Fifteen Minute Cities

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on

Evidently there is a group that is advocating a planet saving idea known as “the fifteen minute city.” The idea is that everyone within an urban area would have access to most of the businesses that they might need for day to day living. This is a topic that I have considered from time to time. In fact, I have had long conversations about such an idea with friends, particularly when my mother was still alive and struggling to find the services that she needed near her home. 

When I was growing up I lived in a little neighborhood near one the the airports in the city of Houston. There was a little grocery store located at the end of my street that my family often frequented. I walked to my school on most days, sometimes even in the rain with the aid of a raincoat and umbrella. While we mostly drove to church we might just as well have walked there on a sunny day because it was only a few blocks away from our house. We had several little restaurants nearby and even a bowling alley just a couple of minutes away. In fact, there was a bit of everything available to us. We had barber shops and beauty salons, a great family owned pharmacy with a grill and gift shop, a mobile library and a lovely park. There were even doctors working in little clinics nearby. If we wanted a bit more adventure there was a large mall with movie theaters and every imaginable kind of store about fifteen minutes away. We literally lived in a kind of village before anyone ever thought of The Villages in Florida. 

Sadly that old neighborhood has become a kind of urban desert. The schools and churches are still there but little else. People living there have to travel longer distances to find the kind of conveniences that we took for granted back when I was growing up. Such is true of many of the older neighborhoods, including the one where my husband enjoyed his own childhood adventures. All too often those who live in the more depressed areas of town have to travel rather far to find what they need, even as they are the most likely to have a deficit of transportation. Low income areas are all too often abandoned, leaving those who live there to fend for themselves. 

I have moved farther from the center of Houston into a suburban area that offers me the same kind of amenities that I enjoyed as a child. The only difference is that the area that is my home base is larger than the more compact neighborhood of my youth. When I was young I knew almost everyone who lived in our enclave. Today I am only familiar with a few people here and there. The old idea of the friendly neighborhood is suffering a bit. Luckily our cul de sac is a little haven that celebrates together throughout the year and looks after each other every day. 

Some of my doctors travel once a week to a clinic that is about three minutes away from my home, but my church is probably thirty minutes away. Most of the time, however, I could probably get along doing everything I need to do on an electric golf cart if there were designated areas to drive one to and fro. There would be little reason for me to ever go more than fifteen minutes away unless I wanted to attend a ballgame or concert or drive to see friends in other areas. 

Some folks have responded to the idea of the fifteen minute neighborhood with anger. They seem to think that the idea is designed to limit their possibilities when it would actually make life much easier if we did not have to constantly drive far from home in heavy traffic to service our needs. I for one applaud the idea of creating centers of commerce and entertainment all over the city and most especially in the most forgotten neighborhoods.

I had a friend who was from Germany. He truly enjoyed his life in the United States but often spoke fondly of his parents’ lifestyle. They lived in Bremen where they truly had a “fifteen minute city.” Everything they needed was close by, including mass transportation. They only owned a car for vacationing or enjoying weekends in the countryside. My friend never quite understood why there are so many cities in the United States were vast numbers of people have little or no infrastructure for obtaining food, entertainment or medical care. He spoke of how few worries about such things his parents had and wondered why we had not created communities that considered the needs of the residents, regardless of their income levels.

I like my own “fifteen minute city.” I have all that I need close by. I often think of purchasing an electric car which would ultimately get me anywhere I need to go without the worry of gasoline. I would rarely worry about running out of a charge because I don’t have to travel long distances most of the time. I suspect that as we adapt to the future we will be changing many of our ways. Building “fifteen minute cities” may be a good start.  


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