15-Minute City: The Gap that Investors Should See

The 15-minute city concept is not a new concept, and many people believe that it is the way forward. However, there are others who see that there are many problems with the idea, especially that it isn’t inclusive and diverse enough. 

The European Coworking Assembly spoke to Laetitia Vitaud, Director of Cadre Noir Ltd, about the 15-minute city concept. She explained that it is a residential urban concept, where most residents should be able to reach most – if not all – facilities and amenities within a 15-minute walk or bicycle ride. The 15-minute city concept was popularised by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. But she pulled inspiration from French-Colombian scientist Carlos Moreno.

Laetitia lived in London, seven years ago, and since then she has worked with many companies in different fields, on the subject of “the future of work”. She has three, French, published books, Du Labeur à l’ouvrage, Faut-il avoir peur du numérique ?: 25 questions pour vous faire votre opinion, and Welcome to the jungle: 100 idées innovantes pour recruter des talents et les faire grandir. And since the beginning of the pandemic, her subjects of interest have been more topical than ever before. So, she has many webinars and podcasts on that subject, the various subjects that cover this like transformations of work.

She also writes an English newsletter which is titled Laetitia at Work. It handles topics such as the future of work with a feminist perspective. A major focus for her is the impact of infrastructure policy and culture on female work and gender equality, which then brought about her other interest in urban issues and the 15 minute cities is one of those things.

Her view and experience with the 15-minute city

Laetitia gives us an overview of where the 15-minute city concept comes from. “The definition that was given to us by researcher, Carlos Moreno, is that you should be able to meet most of your needs within 15-minutes of where you live. It became famous when Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, popularised it.” 

She speaks about her experience in Paris, as she lived there for 35 years, and says that the 15-minute concept is close to her. “Paris is quite special because it’s one of the densest cities in the world. It doesn’t look like it because it’s not high rises like Hong Kong, but it’s still one of the 10 densest cities in the world. And that includes cities like New Delhi in India. There are no green spaces, it’s built everywhere, and it’s also extremely small.” 

Not many people are aware of just how small Paris is. In terms of surface space, it is one tenth of London and Berlin, respectively and also has a lot of habitants, which contributes to the dense environment.

The problem was with narrowing the 15-minute city definition to Paris and if 15-minutes is actually irrelevant. The most important question is how to create a sense of community within these city centres, the idea has received a lot of criticism because of the way that it was applied to Paris.

Speaking from someone who strongly believes in inclusion and diversity, she explains what her take on the current debate with the 15-minute city concept is. “The concept was largely applied in the centre of Paris, which mainly hosts rich, white people. The centre is expensive and the question should then be asked: how does it include less fortunate people of colour and immigrants, or those who live far from the centre in the Periphery and who serve people in the centre?” According to her, that question is probably the biggest limit of the Paris 15-minute city debate. 

The needs of the people who travel far to serve those within the 15-minute cities, are not really addressed. “Based on that, I would like the 15-minute city to be more inclusive, even if that means changing it to 25 or 30-minutes.” 

There are three important issues that need to be addressed: inclusion, transportation, and childcare.

The benefit to startups and SMEs

When a startup can see the gap that needs to be filled, within the 15-minute city, it can greatly improve the life of the community members. Laetitia shares an example of a business that saw where improvement is needed. 

“One of the major problems that the 15-minute city is facing is that real estate prices have risen much faster than the revenues of service workers, and in particular women, who are needed in the city. Which has led to more geographic segregation. In a lot of large European cities, there’s even more geographic segregation today than a generation ago.” 

These workers are then in need of transportation to the city centres where they work, and if they are further away, like 18-minutes for example, then they cannot walk or ride a bike. 

“The first priority across the European Union would be to make sure that there aren’t pockets of such workers who are disconnected, isolated, deprived of access to public services, including schools and health care, or access to communities.” 

What startups can look at doing is improving the transportation system that connects these workers to the centres. The reason for this is based on the real estate prices that have gone up, and those earning minimum wage cannot afford to stay close to where these 15-minute cities are. 

For example, an interview that she recently had with the Communication Director of the Dutch Cycling Embassy, Chris Bruntlett, published a book with his wife, Curbing the Traffic. “He’s an evangelist for bike lanes, in an inclusive way, that is a mode of transportation, it’s for everyone.” She mentions how in the Netherlands these bike lanes can take you everywhere and this is needed within these 15-minute cities.

This will also help to ease the labour problem that Europe is facing. The labour shortage in these areas create a bottleneck and startups can help by unblocking it. 

“If they can give access to workers who are far from the centre, it would be a huge benefit to the European market.” 

In closing Laetitia mentions that startups should fill these gaps “they have the opportunity to creative work for those who are unemployed but also create better situations for those who serve the rich in these centres. They have the ability to be inclusive and spread diversity amongst the working class.”

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