CallisonRTKL outlines five ways to integrate 15-minute cities into the region’s urban environment

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Concept of ensuring business, residential, and social space is integrated into a fifteen minute walk is the latest in modern urban design

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Global architecture, planning and design firm CallisonRTKL (CRTKL) has shared five ways to integrate the idea of the ‘15-minute city’ into the built environment of the Middle East and North Africa region.

The 15-minute city is a bold new vision of imagining urban space. It rethinks the a city as containing different neighbourhoods, each of which contains all residential, business, social, and cultural requirements for each resident within a 15 minute walk or cycle ride. In the 15-minute city, the need for car transportation is eliminated, with residents able to easily connect through public transportation with different parts of the city. The concept aims to reduce the need for city residents to travel long distances through a city, instead using the time they might use for commuting to enjoy enriching activities, be that in sport, culture, or spending time with family.

Matthew Tribe, Principal at CallisionRTKL, commented: “The Middle East consistently seeks to offer its residents an optimal way of living and working in a blended and multi-layered urban programmes. The 15-minute city offers to augment current urban experiences, helping create more vibrant, more environmentally friendly, and more resilient communities.

“As governments in the region pursue wide-ranging developmental plans for the creation of liveable urban communities, the 15-minute city philosophy  challenges the more conservative approaches to urban planning, driving diversity, inclusivity while celebrating distinctive cultural and community attributes. In looking to create flexible space that reduces the region’s dependence on cars and emphasises the need for social and community living, the Middle East can continue to be at the forefront of modern city design.”

The five methods of integrating 15-minute cities into the region are:

  1. Maximising mixed-use

At the heart of the 15-minute city lies the neighbourhoods of mixed-uses. With every square metre in the city’s built environment needing to be maximised, buildings need to be able to be agile, flexible, and cater to a variety of different needs for the community which surrounds them.

Due to its great number of giga-projects, the Middle East has led the global trend of integrating mixed-use communities into its expanding urban fabric, with urban centres filled with apartments, offices, retail centres, gyms, nurseries, restaurants, and more. Regional urban planners need to accommodate that, for regional cities to offer a 15-minute, liveable urban community, a vibrant mixed of uses provide a central plank to make that vision a reality. The ubiquity of mixed-use communities across the region’s cities provides a strong foundation for further development of the 15-minute city ideals into the region’s urban life.

  1. Enhancing regional public transport provision

The 15-minute city requires a sophisticated and adept public transportation system that can quickly and easily transport residents from one part of the city to another, reducing the needs to dedicate city space for car use and instead swiftly and conveniently providing residents access to different neighbourhoods and communities.

No other global planning design has laid out a vision for a strong, integrated public transport system than The Line, unveiled by the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman in January of this year. Spanning over 170 kilometres, at the heart of The Line is a sophisticated and high-speed public transportation system that can link together city areas, without needing to have cars, roads, or parking spaces taking up valuable urban space.

It is a bold vision, which other regional cities can look to emulate. Investments in public transportation networks such as the Dubai Metro or the Riyadh Metro again provide residents new ways to quickly and effectively get around their cities, reducing the need for cars and roads in the urban environment.

  1. Foster data-based design decisions

Within a 15-minute city, it is important to not only design space to be used effectively, but also understanding how that space is being used on an ongoing basis. Urban planners need to know which routes are popular for residents to walk to, which restaurants and cafes they like going to, and how the built environment can be adapted to enable residents’ lifestyle choices. The 15-minute city needs to be a smart city.

To enable that, regional urban planners must use large, aggregate data to inform planning decisions. Using real-time sensors to actively monitor how residents are using their neighbourhood, and what they value from that same neighbourhood, is critical in further designing fully for residents’ needs. Further, using technology to be able to create an urban environment that adapts to its residents’ uses in real time can further enrich an experience of a city – be that in catering toward transportation needs in real time or managing pedestrian flow.

  1. Reimagine social and cultural space

The 15-minute city requires vibrant neighbourhoods which cater to residents’ various needs. That goes beyond providing office space and coffee shops, apartments and gyms. It requires urban planners to provide space for social and cultural activities: be that sport, music, theatre, or art gallery space.

The Middle East is surrounded by space for social and cultural events: space that can be easily adapted from one use to another. Ensuring flexibility is integrated into regional planning and design is critical for building the 15-minute city, allowing a green space to be a theatre, or for a building’s roof to be a yoga studio. That challenge is compounded by the seasonal weather variations that can be found in the region. Indeed, in the heat of the Middle East’s summer, it is possible to see this concept of flexibility being lived out, as malls in the GCC are used as long-distance walking tracks by residents.

Through reimagining how urban space can be used, urban planners can help ensure that residents do not need to travel far to reach an air-conditioned exercise area, but can rather do it in their own locality.

  1. Create, measure, and refine ESG success metrics

The 15-minute city prioritises community and environmental wellbeing as one of its key standards. To enable that focus, regional urban planners must design uniform metrics that can measure both the happiness and sustainability of an individual neighbourhood, ensuring that environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) metrics are employed to facilitate wider community growth and wellbeing.

Not only do ESG metrics help create a greener and happier community: they also improve how outside investors perceive the potential value of an area, increasing property values and boosting business attractiveness to a particular neighbourhood. Measuring ESG metrics along with global standards can offer a clear picture of how a street, an area, and a city is performing in comparison with other international urban centres, alongside providing a clear path for improving social and environmental performance.