Over the past year through the pandemic, our relationship with buildings and the built environment has changed. Homes have become places of work and education. Local parks have become places of escape. City centres are quieter, office buildings empty. Reduced travel has limited our scope and concentrate interactions to within our local area. Covid-19 has spearheaded a trend toward localisation, putting the 15-minute city on the agenda of metropolitan areas globally.
The concept of the 15-minute city promotes the idea that cities should be designed or redesigned so that people should be able to live the essence of what constitutes urban life within a 15-minute walk or cycle. Neighbourhoods should be designed to fulfil the six social functions of living, working, supplying, caring, learning and enjoying without travelling far. Key components include the adoption of mixed-use development, increased density and having a range of public open space for communities to enjoy, provides sustainable development with a community focus. The relevance of this concept has been brought to the forefront of built environment conversation from repercussions on the work/live relationship as well as questioning the future of cities within the economic recovery, how can they adapt to the shift of priorities and requirements of our cities?
In the last decade, London has added almost 1.1 million people to the city. That means it accounts for one in every four people added to the UK’s population. Despite the stagnation of growth over pandemic recovery period, London’s population is still projected to increase over the next 25 years. Therefore, we’ve seen greater emphasis within planning and design strategy to accommodate this growth to create a city for all. The Mayor of London’s ‘Good Growth by Design’ guidance sets out 6 core pillars: 1) setting standards, 2) applying standards, 3) building capacity, 4) supporting diversity, 5) commissioning quality and 6) championing good growth. This initiative accompanied by The London Plan 2021, highlights a shift in policy to target good growth. However, is there opportunity to expand the capabilities of the 15-minute city to address and facilitate ‘Good Growth’ in London?
Exploring the commonalities between the principles of the 15-minute city and Good Growth by Design illustrates key practices for urban design in London and can be applied to other cities. The value of mixed-use development integrates the benefits of localised communities with small-scale economy to create a vibrant urban environment. It addresses concerns of lack of space by redefining existing uses and increase the efficiency to enable growth of dynamic places. This also translates into the public realm as cities should provide a variety of public open spaces to facilitate social interactions and activities for all.
Limitations of the 15-minute city manifest through the decentralisation of cities, resulting in dispersed microcosms which negatively impact the wider integrated economy and loses the vibrancy and essence of city life.
Creating successful and sustainable growth in London requires a greater balance of spatial efficacy including higher density, mixed use development and social prosperity within local communities. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s to be equipped for the uncertain. We have to create resilient and adaptable cities to meet the changing needs of its inhabitants through strategic targeted policy and championing innovative high quality design.