'15-minute neighbourhoods': Flanders' plan to restart local economies

'15-minute neighbourhoods': Flanders' plan to restart local economies
Credit: Belga

A Flemish plan to introduce so-called 15-minute neighbourhoods, where everything one needs on a daily basis is within 15 minutes' reach, is looking to follow on from other cities across the world by promoting a lifestyle reliant on the local area and the local economy.

Experts recommend a Flemish master plan to introduce the concept of the fifteen-minute city everywhere, the Flemish Association for Space and Planning (VRP) announced.

“Residents of 15-minute neighbourhoods have daily provisions within walking distance, work environments within cycling distance" and can reach amenities they do not need on a daily basis by public transport within 15 minutes, VRP explained.

Cities across the world including Melbourne, Ottawa and Detroit have moved to adopt this concept. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo successfully ran for re-election with the concept, promising it would reduce pollution and stress and improve the overall quality of life.

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Now, experts think it’s time for Flanders to follow suit. With coronavirus, “people have inevitably (re)discovered their neighbourhood and the local economy,” VRP said. It would be best to continue to pay “extra attention to the closeness of facilities and quality of public space” post-coronavirus as well, they argued.

The advice to move towards 15-minute cities is the result of talks among over 200 Flemish city advisors, urbanists and mobility experts, who gathered during the coronavirus crisis to analyse how to make cities and villages healthier.

“It’s a fundamentally different vision on urban development,” said Pieter Ballon of the Free University of Brussels (VUB) and Imec. “Cities used to be split up into several zones, each with their functionalities. The car brought you from one zone to the other, so, in the end, the car occupied a large part of the city.”

“When stores, public facilities and green public space are reachable within walking or cycling distance, we live in neighbourhoods that are more lively, more pleasant, more durable and healthier,” VRP said.

In an effort to make cities healthier, “an innovative mobility policy (…) is not enough,” Ballon said. “Local authorities have to invest in greenery, recreational facilities, and local functions.”

With Flemings' rediscovery of their neighbourhoods and local economies, now is the time to move towards 15-minute cities, according to VRP. “Creating extra space on pavements and banning car traffic can already have a large effect in the short term,” they said, adding that “later, a total make-over can be considered.”

Jason Spinks

The Brussels Times

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