Camilla Siggaard Anderson: The 15-minute city concept could revolutionise how we live

Cork, Limerick, and Galway could all benefit from the idea which focuses on people being able to access essential services within a short walk or bike ride from their home
Camilla Siggaard Anderson: The 15-minute city concept could revolutionise how we live

Patrick St, Cork. Irish cities were initially developed as dense, walkable, and amenity-rich clusters.

The 15-minute city is an urban planning concept based around the idea that people should be able to access essential daily amenities within a short walk or bike ride from their home.

This specific model was first suggested by Professor Carlos Moreno in 2016 for the city of Paris, but similar ideas of proximity-based planning and polycentricism have been around for much longer.

Now, inspired by the success of Paris, and disillusioned by the prevailing urban models and their inability to address issues of climate change, social justice, and quality of life, the 15-minute city concept is gaining traction worldwide.

The report Close to Home, which I worked to produce with Irish Institutional Property (IIP), the voice of institutionally financed investors with significant international backing in the Irish property market, takes an in-depth look at what the 15-minute city has to offer.

We find that many Irish people wish to live closer to amenities and resources than they currently do, and show the potential of the Irish cities to deliver on the popular concept.

For the purposes of the report, we commissioned a special poll of Irish people’s attitudes to different aspects of the 15-minute city. 

It showed that grocery shops, public transport connections, and destinations for leisure activities are amongst the most important amenities to have in close proximity, while people are happier to travel a bit longer for work and education.

One-in-three Irish people would like to be able to access every essential type of amenity within a 15-minute walk from home. 

At the moment, only one-in-ten can. 

At a first glance, 33% might not seem like a landslide, but when you consider that this is a tripling of the current access levels, it shows a substantial gap between many people’s wishes and their reality.

The poll also showed that nearly 60% believe that walkability makes a neighbourhood desirable as a place to live and work, along with lots of shared green space, and public transport accessibility.

From my experiences of working with cities and towns around the world, I often find that people turn to Scandinavia and Western Europe for best-practice examples of urban living.

Copenhagen was previously crowned as the world's most liveable city. Picture: PA
Copenhagen was previously crowned as the world's most liveable city. Picture: PA

But whether you are looking at Vienna or Copenhagen (both previously crowned as the world’s most liveable city) it’s important to remember the journey that these places have been on to offer the quality of life we celebrate today. 

In comparison, Ireland is only just getting started.

Looking backwards, it has been fascinating to discover how the Irish cities were initially developed as dense, walkable, and amenity-rich clusters. 

Because of their origins, cities like Cork and Galway are sitting on a wealth of natural assets, which are no less relevant to people today than they were 500 years ago. 

We may have buried many of these advantages under high levels of car-dependency and swathes of mono-functional suburbs, but the roots are still there. 

With the right policies in place and strong political leadership, this potential could grow into a new, stronger urban proposition.

Our report highlights key blockages to making 15-minute cities a reality in Ireland. 

One of the biggest challenges ahead is developing a public understanding of the need for new forms of urban living at higher densities to drive sustainability and the viability of public infrastructure. 

This involves a national conversation that highlights the benefits of living closer together, and not just the drawbacks.

This can be helped by building mutual trust between citizens, public authorities, and the private sector. 

Based on my conversations with stakeholders in Ireland, I can see how a lack of trust and transparency has clouded the objectives of city making in the past. 

Perhaps the idea of living with 15-minute convenience is a way to restart the conversation.

Above all, there’s a need to transcend short-term political gain in favour of long-term, sustainable plans. 

It will take time to develop 15-minute cities, and time before the benefits become apparent to all.

Again, this is a journey that resonates across the world. 

Before Copenhagen became the bicycle-friendly city it is today, there were protests against removing parking from streets and squares. 

Now, when the municipality surveys people to understand why they bike, the key reason people give is neither about sustainability nor cost. It’s convenience.

The potential benefit to Ireland from 15-minute cities is not just that the cities become better places to live. 

It will also help more balanced regional development by attracting people to cities other than Dublin. 

Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Galway could all benefit from increased populations — including people moving away from Dublin who want to continue to live close to the services they need.

Ireland’s population is set to increase by 1m people over the next 20 years. 

By focusing this growth on the five Irish cities and placing people at the centre of planning, there is every opportunity to catalyse an urban revival that could also help meet the country’s wider social and environmental needs.

I hope decision-makers read our report and engage in the important national debate on how to enable the creation of more sustainable places in which people can better live, work, and thrive.

Camilla Siggaard Andersen is Project Lead on Close to Home - Exploring 15-Minute Urban Living in Ireland, a report from Irish Institutional Property (IIP) and is a Senior Researcher with Hassell, a multidisciplinary architecture, design and urban planning practice with offices in the United Kingdom, Australia, China, Singapore, and United States.

The report is available to read at https://www.iip.ie/thought-leadership

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