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Industry & Trends

Do 15-Minute Cities Represent the Future for Builders?

Mixed-use neighborhoods combining residential, commercial and recreational uses are another post-pandemic trend.

Most American cities, particularly in areas outside of the older Northeastern portion of the country, are clearly demarcated into office, retail, residential, cultural and entertainment sectors but a new phenomenon growing out of the work-from-home movement of the pandemic is starting to take shape in America.

Observers are calling them “15-Minute Cities” and they could be the model for builders in the near future. Bloomberg, the news service, defines it as ”a model for mixed-use neighborhood planning where offices, schools, shops and parks are within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from one’s home.”

A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology asks the question if this kind of development is possible in a country where we have depended on the automobile for so much of our daily lives. Published in the scientific journal Nature Human Behavior, MIT analyzed mobile-phone location data for 40 million Americans to measure how often a neighborhood’s residents carry out essential trips within a quarter-hour radius.

According to Bloomberg’s report on the study, “The overwhelming majority of Americans have never experienced anything resembling a 15-minute city. The median resident, we found, makes only 14% of their consumption trips within a 15-minute walking radius.”

MIT also found there is significant regional variety. “Many Northeastern communities are quite walkable — New York City enjoys a 15-minute usage of 42%. Unfortunately, some of the fastest-growing parts of the country have the lowest levels of 15-minute usage. In Atlanta, for example, only 10% of trips occur in a 15-minute radius. It would be difficult to retrofit Atlanta — and other car-centric cities like Phoenix and Dallas — for tight clusters of walkable amenities. The suburbs would be even harder. When lawns and parking lots stretch as far as the eye can see, walkability sounds like a pipe dream.”

The study found that “American people aren’t naturally allergic to the 15-minute city as a concept; on the contrary, they gravitate to it. Even after a century of homogenous zoning and automobiles, Americans automatically use a 15-minute city if they can.”

MIT concluded “that elements of walkability and local use can be achieved almost anywhere. We might not be able to turn Levittown into Leipzig, but loosening just a few zoning regulations can allow pharmacies, grocery stores, gyms and music shops to pop up on ground floors and empty suburban lots. This could be a big factor in future planning for retail locations.”

And for builders and developers the 15-Minute City could be just around the next corner.

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