, Professor at VU Amsterdam and Joana Barros, University of London, provided us with engaging perspectives. On the discussion of big data, Tao Feng stressed the importance of big data for both researches and for practice to develop the 15-minute city. “It can help us track mobility patterns, which is beneficial for understanding how our traveling changes over time”, said Tao. “It is crucial to look at the concept from different directions, and changes in lifestyles are one of them.”

Erik Verhoef agreed on this and implied that technology and behavior are intertwined. “New technology can adjust new behavior and lifestyles”, said Erik, and emphasized that we need to be careful of how we understand the concept of 15-minute cities. “I am also a little bit skeptical about the 15-minute as a most desirable end goal. I think the danger is if you have a very naive interpretation of what a 15-minute city would be and literally lock up people in a neighborhood and draw boundaries of 15-minute travel time, then we are losing the advantages that make cities successful”

The challenges of the 15-minute city

One of the challenges in implementing the 15-minute city, especially in European cities, is that they are established physically, culturally, and historically. Joana Barros made the point that it is not only important to talk about the possibility of implementing the concept, but likewise to think of what will happen to other aspects once it is implemented, such as the larger centers or in terms of gentrification.

As the discussion moved toward the Covid-19 pandemic, the participants were given a chance to add their voices to the discussion via a poll about how the pandemic might change the conditions for the 15-minute city. The majority of the audience answered they believe that it has. What changes will occur within the cities when, for instance, people might work from home or create new shopping habits? Will it reduce the need for a 15-minute city? In regard to this one comment from the audience was: “The Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions were expected to boost the implementation of 15-minute cities, but they pushed people from public transport to cars and from the neighborhood to online activities.”

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