Imagine being able to walk out your front door and find everything you need just a brisk stroll away--a grocery store, your child's school, the doctor's office, a grassy park, or maybe a movie theater, a nightclub, or a craft beer or wine shop. Sounds good, right? It is called a 15-minute neighborhood (or a "complete" neighborhood), and the basic idea is taking hold in places like Boulder, Colo.; Portland, Ore.; Detroit, Mich.; and Ottawa, Canada.
However, many other cities across North America are bankrupting themselves by putting the "stuff" people need to live daily life too far apart. They then are forced to build miles and miles of roads and infrastructure to connect it all, which creates future maintenance obligations they never will be able to pay for. We are bleeding the wealth out of our communities.
The economic reality of our current development pattern is grim, indeed--and that does not even account for all the other problems caused by our car-centric ways. Main Street businesses suffer. People are more sedentary and less healthy. Those who cannot afford cars struggle to get basic needs met--and, from inside a car, it is tough to connect with our neighbors.
A walkable, bikeable 15-minute neighborhood goes a long way toward solving these problems. It is not a new idea. In fact, it is a return to the traditional development pattern we practiced for centuries but shifted away from after World War II. Prior to that, all neighborhoods were pedestrian-friendly, which also made them economically productive, inclusive of all ages and abilities, safer, healthier, and community-focused.
Of course, neighborhoods cannot transform into the "15-minute" versions of themselves overnight. It is a process. Here are the seven steps communities can take to get closer to the goal:
Bring back neighborhood schools. A neighborhood school is great for students' health, connects them to their community, and develops their independence, but the share of kids walking to school has fallen to all-time lows. This is because many North American cities have consolidated their neighborhood K-12 schools into huge campuses on the edge of the community, forcing citizens to drive or take the bus. Neighborhood schools allow us to redirect scarce public resources from transportation into the classroom. In the age of childhood obesity and other health issues related to a sedentary lifestyle, it makes good sense for cities to consider building schools on safe walking...