I frequently hear my town described as a “15 minute city,” or a “20 minute city,” by people who advocate living here. That's a shorthand way of saying “you can get anywhere you need within 15 minutes.” But the unspoken caveat is that they mean 15 minutes by car. The thought of walking somewhere, unless it’s from a parking spot, doesn’t even dawn on most people.
How do you know if you live in a 15-minute city by foot? The company HERE has a new web app that can tell you exactly that, or at least give you a good estimate. You just put in your (or any) address, and it shows you which essential needs fall within a walkable radius. Here’s their description:
Professor Carlos Moreno, scientific director of entrepreneurship and innovation at the Sorbonne, developed the concept of the 15-minute city as part of his research into the “new relationship between citizens and the rhythm of life in cities”. A 15-min city, or “la ville du quart d’heure” refers to a city where all the essential needs can be accessed in 15 minutes or less on foot or by bike from home. This approach to city planning would help make cities more liveable and sustainable.
This HERE app lets you check whether an address meets the criteria for such a city.
I tried it with my neighborhood, and I have a few quick observations:
- Its radius doesn’t form a circle, but rather spills out along the streets to indicate where you can truly walk within 15 minutes. This is good, since humans don’t walk as the crow flies.
- It lists groceries in my radius, but only includes tiny ethnic food stores. Not to knock the quality of those stores, but they aren’t competitive with what supermarkets offer.
- It lists several medical sites, but those are mostly specialists. Again, these aren’t something most people will benefit from living near.
- It gives me a “zero” for transit options, although there are actually bus stops nearby. I assume this is the fault of my city’s lack of transit data.
- It also underestimates “leisure,” since a park is juuust outside my border.
- There are no options for 15 minutes by bike.
None of this is to say that the app isn’t trustworthy, but this helps us know how to understand its results. Any computer generated data requires some human interpretation to be useful.
I don’t need a computer to tell me how walkable my neighborhood is, and I imagine that you don’t either. However, I can see this app being useful for advocacy efforts. Someone can plug in an address and get some Hard Data™️ to help their case as they advocate for sidewalks, bike lanes, or whatever else.
One more of my takeaways is how this highlights the need for hyper-local developments. We’ve been programmed to think it’s normal to drive 15 minutes to a big-box store to buy our groceries. If we want to be able to walk 15 minutes instead, we need to realign our expectations, such as shopping more at that hole-in-the-wall ethnic food store.