How To Foster a 15-Minute Neighborhood

Recently I learned the term “15-minute neighborhood.” It’s a neighborhood where residents can get their everyday needs met within a 15-minute walk. Whether you live in a historic urban core areas that used to be this way (or maybe still is this way), or whether you live in a car-dependent suburb, there are things that residents and local governments can do to create “15-minute neighborhoods.”

This article by StrongTowns summarizes 7 things any community can do to create (or restore) the 15-minute neighborhood. These 7 things are: 1) bring back the neighborhood school; 2) make sure food & other basic necessities are available locally; 3) carve out small pockets of community gathering space; 4) re-introduce varied housing options; 5) allow a seamless mix of homes, businesses, & public spaces rather than segregating them into zones; 6) add shade by planting trees (trellis vines work too!); and 7) ease up excessively rigid restrictions on small local entrepreneurs. 

Some of these suggestions are at the level of local government action, but some (such as planting trees, and making community gathering spaces) can be done by individuals.

Here are some suggestions I just now thought of, for actions that can be done by individuals to create a neighborhood where more necessities are within walking distance:

1) Bring back the neighborhood school: Start a homeschool co-op or babysitting co-op in your neighborhood.

2) Make sure food & other basic necessities are available locally: Grow food in your yard and share it with neighbors. Share tools, plants, advice, and labor with your neighbors who want to grow food in their yards. For other necessities: When you’re going to the store, offer to pick up items for neighbors. This is a great way to build social cohesion (and reduce fossil-fuel consumption) in a car-dependent neighborhood.

3) Carve out small pockets of community gathering space: Make a habit of sitting on your front porch or patio. If you don’t have a porch or patio, put a picnic table in your front yard and create an inviting space for neighbors to hang out. (For inspiration, check out the Turquoise Table movement. #FrontYardPeople!)

4) Re-introduce varied housing options: Rent out your spare room to a student, elder, or someone else who would love to have a room in a house.

5) Allow a seamless mix of homes, businesses, & public spaces rather than segregating them into zones: Talk to your neighborhood group, HOA, etc., about the idea of bringing in mixed-use development to the neighborhood. If you get a positive response, work with local government to cultivate such development.

6) Add shade by planting trees: Anyone can plant a tree, trellised vine, or other bit of greenery. Every bit of green helps; even a small potted plant or two that doesn’t add shade, can still contribute to a more walkable environment by adding beauty and a sense of coziness.

7) Ease up excessively rigid restrictions on small local entrepreneurs: A lot of cities have strong restrictions against home-based businesses, food trucks, cottage industries, and other small enterprises, and micro-scale commercial activity in general. It’s tempting to blame government, but the truth is that this restrictive climate is largely the product of social norms which are created and reinforced by everyday people. What we as individuals can do is challenge our own limited thinking, and also help our neighbors see how they can benefit from allowing a healthy level of micro business activity in a neighborhood.

The StrongTowns article linked above is an informational motherlode, with each of the seven bullet-points offering further links to related articles. If you like StrongTowns as much as I do, you’ll be busy reading for a while! There are a variety of actions we can take to bring back the walkable neighborhood; many of these actions can at least be initiated by everyday people even if some participation by government leaders is needed.