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FMs who seek to optimise their building operations must remain open to 15-minute cities

By William Poole-Wilson, Founder and Managing Director, WILL+PARTNERS

The 15-minute city is a revolutionary urban planning concept centred around creating self-sufficient neighbourhoods where residents can access their daily needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their homes. This transformative approach aims to reduce reliance on personal vehicles, enhance local community engagement, and promote sustainability. By fostering proximity to amenities, services, and workplaces, the 15-minute city seeks to create more efficient, interconnected, and liveable urban environments, ultimately improving the quality of life for residents.

However, this is not the groundbreaking urbanism concept it’s currently celebrated as. The City of London’s square mile serves as one example, and throughout Europe – if you know where to look – you’ll find practical illustrations of this idea. Even in the largest European cities, you’ll discover numerous smaller districts that embody the principles of 15-minute communities. While there’s a growing discourse around the concept, I will always support it.

With that said, the idea of the 15-minute city is in danger of becoming politicised. Some of its detractors claim it’s an attempt to stop people from using their cars. Others see the focus on keeping it local as a form of “climate lockdown”, adversely affecting personal freedoms.

Adapting 15-minute cities to a British context doesn’t seem as revolutionary as it’s often portrayed. Many individuals already live their day-to-day lives with all amenities, lifestyle choices, and professional needs within a 15 (or semi-immediate) minute distance. In densely urbanised areas the necessity for driving has already diminished as more people opt for local choices, whether it’s their morning coffee or grocery shopping. Dismissing the myth of people being confined to these spaces rather than freely utilising them ignores the many places that have successfully operated in this manner for years, with Madrid being a classic example. In 2018, the Spanish capital introduced its “Madrid Central” plan, which aims to reduce air pollution and create a more livable city by reducing car traffic in the city centre.

The environmental advantages of the 15-minute city, contributing to emission reduction and improved air quality, should be the focal point. Reducing regular car travel allows people to walk, cycle, or choose alternative means of engaging with the local community, benefiting both personal health and the environment. Urban lifestyles have undergone significant changes in recent years prompting discussions about work-life balance and overall quality of life. The 15-minute city concept aligns directly with the current wellbeing-conscious world.

While there are valid discussions about modernising the concept for today’s cities from an urban planning perspective, it was always intended as a living, breathing, and evolving idea.

Briefing FMs

It’s important that facilities managers who are seeking to optimise their building operations remain open to the idea of 15-minute cities because it enhances operational efficiency and places a spotlight on tenant satisfaction. By fostering a closer connection to local amenities, facilities managers can tailor their building services to accommodate the convenience and accessibility which is emphasised by the 15-minute city lifestyle.

Transportation and parking planning take centre stage in this paradigm shift. With a reduced reliance on personal vehicles, facilities managers can rethink their parking space requirements, if there’re any at all, and invest in alternative transportation options and bike-friendly infrastructure.

FMs will play an increasingly significant role in aligning building operations with the environmental goals of 15-minute cities by promoting eco-friendly living, implementing green initiatives, and contributing to a more resilient urban environment. Community integration will become a key focus, with facilities managers looking to engage with local businesses and participating in community events to help foster a sense of belonging. This will improve the building’s role within the larger urban context but also establishes it as a vital component of the interconnected area.

Adaptation to changing urban trends is imperative. FMs well-versed in the 15-minute city can adjust building facilities and services to cater for evolving lifestyle preferences, ensuring the long-term relevance and attractiveness of the property. It will also mean they remain well-informed about potential changes in urban planning regulations, ensuring their buildings comply with the ever-evolving standards needed to contribute to broader urban development goals.

This idea isn’t a trend or a fad. It’s a real, strategic approach for facilities managers to successfully navigate the future of urban living.

About Sarah OBeirne

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