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15-minute cities

When asked, "What are your preferences when searching for accommodation?", for the majority, the ideal place to stay would be one that is in close proximity to shops, hospitals, schools, and, crucially, workplaces. Many desire the convenience of having essential services near their residence. Unfortunately, the current reality in cities diverges from this ideal. According to a report from MoveInSync, Indians spend over two hours daily on office commutes, surpassing average commute times in many other countries. Research indicates that extended commutes are linked to sleep issues and sedentary lifestyles. Despite this, cities worldwide are increasingly becoming car-centric, resulting in lengthy commutes, urban sprawl, and traffic congestion. Consequently, there is an urgent need to reconsider how we plan and design our cities.

The idea of 15 minute cities - is it new ?

The concept of '15-minute city' gained prominence recently when the Mayor of Paris introduced it as a flagship initiative in 2019. However, this concept has roots in earlier ideas, such as American planner Clarence Perry's 'neighbourhood units' from the 1920s and the 'new urbanism' theory that emerged in the US during the 1980s, advocating for walkable cities. Over the past decade, various versions of 'urban cells' or 30- and 20-minute neighbourhoods have also emerged globally.

The goal of the '15-minute city' is to ensure that essential services are within a 15-minute walk or cycle ride. This concept encourages denser, mixed-use development centred around public transport and pedestrian-friendly spaces, aiming to reduce reliance on private vehicles. It not only humanises the city scape but also creates opportunities for public spaces in neighbourhoods, such as sidewalks, parks, squares, traditional markets, and small plazas; enhancing overall livability and human happiness.

Our world has become more urbanised, with 55% of the global population residing in urban areas and projected to rise to 68% by 2050, according to the UN. As our societies urbanise, there is a rising occurrence of non-communicable diseases attributed to factors such as road traffic injuries, and physical inactivity, and vector-borne diseases, from pollution, and inadequate sanitation services among others. Additionally, we are witnessing a surge in mental health issues, including heightened levels of anxiety and depression. According to Richard Bentall, a psychology professor at the University of Sheffield, UK, the sense of belonging fostered by '15-minute cities' could contribute to overall happiness.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, cities worldwide are increasingly embracing the '15-minute city' concept, recognizing the importance of walking and cycling as efficient and safe modes of transportation. Examples include Seattle and San Francisco opening streets for pedestrians and cyclists, and cities like Bogotá and Berlin creating temporary bike lanes.

How Indian cities have already embraced the concept

The concept of 15-minute cities is not novel in Indian urban planning. Take, for instance, the city of Jaipur. It boasts a layout where all essential amenities are conveniently reached within a 15-minute radius from residential areas. Notably, Jaipur exemplifies mixed land use by allocating the ground floors of residential buildings for commercial purposes. This practice of mixed-use development, integral to the 15-minute city concept, is prevalent in numerous cities across India.

In India, the Urban and Regional Development Plan Formulation and Implementation Guidelines, 2014 (URDPFI Guidelines), by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA). serve as a comprehensive framework guiding State, Town and Country Planning Departments, Urban Development Authorities, and Urban Local Bodies in crafting Master Plans and Development Plans. These guidelines prescribe norms and standards for different urban areas, such as housing areas and neighbourhoods, based on population. Despite the absence of terms like "15-minute city," the URDPFI guidelines demonstrate foresight by emphasising the importance of essential amenities and planned development in towns and cities.

Way forward for Indian cities 

As previously mentioned, Indian cities already exhibit a mixed-use development model with a blend of commercial and residential zones, aligning with the principles of 15-minute cities. However, the transformation into actual 15-minute cities faces obstacles, primarily due to road environments designed for motorised transport. Even when facilities are within walking distance, the prevailing tendency is to opt for two-wheelers or cars. Overcoming this challenge requires a shift in behaviour, as exemplified by places like King's Cross in London, where pedestrian prioritisation and low-traffic principles are successfully embedded. This success is attributed to a commitment to quality delivery, making it convenient for the public to embrace the change.

Indian city roads, unfortunately, are not pedestrian-friendly, lacking non-motorized transport (NMT) infrastructure. To enable this transformation, cities must prioritise pedestrians, potentially reducing the right of way for cars or even creating car-free streets. Additionally, promoting diverse uses of buildings and public spaces can maximise infrastructure value and enhance community engagement.

Implementing the concept might seem challenging in the Indian context, given that many individuals commute to distant parts of the city for work. Unlike Western countries where remote work is prevalent, the majority in Indian cities still operate from physical offices. To achieve a 15-minute commute to workplaces, cities need well-connected public transport. This aligns with the transit-oriented development approach, integrating land use and transport within 400-800 metres around public transport services. Each 15-minute neighbourhood should have accessible public transit, emphasising the need for quality infrastructure to encourage public transit use and avoid urban division and isolated neighbourhoods.

Moreover, addressing low-income neighbourhoods, often overlooked in city development, is crucial. In many cases in India, the approach involves relocating slum dwellers to areas outside the city, designating it as affordable housing. However, these relocated residences are often situated far from their workplaces, disrupting their livelihoods and breaking the close-knit communities formed in their original slum neighbourhoods. Furthermore, these so-called affordable housing units are often too small, poorly planned, and more susceptible to natural disasters such as flooding compared to their original locations. Hence, the transition to 15-minute cities necessitates in situ redevelopment of such neighbourhoods to eliminate disparities and inequalities in accessing urban services and amenities.


Turning the 15-minute city concept into a reality requires ensuring that public amenities meet high standards and are equally distributed across all neighbourhoods within the cities. Addressing time poverty  in the contemporary urban lifestyle, the 15-minute city model allows the time saved from commuting to be invested in more productive activities. Moreover, in the face of growing concerns about climate change, this concept offers a solution by effectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting environmental sustainability.

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