Since the mayoress of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and her intellectual lieutenant Carlos Moreno put the term “The 15-minute city” into fashion a couple of years ago, scientific literature related to environmental and habitability issues, urban planners’ forums and even the 2022 World Cities Report have put the concept at the center of the debate.

Today, every modern urban planner should defend —with reason— the postulates of this scale: access to health services and education, supplies, leisure and free time, and employment. Everything within a quarter of an hour walking or cycling from the house.

Although this has become a slogan in many cases, it is not an easily achievable goal in the short term when starting from a model that divides the city into zones distributed by labyrinthine or snail-shaped alleys, as is the case in the United States and some urbanizations in Latin America. The 15-minute city is rather a matter of long-term discipline, a long-distance race, since planning must anticipate and institutionalize issues as complex as territorial planning, environmental sustainability policies, traffic and multimodal transport, and, above all, , public participation in decision-making.

This concept, clearly necessary, succeeds, in the discursive sphere, many other catchy words such as smart cities, pedestrian accessibility, creative city, night city and startup city. Getting the residents of a town accustomed to achieving a balance between densifying and maintaining the spaces required to have a good neighborhood requires efforts that are as coherent as they are constant. That’s when municipal managers, politicians and neighbors find themselves with another demoralizing question: how close is their city to being Paris. The answer is obvious, there is only one Paris.

Developmentalism, the emergence of brutalism and the frantic race for urban expansion in the second half of the 20th century ended up cornering economically invisible communities. It also widened distances —physical and symbolic—, rewarded the automobile, and prioritized enjoyment of the city, hindering or directly denying access to the city to some residents.

Fortunately, urbanism is a living discipline, and in recent decades subversive voices have appeared with isolationist consequences, such as New Urbanism in the 1980s, Smart Growth at the beginning of this century and, more recently, advocates of urbanism. creation of spaces.

The most vital and democratic metropolises are those with the greatest economic opportunity, less unemployment, and where the right to the city is respected for residents and citizens.

These three proposals seek specific actions for urban improvement: the New Urbanism sought to recover the spirit of the past, planning and designing passable streets, housing and shops close to the public space and accessible on a human scale. Smart Growth, for its part, focused on the incidence of transport and the planning of compact and passable urban centers to avoid dispersion, seeking political incidence to achieve regional development. Finally, the creation of spaces went a step further, focusing on the ability to create and manage quality places to support socialization; the active, accessible and comfortable use of public space; and the narrative of the place.

The leadership in the adoption of these currents in the United States has been assumed mainly by the private sector and civil society, through real estate developers, business improvement districts and organizations promoting public policies. A good example is the counties of Fairfax and Arlington in Virginia, and their ability to take more flexible advantage of the importance of being part of the Washington DC metropolitan area and the connections that are formed in the capital, as can be seen with the Social Capital index.

Reston, a privately managed urban district in Fairfax, is home to the regional headquarters of technology leaders such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google, while, in the same county, Tysons is home to financial giants such as Capital One Bank or Freddie Mac. This innovation group resulting from Expanding public-private associations coexist with the heritage protection of some neighboring historic centers such as Herndon or Fairfax City, with their urban markets or with the greatest access to green infrastructure in the US, according to the Parkscore index. There is also an investment boom in Arlington County, spurred by the imminent arrival of Amazon HQ2 and Boeing corporate headquarters and the state of Virginia’s multi-billion dollar investment in the technology campuses of Virginia Tech and George Mason universities.

Planning must include issues such as territorial planning, environmental sustainability policies, traffic and transportation, and, above all, public participation in decision-making.

Even with this growth and frictional unemployment rates around 2%, there are significant risks, mainly spurred by the exorbitant rise in housing and land prices, which has placed the Washington DC area among the most expensive cities from North America. These increases and new real estate developments bring displacement and gentrification, threatening the well-being of a portion of citizens, even though Fairfax and Arlington have powerful subsidized housing programs.

We have spent a few years rediscovering that cities, in order to be equitable and livable, should have basic public and private services within a radius of a quarter of an hour on foot, and that is relevant and positive. It is also notable that in the US the traditional shopping malls are losing strength in favor of mixed-use urban streets. But it is also good to keep in mind that the most vital and democratic metropolises are those with the greatest economic opportunity, less unemployment, and where residents and citizens have their right to the city respected.

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