Local Living, Rise of 20 Minute Cities Post-Covid

As cities rebuild their economies beyond Covid-19, there is a growing call for planning measures to address widening income inequalities and density without overcrowding.

So, as we prepare for a post-pandemic world, what are the implications for urban planning and how we engage with cities?

Living under Covid-19 restrictions for the past several months has emphasised the benefits of the 20-minute neighbourhood, says University of New South Wales Built Environment professor Linda Corkery.

“It’s come sharply into focus because we’ve had to stay at home and only go outside for ‘essential’ activities.”

The concept is based on the idea that people can access daily goods and services—shopping, education, business services, employment, community facilities—from within 20 minutes of their home, whether it be by walking, cycling or a safe public transport option.

“People are rediscovering their local areas, and we’re seeing increased use of local parks and streets for daily exercise.

“And we’re taking more notice of the amenity, or lack of, in local neighbourhood environments,” Corkery said.

“We’re also realising that we may not need to travel into work every day—in fact, we’re saving a lot of time by not commuting, and valuing more of the benefits of our local communities.”

The 20-minute neighbourhood

The City of Melbourne incorporated the concept into their city planning with a series of 20-minute neighbourhoods, developed in conjunction with local urban planning academics, adjunct professors John Stanley and Roz Hansen, in its “Plan Melbourne 2017–2050” planning strategy.

In 2018, the planning minister launched the 20-Minute Neighbourhood Pilot Program with a focus on established neighbourhoods in Strathmore within the Moonee Valley City Council, Croydon South located in the City of Maroondah, and Sunshine West in the City of Brimbank.

“Inner parts of Australia’s capital cities and parts of their middle suburbs already meet a 20-minute neighbourhood test. Very few of the outer suburbs would do so.” the academics note in The Conversation.

Features of a 20-minute city

The measure of 20-minute neighbourhoods (800-metre walkable catchments): Research shows that 20 minutes is the maximum time people are willing to walk to meet their daily needs locally.
Twenty-minute neighbourhoods are measured in 800-metre walkable catchments, with research showing 20 minutes is the maximum time people are willing to walk for daily needs.

^ Source: Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

A new C40 cities report, released this week, promoting a sustainable and equitable recovery, has also put forward the concept, with “15-minute cities”.

The report was developed by the organisation’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force with C40 mayors calling on national and regional governments, central banks and financial institutions towards a “green recovery”.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has starkly exposed deep inequalities in cities in different regions of the world,” the global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force note.

“Including by disproportionately impacting Black people, Indigenous communities and people of colour, low-income communities, isolated elderly, and those living in informal settlements.”

Key areas of the plan include that stimulus should be a green stimulus, supporting and protecting essential workers, committing to the improvement of public health, creating more inclusive economies, the prioritisation in clean energy, and the creation of “15-minute cities” where all residents of the city are able to meet most of their needs within a short walk or bicycle ride from their homes.

Corkery says that many of Sydney’s older and inner-suburbs are already 20-minute neighbourhoods which makes them popular locations.

“Of course, popularity boosts property values and then living locally becomes unaffordable,” she says.

“We need to make those housing options available that will make it possible for families and young professionals to live in these neighbourhoods—and at the other end of the spectrum enable older people to age in place.”

Sustainable urban communities?

The latest research from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, examines the issues with place-based planning and the delivery of affordable rental housing.

The report, “Strategic planning, city deals and affordable housing” released Wednesday, finds that a mismatch remains between the location of jobs and affordable housing for low-income workers in Sydney and Melbourne.

And in both cities, affordable rental housing is more prevalent in areas that are not currently serviced by passenger rail networks.

In greater Sydney, affordable rents are found predominantly in outer suburbs “generally more than 50 kilometres away from the job-rich CBD suburbs”, one of the report authors and University of Sydney professor Nicole Gurran said.

The research finds that “city deals” and similar place-based funding programs can help kickstart new economic opportunities in areas, but explicit support is needed for affordable housing if lower-income workers are to find homes close to employment opportunities.

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