The 15-minute city is an urban mobility concept that allows for “people [to] meet all their needs in a 15-minute commute.” This city concept encourages neighborhood connectivity that centers around the needs of the people. The 15-minute city is a decentralized space that allows people to reconnect with their neighborhoods. Latin American cities, such as Bogota in Colombia, have begun integrating the 15-minute concept into their urban spaces with projects such as “the installation of bike racks in bus and subway terminals” and creating bike lanes to promote cycling over driving. Through active and sustainable mobility practices such as those in Bogota, the 15-minute city addresses poverty by encouraging cities to be more democratic by creating an accessible city for all.
Increasing Accessibility Alleviates Poverty
One of the first steps in poverty reduction is increasing accessibility to basic resources and services. Lack of accessible socioeconomic services negatively impacts the quality of life for marginalized communities. Limitations, such as inadequate access to health or educational benefits and opportunities, result in an unhealthy populace that lacks the skills, knowledge and mobility that education could provide. A strong urban policy requires a person-centered approach that especially focuses on the needs of marginalized communities. Proximity to resources is just one element of the 15-minute city concept. The 15-minute city addresses poverty by encouraging an urban space that is equitable, inclusive and offers an array of opportunities and resources to a diverse set of people expeditiously and within a short distance.
How the 15-Minute City Addresses Poverty in Bogota, Colombia
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020, Bogota introduced 52 miles of temporary bicycle lanes to encourage transportation options that support social distancing. The new bike lanes expanded the decades-old Ciclovía bicycle lane network that stands as one of the largest in the world. The 15-minute concept also encourages the use of public transportation. In Bogota, experts consider the bus system, Bus Rapid Transit, “one of the best in the world” and the Colombian government funds part of these bus ticket costs for impoverished people. The city also offers vehicle rides for people who live in neighborhoods that the Bus Rapid Transit system does not cover.
Benefits of the 15-Minute City
- Increased Health and Nutrition: Access to healthy food options increases overall health and lowers disease rates. This is especially beneficial for communities that typically do not have easy access to nutritional foods. In 2020, an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that while hunger is a major issue, nutrition is as well because “in low-income countries, 87% of people cannot afford healthy diets.” The 15-minute city addresses poverty by providing a sustainable and viable solution to food insecurity. Increasing accessibility benefits the overall health of the community.
- Better Quality of Life: The 15-minute city encourages neighborhood connectivity, which results in lower rates of isolation and loneliness while encouraging strong social cohesion and socialization. Green space is an important element of the 15-minute city because it offers social space and hosts vegetation that contributes to cleaner air and also serves as a preventative measure for heatwaves and floods.
- Cleaner Air: Decreased vehicle traffic results in cleaner air for city-dwellers, which ultimately lowers respiratory illness and disease. Low-income urban areas, in general, have higher cases of respiratory illnesses and the concept of closing the road for pedestrian or bike traffic lowers these rates, bringing health benefits to urban regions.
A People-Centered Approach
Latin American cities have been implementing elements of the 15-minute city in their urban policies even before the COVID-19 pandemic. But, the pandemic saw a surge in the 15-minute city concept in response to social distancing restrictions and outbreak containment. The World Economic Forum has said that the desire for a more equitable and sustainable world could potentially materialize with the implementation of these strategies but limitations are apparent. The 15-minute city concept addresses poverty through a people-centered approach and many cities are starting to take note.
– Jennifer Hendricks