What the 15-minute city really means

Apr 5, 2023

walking in a 15-minute city

Coined by the urbanist Professor Carlos Moreno in 2016, the term ‘15-minute city’ has recently exploded in popularity. It’s becoming a buzzword for politicians and real-estate developers, like “a better future” or “granite countertops”.

The 15-minute concept means more than just increasing the number of bike paths, an idea which may be easy to brush aside if it’s not well understood. In this blog post, we’ll look at what a 15-minute city is, its benefits, and some of the finest 15-minute city examples.

The definition of a 15-minute city

You may have heard a phrase like, “It’s an urban planning concept wherein everything is within a 15-minute walk or bike ride.” 

But, as is often the case with big ideas, the devil’s in the details.

An abundance of well-connected pavements and bike paths is indeed necessary — but the 15-minute city isn’t about the speed of commuting. Focusing on speed has been a misleading distraction in cities for decades.

It’s been well-documented that building more roads doesn’t lead to shorter commute times. Instead, it encourages people to move into the suburbs, thus stretching the city even more.

Instead, the 15-minute city concept is about accessibility — to vital services!

The 15-minute city isn’t meant to be a ‘catch-all’ solution, either. Professor Moreno advocates for cities where locals can access essentials within short distances.

He believes the six necessary everyday amenities are home, work, education, commercial areas, entertainment, and health facilities, making the 15-minute city concept more realistic.

So, what is a 15-minute city?

Some say it’s just a fancy term for how cities used to look before car dependency. In our view, a more accurate definition would be, “The 15-minute city is an urban planning concept where citizens can access all their bare essentials within a 15-minute walk or bike ride.”

Since this definition still doesn’t cover all the benefits and vital specifics, let’s take a closer look at what’s made the 15-minute city concept the talk of the town.

walkable street in a 15-minute city

The benefits of a 15-minute city

The ultimate goal of 15-minute cities is to offer a higher quality of life.

In fact, that’s the philosophy behind concept cities built around time, i.e. the less time spent commuting by car, the better the quality of urban life.

The 15-minute city illuminates how enormous quality of life improvements could stem from the simple change of spending less time alone in traffic.

Improved accessibility

Reducing commuting times between all necessary amenities means they must be close by and accessible for people from all demographics — from children to older people. Improved accessibility, therefore, is a crucial component of better urban planning.

Economic benefits

The 15-minute city is about keeping services close by, and thus offers plenty of opportunities for employment and economic growth within the immediate local area. Less time in traffic equals fewer lost working hours too.

And walking, biking, and public transport help us all save money on transport costs — both individually and societally.

Reduced environmental impact

Limiting car use and facilitating sustainable ways to get around helps reduce air pollution and carbon emissions. Stopping the expansion of motorways enables us to keep more green belt areas intact.

More inclusive communities

Reducing the need for cars makes cities more accessible and affordable to those without vehicle access or who may have difficulty using public transit due to physical disabilities or financial constraints.

Better mental and physical health

Less traffic means less noise, air pollution, and associated stress or other similar issues. More time for oneself improves overall well-being, and walking and biking boost overall health.

A greater sense of community

More pedestrian traffic leads to more social interaction, tighter community bonds, vibrant local life, and increased safety overall.

The decentralised 15-minute city undoubtedly offers more benefits beyond convenience. Let’s look at some prerequisites for a properly functioning 15-minute city.

15-minute city neighbourhood in paris

The key characteristics of a 15-minute city

We still don’t have flying cars, so it’s understandable why the 15-minute concept has met scepticism, like all the other ‘concept cities of the future’ that promised to change how we live.

However, the 15-minute city is a well-rounded urban planning concept with a comprehensive framework that helps bring the idea to life.

The elements that work together and make up the backbone of a 15-minute city are proximity, density, diversity, digitalisation, and ubiquity.


We already mentioned that the 15-minute city is about accessibility, not commuting speed. Accessibility to essential everyday amenities is guaranteed by proximity. 

The proximity of amenities in both time and distance minimises commuting times and reduces environmental and economic burdens.

Proximity allows not only access to services and infrastructure, but also utilisation for maximum personal benefit and cost-effectiveness.


We know what you’re thinking — sure, it’s nice to have everything you need at your front door, but will all those companies have enough customers to stay viable? It’s a valid question. And that’s where density comes in.

Urban planners believe an optimal urban density exists that sustains infrastructure and increases liveability. There are many benefits associated with optimal density, like access to services, walkability, and affordable housing. 

And we’re not talking about skyscrapers — they come with their own set of problems, like overconsumption of local resources. The estimated optimal urban density is somewhere around 32 homes per hectare.


Diversity in 15-minute cities is about mixed-use neighbourhoods as well as the people and culture. Zoning laws that allow a healthy mix of residential, commercial, and recreational spaces are vital to improve liveability and assure access to essential amenities.

Critics may say that, despite adequate density, each city block can’t afford all necessary amenities. That’s why the 15-minute city concept also promotes multifunctional spaces for more effective use of available resources.

We know personal cars are idle 95% of the time, and buildings are just a little behind!

We could avoid unnecessary expenses if we found multiple uses for one space. For example:

  • School playgrounds could open to the public after hours, and rooftops could house some greenery
  • Restaurants could turn into dance clubs
  • Sports halls could double as a cinema at night

Mixed-use housing may be more affordable by sharing maintenance costs and eliminating the need for private cars

Diversity in land use creates a vibrant neighbourhood with more pedestrian traffic and increased social interactions.


While often excluded from the list, digitalisation is vital to the 15-minute city. 

15-minute cities are often compared to the traditional cities before motorways, but are, in fact, types of smart cities.

Digitalisation in 15-minute cities involves technological solutions such as sensors, big data analytics, and cloud computing to improve day-to-day living. It helps improve public transport efficiency, increase bike lanes’ safety, cut maintenance costs, and make the city more sustainable.

Services like online shopping with drone delivery, car sharing and ride-hailing, or food and grocery delivery also make access to necessities easier.


The fifth and final characteristic most associated with 15-minute cities is ubiquity. It states that 15-minute cities must become so widely spread that they’re available and affordable to everyone.

15-minute city urban planning

15-minute city examples

More convincing than all the theories may be the cities where the 15-minute concept is already a reality. 

Many cities have reaped the benefits of following the principles of the concept city. Some best-known examples of a 15-minute city include Paris, Barcelona, and Copenhagen.


One of the finest examples of a 15-minute city is Professor Moreno’s native one.

Paris has always had lots of cute little cafés and other local businesses. As one of Europe’s most densely populated cities, the patrons exist to support them.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo plans to lose 72% of the parking spaces to accommodate people and greenery.

She’s introducing car-free zones in the city centre and wants every street and bridge to have a bike lane.

Paris has also introduced multifunctional spaces by adding greenery to school playgrounds and opening them to the public on weekends.

By 2030, vegetation will cover 50% of the city to improve air quality and battle climate change.


A great example of a 15-minute city already in motion is Barcelona’s ‘superblocks’.

These car-free residential areas prioritise pedestrian traffic and promote street life and local commerce with green hubs created at the intersections.

The first superblock, established in 2014, reported a 10% increase in pedestrian travel and a 30% surge in bike trips.

Spaniards also pay attention to details that make the environment genuinely safe, sustainable, and inclusive, like lower kerbs, one-way streets, and human-centric lighting systems.

An award-winning 2019 study found that extensive implementation of superblocks could prevent over 600 premature deaths each year in Barcelona alone.


The Danish capital has an abundance of greenery, extensive bike lanes, and an excellent public transport system — no wonder it’s been repeatedly voted as the world’s most liveable city!

It now also boasts one of the most sustainable districts in the world — Nordhaven.

The Danes began turning the old harbour into a city of the future in 2009. They’re proving that the 15-minute concept works by taking it one step further and creating a ‘5-minute city’!

Nordhaven harbours repurposed and multifunctional architecture, such as residential and commercial buildings converted from old silos and a parking garage with a rooftop playground. The plan includes an elevated metro track doubling as a rain cover for a bike path below.

Nordhaven will be a CO2-neutral city that unites the liveability of a 15-minute neighbourhood with the sustainability and technological solutions of a smart city. Solar and geothermal energy will power the 5-minute city, featuring the world’s most extensive heating storage facility.

Are 15-minute cities the future?

15-minute cities are designed for people, not cars, and that’s exactly what Bolt’s mission is. The potential of 15-minute cities to help solve urban problems is clear — solutions to traffic congestion, air pollution, and inequality can all be found within the framework of these cities.

Of course, implementing 15-minute cities globally will be a complex task. But amidst global crises such as the climate crisis, now more than ever’s the time to explore the potential positive impacts that 15-minute cities have to offer.

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