Can 15 minute cities help to combat climate change blog header
Sustainable Living

Can 15 Minute Cities Help to Combat Climate Change?

Using human-powered transportation is a logical and simple way to reduce emissions and help combat climate change. However, access to services, shops, and work can be a huge reason people jump into cars instead of onto bikes to get from point A to point B. Whether it is due to distance or safety, there are a number of reasons why those journeys are inaccessible. One possible solution to this problem are 15 Minute Cities that create environments where the places we need to go are within our reach.

Bikers and scooters on bike lane

This month for our Climate Change Collective conversation, we are looking at the concept of active travel and how this can benefit our health and the planet. Tim from Midlife on Earth is leading our conversation this month with his post “The Benefits of Active Travel–Could it Save You and the Planet.” 

Walking, cycling, running, scooting, rollerblading, skateboarding…however you propel yourself to your destination – without the use of an engine – active travel is by far the simplest way to improve your own physical and mental wellbeing, as well as the environment.

Tim, Midlife on Earth

Our Climate Change Collective series begins with one blogger writing a topical post and the Climate Change Collective participants writing a response post, sharing thoughts or more information on the topic. Learn more about our Climate Change Collective at the end of this post and find our first in the series here: Climate Change Collective–What You Can Do.

Traffic jam illustrating the need for 15 minute cities

15 Minute Cities, Active Travel, and Climate Change

Active travel is an easy way to increase our physical fitness and to reduce our impact on the planet, but for a lot of us it isn’t feasible with how far we need to travel to and from work, the grocery store, and other obligations. One solution to this issue of distance is the 15 Minute City.

What are 15 Minute Cities?

A 15-minute city is a concept for neighborhoods where people can easily access most of their daily needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their homes. The idea is to design cities in such a way that essential amenities like grocery stores, schools, workplaces, and amenities are all conveniently located nearby.

To put this concept into perspective, Americans only make 12% of their daily trips within 15 minutes of their homes. Currently we all need to travel sometimes double this time to get where we need to go.

What are the benefits of 15 Minute Cities?

The clear, basic benefit of a 15 minute city is that you won’t have to travel long distances to get where you need to go. This means less time spent in traffic or waiting for public transport and more time for other activities and spending time with family and friends. 15-minute cities also promote a more sustainable lifestyle by reducing the need for long commutes and encouraging people to use more environmentally friendly modes of transportation, like walking or cycling.

The goal of creating 15 minute cities is to make urban life more convenient, connected, and enjoyable for people, while also reducing the city’s environmental impact and promoting healthier, more active lifestyles.

Consider these benefits of this neighbourhood concept:

  • Convenience: Residents have easy access to essential amenities and services within a short walking or biking distance from their homes. This reduces the time and effort spent on daily errands and tasks.
  • Improved Health and Well-being: With more opportunities for walking and cycling, residents are likely to lead more active lifestyles, which can positively impact physical and mental health. More than 50% of Canadians surveyed believe this is one of the main impacts of the 15-minute city.
  • Stronger Local Economies: Concentrating businesses and services in smaller areas can support local businesses and foster a sense of community, creating economic opportunities and supporting small-scale entrepreneurship–and we love supporting small businesses!
  • Less Traffic Congestion: With more people choosing active transportation or using public transit, there is the potential to reduce traffic congestion.
  • Preservation of Green Spaces: Compact urban planning can help preserve green spaces and natural areas outside the city, reducing urban sprawl and protecting the environment. Krista talked previously in our Climate Change Collective posts about the importance of green spaces for our planet.
Bikers on Bike Lane

How can 15 Minute Cities help our planet?

15 minute cities can play a significant role in combating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting sustainable practices.

Here are some ways 15 minute cities can help our planet:

  1. Reduced Transportation Emissions: By providing easy access to essential services and amenities within a short distance, 15 minute cities reduce the need for long commutes and reliance on cars. This, in turn, lowers transportation-related emissions, which are a major contributor to climate change.
  2. Encouraging Active Transportation: With shorter distances between places, people are more likely to choose walking, cycling, or using electric scooters instead of driving. Active transportation generates no direct carbon emissions and contributes to a healthier population.
  3. Less Urban Sprawl: As previously mentioned, 15-minute cities are designed to be more compact and dense, discouraging urban sprawl. This prevents the expansion of cities into natural and agricultural lands, preserving green spaces and reducing the carbon footprint associated with construction and maintenance of new infrastructure.
  4. Enhanced Public Transportation: 15 minute cities often prioritize the development and improvement of public transportation systems. Efficient and accessible public transport options can encourage more people to leave their cars at home, reducing the overall carbon footprint of the city.

By combining these elements, 15 minute cities can contribute to a more sustainable and resilient urban environment. While not a single solution to climate change, they are a promising approach that can create more livable and sustainable communities.

Traffic jam illustrating the need for 15 minute cities

What issues to 15 Minute Cities overlook?

While 15 minute cities offer many benefits, they may also face certain challenges and fail to address some important issues.

  1. Infrastructure Upgrades: Transforming existing cities into 15-minute cities may require significant infrastructure upgrades, such as expanding public transportation networks, improving pedestrian and cycling paths, and reorganizing urban layouts. These changes can be costly and time-consuming to implement.
  2. Affordability and Gentrification: Creating 15-minute cities may lead to increased demand for properties in these convenient locations, potentially driving up housing prices. Rising property prices could displace lower-income residents, undermining the goal of creating inclusive communities.
  3. Equity and Accessibility: While 15-minute cities aim to improve accessibility to services, amenities, and job opportunities, there’s a risk that certain neighborhoods or communities might receive more attention and resources than others. This could lead to unequal distribution of benefits and exacerbate existing social and economic disparities.
  4. Car Dependency: While 15-minute cities aim to reduce car dependence, some people might still rely on cars for various reasons, such as disabilities, transporting goods, or traveling to locations beyond the city limits. Ensuring adequate and flexible transportation options for all residents is crucial.

Could 15 minute cities & active travel help our planet?

15 minute cities offer many advantages in terms of sustainability, convenience, and reduced carbon emissions.

As Tim says in his post for this month’s Climate Change Collective, “Decision makers at the highest levels are needed to bring about policy shifts, to instigate the remodelling of our towns and cities in favour of bikes and pedestrians. Fundamental cultural change, meanwhile, is also needed to persuade people to leave their cars at home and take self-propelled alternatives.” Ideas and policy changes like 15 minute cities are ones that deserve consideration.

Have you heard of the 15 Minute City concept? What are your thoughts on this idea?

Climate Change Collective
Photo Credit: Michelle at Boomer Eco Crusader

About the Climate Change Collective

The Climate Change Collective was born out of an exchange that took place between Michelle and Jamie in the comments section of a Jamie Ad Stories blog post. Jamie and Michelle both care deeply about the impact of human activity on our planet and wanted to find a way to keep the climate change message top of mind for everyone. A tweet was sent out, bloggers responded, and we’ve all now teamed up to create the Climate Change Collective!

The idea is simple. The members of the collective will take turns writing a monthly blog post sharing their concerns and unique perspective about climate change. After the post is published, the rest of the group will keep the conversation going by sharing a link to the post on their blogs along with their thoughts and ideas. If you’re a like-minded blogger and would like to join our collective, please get in touch. The more the merrier!

Cork Yoga Mat

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  • JamieAdStories

    As a geographer, 15 minute cities intrigue me. I believe that good services should be on your doorstep. If all schools, for example, were fully funded and not unequally managed, then everyone would live in reach of a great school. Currently many choose to travel miles to school, whereas I believe good education should be free and nearby. Great article and food for thought.

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Thanks Jamie. I agree with you. A lot of people travel distances for good schools here too. Ideally everything would be close to home.

  • Molly Transatlantic Notes

    I really appreciated learning about this concept as I had not heard much about it before. I can see how this could revolutionize how people live and get about; it’s certainly something innovative that could be beneficial to the climate. It’s great you raised the issues of gentrification and how some neighbourhoods could receive more attention/financial support; this is something that plagues where I live and is a huge cause of inequity. 15-minute cities have great potential and I will have to read more about them!

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      It’s a relatively new concept to me too. I had heard a radio blurb and needed to look into it more because it does seem to have great potential, though not without its challenges.

  • Michelle (Boomer Eco Crusader)

    I love the idea of 15 minute cities. It always amazes me that some people perceive them as the government’s way of restricting our movements. I don’t see it that way at all. It would be amazing to live in a place where everything you need is a 15-minute walk or bike ride away.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!