At a time when many European cities are getting ready for a second lockdown, discussions on the organisation of the city of the future are more relevant than ever. Paris is committed to creating a city, or rather a multitude of neighbourhoods within the city, that will put people at the centre.
The ‘15-minute city’ idea hit the headlines when Anne Hidalgo made it one of the driving issues of her re-election campaign. “The concept of a 15-minute city, in a nutshell,” explains Carlos Moreno, professor at the Sorbonne and scientific advisor to the Mayor of Paris “is to design the city within a distance of 15 minutes by foot or by bike to enable the six main urban activities for living in cities: to live, to work, to supply, to education, to health, and to enjoy.” After Anne Hidalgo’s election last summer, the wheels have started turning to bring the idea to life.
“The 15-minute city is a new way of thinking about the city and city politics,” says Diana Filippova, advisor to the Mayor. “You have to start from the people, by understanding how people move and live in the city, what people want.”
How do we move in the city? In recent years, most people living in cities have spent most of their time in what Ian Mulcahey, urban planner at design and architecture firm Gensler, terms as ‘two 15-minute villages’, the one in which they live and the one in which they work, some making additional trips for entertainment. However, with the challenges posed by climate change and the imperative need to reduce emissions, not to mention this year’s pandemic, these two villages are under increased pressure to merge.
Most urban environments in Europe originally grew around a city centre that could be compared to the ‘15-minute city’, but things changed when urban design became car focused. “The aim is to make Paris a city where the car doesn’t hold the place that it did before. It shall, and is now replaced, by what we call ‘soft mobility’, such as walking and cycling.” explains Filippova.
The architecture and urban arrangement of Paris, as well as its high density – with more than 20,000 inhabitants per square km – makes Paris an ideal testing ground. “This idea of quarters, of small villages, is already hugely present in our everyday life,” adds Filippova.
“The 15-minute city starts today,” says Filippova. The team is already hard at work on this six year project and the advantage of seeing a new idea become reality, is being able to follow the process and learn from it. “The 15-minute city is a way of doing politics that is quite different from the past,” explains Filippova “before, each department was in charge of their respective subject and had to implement it quite independently from the others. With the 15-minute city we first think about what we want to do and then we plug in all the relevant deputies and departments. We want to make everybody work together.”
Making everyone work on the project does not only refer to the municipal team. “Of course, the 15-minute city will not be built independently from people,” declares Filippova. The city is already running two public consultations that will have an impact on the ‘15-minute city’ planning. The city is also collecting ideas on how to transform 60,000 parking spaces into any space, service or feature Parisians are missing. “We will build consultations, proposals, and ask questions and try and understand what people want to do with their city in the coming years,” says Filippova.
Schools as capitals of the 15-minute city
There will be some topics that will drive the change, access to culture, for example, soft mobility, environmental and social equality, and schools will play a central role in Paris’ plan. “We want the school to become the capital of the 15-minute city,” explains Filippova.
Making the most of its rich public school network, Paris wants to open them towards their neighbourhoods. Opening them both in terms of hours and days – making the premises accessible also in the evening or on weekends – and in terms of having them ‘spill-out’ into the street and the surrounding areas. Streets around the schools will have no, or limited, traffic and the school courtyards will become green ‘oases’ that different users can access and enjoy.
The ‘15-minute city’ will decentralise the city on a structural level, as well as at an administrative level. “We will decentralise services so that every Parisian could have a representative of the public either in their district or on their street,” says Filippova.
“We want to make life easier and better for Parisians, especially in times of pandemic,” says Filippova, “and the 15-minute city is a way of achieving this in the future.” Paris is already sharing its successes and challenges with a network of French cities ‘Cities in common’, and is keen on exchanging with as many cities as possible. “Our eyes are always wide open to see what happens in the world,” says Filippova “and we want to have exchanges with other cities. We have a lot to share, but we have a lot to learn too.”
Diana Filippova will be sharing more on the 15-minute city and Paris’ strategy for the future at the ‘Reinventing Cities conference’. Learn more here
Photo credits: © Guillaume Bontemps, Ville de Paris