The pandemic is changing our cities, but above all the way we live in them. And now that the transformation is under way, it is natural to wonder how the spaces of everyday life will evolve, which not only connect us with necessary services but also shape us as human beings.
If we follow European and global trends, the answer may lie in the theory of “20-minute neighbourhoods” - or “15-minute cities” - where all the services which are essential for daily life, health, learning and the development of one's inclinations and passions are located no further than a 20-minute walk - or bike ride - from one's home, with access to areas easily accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.
Melbourne and Paris are two of the cities that have adopted this interesting theory, which originated in the Australian metropolis as the “20-minute neighbourhood” and was also theorised by the French-Colombian scholar Carlos Moreno as “the 15-minute city”. Let’s find out more about this.
The city places in which we live have a huge impact on our overall well-being: positive everyday living is related to the quality of the interior spaces we inhabit and the outdoor spaces in which we move.
If just by moving around between the places where we spend our time (home, workplace, public places, etc.) can be stressful, how can we live a healthy everyday life?
Danish architect Jan Gehl also commented on this issue in 2012 in his book Life in the City, explaining that the study of citizens and their needs is fundamental to any architectural project.
In the equation that results in a condition of genuine welfare, it is essential to take into account the distances we travel every day, the services we have access to which are close to home and work, and the ease with which we can move between the fundamental places in which we live our lives.
The vision of the 20-minute neighbourhoods is that all these elements should be in balance: only in this way can one really feel that one is living in a city “tailor-made for the citizen”.
What, then, are the properties of a city organised according to the 20-minute theory?
Professor Carlos Moreno calls this vision “a concept of cities that goes in the opposite direction to modern urbanism”: now more than ever we have the opportunity, if not the urgency, to rethink urban spaces, also to meet new - and unstoppable - changes linked, for example, to the recent need to work from home.
There are four characteristics of such places:
Ecology, for a green and sustainable city
Proximity, to live at a reduced distance from one's work activities
Solidarity, forging connections between people
Participation, to actively involve citizens in the transformation of the spaces in which they live.
The 15-minute city, says Professor Moreno, is therefore the urban environment's attempt to reconcile itself with the human beings who inhabit it. To achieve this, we start with three cornerstones:
the rhythm of cities should follow that of human beings, not cars
each square metre must serve multiple purposes
neighbourhoods should be designed so that people can live, inhabit and thrive in them without a continual need to move: moving becomes a choice, not an obligation.
The mayor of the Ville Lumière has made the Ville du quart d'heure a strong point of his electoral programme for re-election, proposing a revolution in urban planning to Parisians.
In this case, the vision of the “15 minutes” brings social and cultural innovation, as well as a potential response to the pandemic: if the spaces to be covered are smaller, the risk of mass movements, gatherings and contagions also decreases.
In Melbourne, on the other hand, a 30-year programme has been launched, from 2017 to 2050, to move the city towards the “20-minute neighbourhood” model: the pilot project is already under way, and measurements are also being taken of the exact distances and times required to access services.
And if the future of cities involves having everything we need just 15/20 minutes away from home, it will be essential to adopt a similar attitude inside the home to fully realise the dimensions of welfare and well-being architecture, equipping spaces with services tailor-made for people, of particular importance in this historic moment.
The pandemic that is transforming our cities is also having an effect on our homes: opportunities are arising to redesign everyday environments to make them multifunctional and more liveable, for example by furnishing very small balconies or expanding the spaces of the home into the garden.
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