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Where the ‘15-Minute City’ Falls Short

Urban experts warn that a popular post-pandemic design principle may not translate well from Europe to North America, and could exacerbate inequality. 

Street changes such as bike lanes have been a central part of advancing the urban planning idea known as the “15-minute city” in several European cities including Barcelona. But critics warn that the concept may not adapt well to the North American context. 

Street changes such as bike lanes have been a central part of advancing the urban planning idea known as the “15-minute city” in several European cities including Barcelona. But critics warn that the concept may not adapt well to the North American context. 

Photographer: Maria Contreras Coll

The idea of a “15-minute city,” in which residents live within a short walk or bike ride of all their daily needs has been embraced by many mayors around the world during the global pandemic as a central planning tenet.

But there are dangers of applying a model conceived in Europe to many North American cities, some urban experts warn. Transplanting the 15-minute city template across the Atlantic could be “presumptive and colonial” said Toronto-based urban designer and thinker Jay Pitter at the CityLab 2021 conference, hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute.