The 15-minute city

Every city can benefit from a reconsideration of its urban priorities. In this era of climate change various cities around the world have taken initiatives in order to contribute their share to the achievement of carbon neutrality. The 15-minute city is one such initiative which reimagines the urban fabric in order to prioritise people over cars, in the process reducing the carbon footprint: “ville du quart d’heure”, the “quarter hour city”. 

It is a vision which is mostly associated with Paris and is the brainchild of Carlos Moreno (in photo above) an architect advising the Mayor of Paris. It has however been also applied in various other cities around the world. The aim is to encourage self-sufficient communities, where all basic needs are just a walk, or a bike ride away from your home, as a result slowly addressing our addiction to the car which we would need less and less.

This is a practical application of urban proximity, as a result of which cities move away from the use of fossil fuels into a vehicle free era. It is the mobility modal shift we require in this day and age to effectively deal with the emissions linked to private transport.

It is not always easy to apply these ideas in established urban areas where land use patterns and infrastructure is already in place. However, it is a practical way of integrating policy derived from climate change objectives with land use planning.

In Malta distance is not an issue, as everywhere is already almost within easy reach. We do not need any special effort in this respect. Our National Transport Masterplan, in fact, advises us that 50 per cent of trips carried out by our cars are for short distances, having a duration of less than 15 minutes. Within this context, achieving 15-minute cities should not be that difficult if we put our heads together to address it.

In a post Covid era, working from home is increasing in frequency, although this is not possible for all types of work. This reduces our travel requirements.

We must also be able to address our basic needs for food and medicine in our locality. For this to materialise we need however to ensure that small and medium sized businesses in our localities are encouraged to stay open for business notwithstanding the stiff competition which they continuously face from big business.  There are ways in which they can be assisted to overcome the difficulties they face. This is not only in their interest but more in the interest of the community they serve.

The supermarkets mushrooming around the islands is a case in point. Each supermarket has a substantial catchment area. Most users of supermarkets travel by private car to do their shopping when it most suits them. In an age when most of us are more conscious of the fact that private car use is a significant contributor to Malta’s climate change impacts, we should factor this into land use planning considerations.

Some may argue that supermarkets, as a result of their economies of scale, provide goods at substantially reduced prices from that possible in small or medium sized retail outlets in our localities.  It has however to be viewed also in the context of expenses incurred not only in car use but also in the resulting reduction to the air quality and the associated health consequences. Expenses incurred, at the end of the day, are not only those measured in euro, they are also measured in terms of the social and environmental costs incurred.

We need to ensure that our localities are equipped to live up to present day challenges. Ensuring their self-sufficiency would definitely be an adequate objective which can be achieved through the development of 15-minute cities.

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 4 February