What is a 15-minute city?
The 15-minute city framework was masterminded by French-Colombian urban planner, Carlos Moreno, whose idea means that anything you need to live an urban life is a 15-minute walk or bike ride away, eliminating the reliance on cars or public transport.
It is a revolutionary, environmentally friendly, and inclusive way to rethink the planning of a city or town, giving each neighbourhood access to work, school, healthcare, retail, hospitality and leisure facilities, green spaces, museums and more, on their doorstep.
Following multiple lockdowns, there has been a growing sense of appreciation for locality in the UK, with people spending more time walking around their neighbourhoods and preferring to work from home or make shorter commutes. And during the cost-of-living crisis, people have been more conscious about the ever-increasing prices of fuel and public transport.
With more people working remotely, at least a few days a week, there is room for the addition of more localised, essential services and amenities, that would otherwise be concentrated in a central location. This would give those living on the outskirts access to these essentials and to a greater number of opportunities.
What impact could 15-minute cities have on businesses?
A recent poll by the International Workplace Group (IWG) discovered a 19% year-on-year increase in footfall to workspaces in rural, suburban and town locations. This indicates people are less willing to commute a long way to London (averaging 47 minutes) and prefer shorter journeys to work. As a result, having an office space just 15 minutes’ walk or bike ride away would be much preferred by professionals.
Shorter commutes often lead to improved job satisfaction, work-life balance and wellbeing, with much less time spent on stressful travel. When provided with the flexibility to work remotely or from a local office, rather than commuting to a head office in a city-centre location, workers will be more tempted to stay with the business, or actively seek work there.
People are now much more aware of the social value of the companies they work for, and their own carbon footprints, and will take into account the length, expense and environmental impact of a longer commute when considering moving roles.
The introduction of ‘15-minute cities’ could see the expansion of businesses into less-expensive local areas, reducing overhead costs and extending access to the national talent pool. Professionals across the country will have more opportunities closer to home, without the need to move centrally or commute. Then, the local talent pool will become richer, and businesses won’t have to cast such a wide net to search for their next employee.
Business success would be less concentrated in the capital or other big cities and potentially be more evenly spread across the UK. We have already started to see people moving roles to reduce their commute, or working from their company’s closest office, with much greater attendance in towns such as Henley (+100%), Northampton (+97%), Redhill (+83%), Bolton (+66%) and Oxford (+54%), according to IWG data. This brings better footfall and business opportunities to companies already operating in those areas.
How close is the reality of ‘15-minute cities’ in the UK?
It seems simple to put into operation, considering most UK neighbourhoods will already have some essentials such as a GP surgery, a corner shop, a pub, and other businesses and facilities nearby.
Developing further into ‘15-minute cities’ is already being considered by local authorities, but the framework has yet to be implemented anywhere in the UK. Cities and towns including Bristol, Birmingham, Canterbury, Ipswich and Sheffield have said they hope to implement it, and Oxford has said it plans to put the framework into effect by 2040.
At present, there are objections to the idea, particularly from motorists concerned they might face more restrictions and penalties, but the idea is to reduce the need for private vehicles. In time, we could see reduced traffic on the entire road network, and a shift in our collective attitude to the idea of the commute and what is considered acceptable.
Overall, the concept of a ‘15-minute city’ could revolutionise the way we live, work, and hire, by reducing commute times, making it easier to access talent and opportunities, and to work hybridly. As a result, it could also improve job satisfaction, wellbeing and the general quality of life for you and your employees.
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