The city of the quarter hour seen by Carlos Moreno
The city of the quarter hour seen by Carlos Moreno
Reading time 11 min.
Crossed views between Séverine Boutel Bodard (CEO of NHOOD Portugal) and Carlos Moreno (Urban planner and professor at the University Panthéon-Sorbonne).
Interview published in the magazine Aspectos n°197 / May-June 2021
The 15 Minutes City is the concept that will shape the future of sustainable cities and promotes a paradigm shift in which the city and public space are returned to inhabitants, through proximity; a topic that has been widely debated and developed in the context of the pandemic. Aspetos invited the mentor of this concept, the urban planner specializing in the intelligent control of complex systems and professor at the University of Pantheon Sorbonne, Carlos Moreno, for an interview with Séverine Boutel Bodard, CEO of NHOOD Portugal, a company specializing in the provision of services and real estate solutions for mixed-use development projects, precisely to promote the transformation and regeneration of spaces, neighbourhoods and cities so that they become new places to live. On the one hand, the mentor of the concept, of the fundamental principles of the city of the quarter of an hour and, on the other hand, an agent of urban transformation and a driving force for the effective realization of this city of proximity. An interview that results in a real conversation, reflection and complementary perspectives on the new urban vision.
How did the concept of the 15 Minutes City come about?
A: Carlos Moreno
The concept of the 15 Minutes City was born in 2015, during COP21, the United Nations event that led to the Paris climate agreements and generated a wide-ranging discussion among states on climate change. This agreement was one of the most important events for humanity as ambitious goals related to carbon neutrality by 2050 were defined there. At this stage, one topic of debate was how to reduce CO2 emissions in cities and find less polluting solutions, for example for car traffic. So we proposed to stop focusing on mobility, but rather on proximity. The solution to be less polluting is to reduce the distances we travel every day, by transforming cities so that inhabitants can find everything they need in their daily lives close by. In this way, we also encourage people to walk or cycle. Our approach has even been called utopian, but the fact is that the issue of the distances people travel to work has started to enter the debate. Why do people spend 2 hours a day commuting to and from work? Why do we have to travel to other locations that are far away to access essential urban functions, such as health, education, culture...?
At that time, thanks to our approach, the world started to think about this scenario and in 2016, for example, at the C40 Cities event, a pathway was opened for a healthier and more sustainable future with the more than 1,000 mayors present wishing to link climate change to the transformation of cities. Even if it was utopian for them to assume a paradigm shift because "going to work" was at the centre of the city's logic and did not consider proximity. The idea was rather to place people at their place of work, however far away they were. Even though this was a utopia at the time, some cities were already undergoing transformation in many other aspects, in order to meet the new needs of their inhabitants, in a dynamic process of change in lifestyles.
A: Séverine Boutel Bodard
Indeed, in some parts of the world, there was already a different view of the evolution of urban life, mainly driven by emerging lifestyles. Although climate change is still not the top priority, there were already trends that were taking place in cities that are now a reality. In 2015, when Carlos Moreno was launching his concept of the 15 Minutes City in Paris, I was in China leading the development of dozens of shopping centers in that market. In China, everything happens very fast and, in some ways, it's a barometer of what will happen later in other, more traditional markets. At that time, it was clear that urban development should aim at the multifunctionality of spaces, which is linked to proximity. The definition of a mixed-use building space aims to give spaces a multi-functionality, so that they can be used by different people with different needs. We no longer think of spaces as having a single purpose. And that's what we want to implement at NHOOD, that's our vision of how cities should evolve. Sharing my experience in retail in China, and shopping malls being an important part of the city ecosystem, it was clear that these commercial spaces were already diversifying their offerings by integrating, for example, health clinics inside, as well as leisure and cultural spaces such as racetracks, ice rinks or performing arts schools, in addition to the primary purpose of shopping. The greening of building structures in cities is already a standard, the digitization of services to make the experience faster and more efficient, taking less time from the customer, technology combined with space efficiency to optimize resources, among many other examples, already indicated that the urban transformation was underway and highlighted the important role of mixed-use real estate projects. Several essential functions of the city brought together in more multifunctional spaces, for greater proximity and a response to the new lifestyles of inhabitants.
What are the fundamental principles of the 15 Minutes City and what stage are we at today?
A: Carlos Moreno
Today, we are not in an utopia. We are in a climate emergency and cities have a decisive role to play. Cities are the biggest emitters of CO2, and in cities, transport. With the city of the quarter of an hour, the city of proximity, we want public space to become a vast network of places so that useful time becomes Life Time, and translates into a higher happiness index for people. It is a different way of living, consuming, working and being in the city. It is about rethinking the way people move around, cross the city, explore it, discover it on foot or by bike and, consequently, respond to the effective reduction of the carbon footprint. We are no longer talking about mobility or environmentally friendly technologies, but about the radical and absolute reduction of mobility in cities.
It is therefore crucial to define a new urban way of life, based on proximity and reduced distance to all essential functions, which can be reached quickly in 15 minutes: living, working, shopping, accessing care, education and entertainment. These are the fundamental principles of the 15 Minutes City, and today a real transformation of urban lifestyles is underway, greatly accelerated by the context of the pandemic.
A : Séverine Boutel Bodard
So what does it take to move forward in this new urban lifestyle?
A : Carlos Moreno
To do this, we need to evolve at different levels. First of all, at the ecological level, with the reduction of CO2. We also need to work on infrastructure, creating multifunctional spaces with a variety of uses. 60% of the square metres in cities are empty because they have only one assigned function. This is the case of a school, a theatre, a sports centre, which are only occupied when they are in operation. When they are not in operation, they are not used and remain empty. We need to think about new uses for these spaces, in partnership with local associations and the entire public and private sector. Solidarity is another very important axis, recreating social and intergenerational inter-connections in order to better integrate the older population, to enhance outdoor activities, to offer new living spaces in common public squares, to avoid cars in the streets, to fight against anonymity, to promote local trade and to generate local employment, among other ways to improve living conditions. In addition, inhabitants' participation in the construction of the city and the transformation of public space must be included. Their voice must be more active, either through participatory budgeting or by actively listening to the public and private actors in the cities. This will contribute to a city that is more responsive to local needs. On the other hand, we have the definition of new urban policies that must ensure the 15 Minutes City for all and promote the common good. Clearly, we need to attract the attention of local authorities, mayors and decision-makers, but we also need to attract the attention of the private sector, which has the capacity to invest, to support the new urban policies defined by local authorities, and which promote innovation. The private sector has a decisive role in supporting and developing urban policies and is the driving force behind the realisation of the 15 Minutes City. With regard to these two factors, if we add the participation of inhabitants in the co-creation of measures, we have the perfect indicators for progress.
(...) at the ecological level, with the reduction of CO2. We also have to work on infrastructure, creating multifunctional spaces (...)
A : Séverine Boutel Bodard
In cooperation with these actors, whether they are companies or the public sector, such as local authorities, we collaborate to find solutions that adapt to these new challenges, always with sustainable development as a cornerstone. It is essential to create inclusive and diversified projects, focusing on the triple positive impact - people, planet, profit - for the prosperity of each place. This is achieved by cooperating and building with all those who live and work in each community, by associating the project with the local social and economic fabric for the benefit of all, by revitalizing cities in a more sustainable way and thus improving the living conditions of future generations.
It is essential to create inclusive and diverse projects, with a focus on the triple positive impact - people, planet and profit.
Can you share, respectively, two projects that reflect this vision of the new urban life?
A : Carlos Moreno
However, it is impossible not to highlight the example of Paris, where the urban policy defined by the mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has determined that today Paris is in full realization of the concept of the 15 Minutes City. Paris aims to be 100% cycleable and there are already more than 1,000 km dedicated to cycling in the city, with dedicated and protected cycle paths. Pedestrians are also at the centre of new urban policies. For example, on the banks of the Seine, rue de Rivoli, there used to be seven lanes for cars, today it is entirely pedestrianised and for the circulation of bikes. Paris also has the Semaest programme, in which the city council has bought shops and allocated them for certain uses following a call for tenders, boosting local trade and services, contributing to the local economy, whether by setting up bookshops, crafts, grocery stores, etc. Local commerce is a common good and by renting or selling these spaces, the town hall protects local stakeholders from real estate market speculation.