Proximity and Connectivity in Cities

Commuting has become the norm in big cities: most people live far from urban centers and need to travel daily to their work. Some live in residential suburbs that lack essential services and have to commute for hours to get to them. This wastes time and generates significant pollution, traffic, and inefficiency. Our infrastructure and means of transportation are outdated and not planned well enough for the current needs of people and our cities. New technologies, mobility trends and ways of living are demanding changes in the current infrastructure of cities.

To be more efficient, cities need to be dense, compact, scalable, flexible and modular. The closer we live to our work and essential services, the less we need to commute. If we can reduce our daily use of transportation by car, we’ll help the environment and waste less time every day that we could dedicate to other activities and enhance our fulfillment.

The “15-minute city” concept implies thatcities are designed in a way that all the essential amenities have to be within or close to the residential areas. A 15-minute city includes basic services such as health, education, shopping, work, and residential areas within a 15-minute walking radius. This significantly reduces the need to use cars and transportation. The idea embraces mixed-use planning, which is opposed to the zoning limitations of modern cities. Cities are no longer divided by functions as in the modern urban planning but have more flexibility of spaces and their uses. This can be achieved through the city spearheading projects but also creating mixed-use regulations, incentives, and general urban planning of what neighborhoods should contain in terms of schools, parks, playgrounds, hospitals, gyms, stores and so on. 

In addition to physical proximity, people must also be connected digitally. Everyone should have access to the internet and be trained on how to work, study and socialize with it. This enhances efficiency and can reduce or even eliminate the need for commuting. The importance of digital connectivity was underscored during the COVID pandemic when everything shifted online overnight and digital connectivity became a basic need.

Creating 15-minute neighborhoods also means creating more walking areas, and reclaiming the streets from cars back to the people by directing traffic from the city center to alternative locations. For example, the “superblocks” in Barcelona unify 9 city blocks into one where traffic can only go around them on the perimeter. Meanwhile, the inner streets are reserved for pedestrians and only residents’ traffic. The streets that died because of the traffic are now alive and thriving with trees, gardens, playgrounds, caffes, and squares. There is less noise and pollution in the residential areas. This approach also reduces the greenhouse emissions and creates healthier and more sustainable environments. The city becomes even more efficient, livable and enjoyable.

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