The quarter-hour city: a new rhythm for a new life?
Within an economic, ecological and social context that is as unstable as it is sensitive, the quarter-hour city opens a dialogue on a new urban format. Will it become the norm? Focus on the challenges of the phenomenon and the role of entrepreneurs in the landscape.
On Saturday 22 January 2021, twelve Parisian schools will open their doors to the inhabitants of the neighbourhoods concerned. The aim of the initiative is to transform these spaces into community centres and to make new urban oases accessible when these establishments are unoccupied. What might appear to be a local initiative is in fact part of a global approach known as the "quarter-hour city", a concept coined by Carlos Moreno, an expert on the cities and territories of tomorrow. A phenomenon that is blossoming all over the world.
From Madrid to Seattle, via Milan and Ottawa, the municipalities of the C40 (network of cities committed to the climate) have adopted this principle in order to boost the end of the crisis and encourage a green recovery.
In practice, the idea is to bring the essentials of daily life - housing, work, shopping, health care, education and personal development - within a 15-minute walking or cycling distance. In 2015, when the smart city specialist theorised about the subject, it was primarily a question of providing a concrete response to the climate emergency and improving the quality of life of city inhabitants. The main challenge was to favour soft mobility in order to reduce the pollution caused by cars and to relieve the traffic congestion on public transport.
Five years later, the restrictions caused by the global pandemic have made it possible to think along these lines. With the rapid development of teleworking, it is clear that the concept of the quarter-hour city is accurate in this respect. At the beginning of my work, people told me that it was utopian," admits Carlos Moreno. It has become a strategic fact since the pandemic. Pyjama working' is obviously not the solution. We are moving towards a decentralisation of work. However, at the same time, it is an opportunity to develop a happy proximity and the possibility for a city to become polycentric and multiservice.
These are intentions that Loïc Dosseur, Managing Director of Paris&Co, the economic development and innovation agency for Paris and the metropolis, has been observing for a number of years: "We are witnessing the appearance of more and more solutions that are in line with this logic of treating proximity. This can be seen in the questions asked by large companies, public and regional players, as well as in the progress of entrepreneurs in the construction of their project. So the idea has not just sprouted, we are not starting from scratch, but there seems to be a greater awareness today. Especially since it is urgent: our cities are far from being resilient.
Since each city has its own DNA, it would be risky to put forward a single model for the quarter-hour city. The applications may even vary from one neighbourhood to another. "The smart city model has done a lot of damage. Copying and pasting does no one any favours," says Carlos Moreno. There are good and inspiring practices.
In low or medium density cities, where the geography by use (housing, offices, commerce) is even more impregnated, there is a question of a half-hourly territory. It is therefore a question of taking into account the specificities in place, but beware of the gentrification of places! The approach must be driven by a local policy and evaluated with the right regulatory tools," continues Carlos Moreno. It must not become a favoured neighbourhood compared to another and create new inequalities, where we want to do the opposite.
Theoretically, the concept mentions four cornerstones: proximity, ecology, solidarity and participation. In practice, however, it is a different story. According to Loïc Dosseur: "No one really knows how to achieve this! There is a toolbox, which is being enriched and consolidated. But you have to allow yourself to experiment and fail. This is what will allow us to create the right tools. In fact, it would be almost dangerous if they already existed, as this would mean that we would have made the system more rigid. We need to keep a certain number of legal gaps in order to consolidate proven innovations. We know how to test and evaluate projects, individually and in macro terms. We look at several responses to a problem and then extract decision-making tools for public and private players.