Could Dublin Become a 15-minute City?

by Ruaidhrí Saulnier

I love Dublin Bus. It is one of the worst services I regularly use in Dublin, and yet I am an enthusiastic supporter. If Dublin Bus has 1,000,000 fans, I may not be one of them, but I am definitely not a hater. It needs improvement, something that the city is sort of working on, at least when they aren’t privatising routes. More bus lanes would help or allowing them to ram through any vehicle that is smaller. In all seriousness, the existence of Dublin Bus is great, but its reliability issues and inefficient routes are something that needs to be addressed. Especially when as soon as a drop of rain hits Dublin, all hell breaks loose, and us bus users are punished. This causes issues for people not relying on cars and harms any attempts to change our way of life, turning fifteen minutes into fifty.

The concept of 15-minute cities derived from historical ideas about proximity and walkability, first presented in the early 1900s, called neighbourhood units. They were first presented at a time when cars were rising in prominence in American cities, at a time when they weren’t as ingrained into society as they are now, and they weren’t managed as they are now. They were conceived as islands in a sea of vehicular traffic. 

“pedestrianisation allows a city to become more pleasant and healthier and helps tackle the climate crisis”

The 15-minute city is a residential concept in which most daily necessities can be completed within walking or cycling distance from the resident’s home. The term was first coined in 2016, and popularised by the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who promised to turn Paris into one. 15-minute cities are built from a series of 5-minute neighbourhoods, which are also known as complete communities. These would increase density, reducing the need for a car, contrasting with the urban sprawl we are familiar with. The land would be mixed usage, with ample employment opportunities, reducing the need to travel. In addition, public transportation needs to be available. This concept has been described as a return to a more local way of life. A re-imagination of towns not divided into discrete zones for different purposes, but as mosaics of neighbourhoods. In which most residents’ needs can be met within 15 minutes of their homes, by either walking, cycling, or using public transport. This in turn, reduces pollutions and brings people closer together. 

In parts of Paris traffic has disappeared, and the space they occupied is now mainly dedicated to pedestrians, with trees where asphalt once was. This was helped by lack of traffic during covid, and the travel restrictions forbidding people from travelling too far. These efforts are backed by €300 million in funding from the regional, local, and national governments. The 15-minute city calls for a return to a more local and somewhat slower way of life, where time is better spent locally rather than commuting faraway to experience life. 

We sort of have these ideas applied to Dublin. Grafton Street was first pedestrianised in 1971, and this was made permanent in 1982. Despite initial objections to this by business owners and councillors, the change was for the better. This demonstrates that even forty years ago, people were able to see that cars weren’t the be all and end all. History seems to repeat itself with the resistance to pedestrianisation in College Green and Capel Street. But pedestrianisation allows a city to become more pleasant and healthier and helps tackle the climate crisis. Other cities were able to start this process with much more haste than Dublin, so what is the hold up? 

Several models are used when discussing 15-minute cities, with emphasis placed where is believed to be important. What they all have in common is the ability to travel to key areas within a community within 15-minutes by walking or cycling. Moreno’s model ensures that six essential functions are fulfilled: living, working, commerce, healthcare, education, and entertainment. With four key components: density, proximity, diversity, and digitalisation. Another model, D’Acci’s model, presents the idea of Isobenefit Urbanism, which states that within one kilometre, you should be able to reach: natural land, shops, amenities, services, and places of work. A third model, Weng’s model, using Shanghai as a case study proposed a 15-minute walkable neighbourhood with a focus on health. This found that rural areas are generally significantly less walkable.

Several cities around the world, on every continent, have had some attempt at creating 15-minute cities. These are still in their infancy but are showing promise. So why doesn’t Dublin take some initiative, and showcase to the world that it is able to create a healthier, better world, and become a 15-minute city? A metro with several lines, a hospital that isn’t the most expensive building in the world, and increased density would be a good start. So, when do we begin?

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