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By Gennifer Harding-Gosnell, The Cleveland Observer

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb gave his first State of the City address in April, reporting on his Administration’s accomplishments, needs for improvement, and vision for the future. 

Looking ahead, Bibb said Cleveland is “working toward being the first city in North America to implement a 15-Minute City planning framework where people – people, not developers, but people – are at the center of urban revitalization. Because regardless of where you live, you should have access to a good grocery store, vibrant parks, and a job you can get to.”

 “In this model, essential services are all available within a 15-minute walk, bike ride, or transit trip,” he added. “We aim to use this 15-minute model as a basis for policy innovation, and to drive investments through a process that is grounded in direct feedback from residents and localized to meet the needs of all of our neighborhoods.”

The driving force behind the 15-Minute City concept is that cities are designed around people, not cars. Urbanist Dan Luscher explains, “We start by looking at where an individual lives and where they need to get to and figure out how to retool our neighborhoods and cities to get the kind of ‘hyper proximity’ and ease of access that makes urban living great.”

What makes a more walkable city?

Four key characteristics of a 15-minute city according to University of Paris professor Carlos Moreno, who developed the theory in 2015, are proximity; diversity of land use; density, there must be enough people in the area to support the businesses; and ubiquity, available and affordable to all. It requires “minimal travel among housing, offices, restaurants, parks, hospitals and cultural venues.

Each neighborhood should fulfill six social functions: living, working, supplying, caring, learning, and enjoying.”

University of Sheffield Psychology Professor Richard Bentall states the case to the BBC for better mental health in 15-minute cities through belonging. “We are increasingly becoming an urban species, but urban environments are linked to worse mental health,” he says. ‘With Covid, some people suffered but others benefited….If you feel a sense of belonging to your neighborhood, that’s a massive protector of your mental health.’”

A new 15-minute neighborhood is being developed right now in Utah: “The plan calls for a network of open spaces so residents can walk through car-free linear parks to different parts of the neighborhood to reach offices, schools, or stores, all built in mixed-use zones. Streets will allow cars, but will also prioritize space for bike lanes and wide sidewalks. People living in the neighborhood will be able to ride on a bus rapid-transit system to nearby cities like Salt Lake City or Provo. A small shuttle, which may run autonomously, will circle through the neighborhood for those who need to quickly run an errand and don’t want to walk or bike. Mobility hubs will offer shared cars, bikes, and scooters.”

Cleveland seeks to become a 15 minute city

Critics of the 15-Minute City model say it requires an extensive (and expensive) level of intervention that may not be enough to reach all the neighborhoods in need. Urban designer Jay Pitter told CityLab, “What we see already within marginalized communities is resistance to things that are actually really wonderful and beneficial, like more walkability or bike lanes. The reason we see this resistance is because these kinds of approaches, while good for us and the environment, also often spur gentrification. And so,  communities are very nervous about that.”

 So what does it mean for Cleveland’s most in-need neighborhoods? Here are some points to explore: 

  • Increased socialization – to improve mental health, and offer new opportunities for community engagement, even community policing. 
  • Small business opportunities – the neighborhood is essentially run by the community; residents can open a barbershop, and a bakery, and create wealth.  
  • Job opportunities –  when larger companies open businesses in marginalized communities they can offer jobs that don’t require a car for travel and help create off-shoot businesses like diners and coffee shops nearby.    
  • Better physical health – residents will have more incentive to walk, bike, and utilize new park spaces; requiring a hospital within 15-minutes could help increase EMS response times and better accessibility to older and disabled residents. 
  • Increased public transit – adding shuttles helps ensure residents are able to access food and other basic needs; they can be used for school, community events, shopping trips to malls, or transporting workers.       

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