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How to Build a 15-Minute City: Answers from Map Data

Imagine a city designed so your daily needs are all within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. Cities across the globe are embracing this concept of convenient, community-centric neighborhoods. But how can data help us understand and create these "15-minute cities"? One researcher‘s mapping project provides some answers.

The 15-Minute City: A Vision of Liveability

The "15-minute city" is more than just a slogan—it‘s a model for urban life that prioritizes human happiness. Professor Carlos Moreno coined the phrase based on the idea that daily necessities should be accessible within 15 minutes of home by walking, biking or public transit.

This simple notion has gained popularity among urbanists and city leaders. By designing compact, mixed-use neighborhoods, the 15-minute model promises many quality-of-life benefits:

  • Less commuting time and traffic congestion. Paris cut car journeys 20% converting to "metro-boulot-dodo" lifestyle.

  • Increased physical activity and health. Barcelona residents walk/bike 7x more in “superblocks.”

  • Stronger social connections within communities. Melbourne’s 20-minute neighborhoods brought people together.

  • Lower carbon emissions. Models show 15-minute cities achieving cuts up to 60%.

Cities like Paris, Melbourne, Seattle, Detroit and many more have adopted the 15-minute city as an official planning vision. COVID lockdowns strengthened the appeal of having essentials close to home.

But while alluring diagrams exist showing ideal walkable areas, how can real cities analyze and improve 15-minute accessibility? That‘s where data mapping comes in.

Making the Invisible Visible with Walkability Mapping

Which neighborhoods offer true 15-minute living today? And where are gaps that need fixing? Answering these questions requires digging into data on city amenities.

Enter "isochrone" maps. An isochrone uses travel time data to map the area reachable within a set time—like 15 minutes of walking. Map multiple amenities this way, and you can visualize intersections where residents have 15-minute access to groceries, clinics, transit, schools, parks and everything they need.

Comparing amenity access maps to population density highlights both areas ripe for 15-minute living, and underserved neighborhoods needing improvement. This data-driven approach lets you see—and fix—walkability barriers.

Scraping and Mapping Amenities for a Canadian City

Robert Turner, a civic-minded data scientist, did exactly this for Nanaimo, British Columbia. When officials expressed interest in pursuing the 15-minute city, Robert saw an opportunity to quantify walkability.

Using a web scraping tool, he extracted geodata on amenity locations—pharmacies, food banks, daycares, restaurants—from Google Maps. Robert filtered and cleaned thousands of results, then mapped isochrones for each amenity in QGIS, open-source mapping software.

Overlaying the isochrones revealed intersections where Nanaimo residents could access all daily needs on foot. Comparing to population data highlighted feasible 15-minute zones, largely downtown, with other neighborhoods more car-dependent.

Robert shared his maps and analysis with city planners to inform discussions on improving walkability. This kind of grassroots project shows the power of data to understand and enhance urban spaces.

Key Factors for Data-Driven 15-Minute City Planning

While Robert‘s mapping provided valuable insights, effectively planning 15-minute cities requires a holistic approach. Key factors include:

  • Density – Higher residential density around amenities maximizes 15-minute access.

  • Proximity – Clustering amenities together boosts walkability. Scattered malls don’t.

  • Diversity – Access to transit, groceries, healthcare, housing must be equitable.

  • Needs – Survey communities to map amenities specific to their priorities.

  • Metrics – Continuously measure proximity, diversity and density over time.

  • Community – Engage residents directly in planning through crowdsourcing and workshops.

  • Policy – Update zoning, permitting and programs to enable 15-minute neighborhoods.

No single data source can capture all aspects of walkability. But used thoughtfully, data mapping helps make the invisible visible—paving the way for more liveable cities designed for people.

Join the Movement for More Livable Cities

The 15-minute city represents an inspiring vision for sustainable, healthy, connected urban life. Achieving this requires passionate citizens willing to learn, advocate and contribute data-driven ideas.

You don‘t need to be an expert to start mapping your city and sharing ideas for improving walkability. Every grassroots project expands our understanding and brings us closer to convenient, equitable neighborhoods built for human happiness.

Let‘s keep mapping, sharing and exploring ways to create 15-minute cities together! Our communities and planet will be better for it.

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