Who would not want to live in a neighbourhood where every essential aspects for a good life are close by? A grocer is around the corner, on weekends we can go to the park, and if need be the medical practice is also around the corner. Even better if most people in the neighbourhood enjoy a similar level of access.
This principle underlies the philosophy for planning in Melbourne Australia via Victoria State Government's 35-year Melbourne plan. The concept has since gained traction in many other places around the globe. In the UK, the Town and Country Planning Association in collaboration with Sport England are exploring how the 20-minute neighbourhood concept can be implemented in towns in England to support healthier, active lives.
In this article, I am picking up on this concept in relation to an on-going innovation project to deliver a tool that provides feedback on health outcomes for early stage master plans. If you like subscribe to the newsletter (on the right) or sign up for early-access via the link at the bottom of the article.
The planning approach in Melbourne has recently been detailed in a report on the planning of a new neighbourhood, Mambourin, by Monarch University (20-MINUTE NEIGHBOURHOOD - LIVING LOCALLY RESEARCH), which I used here to pull out relevant details on definition, implementation challenges, and lessons learned.
Characteristics of the 20-minute neighbourhood
The 20-min neighbourhood refers to the proactive planning for short (800m) distances to vital local services. An 800-metre distance is considered to be walkable by the majority of a neighbourhood population.
It emphasises on “community infrastructure” in the neighbourhood, which includes traditional services, such as parks, but importantly also other ‘non-traditional’ services, such as co-working spaces, and third spaces that encourage social interaction.
Through an easy-accessible and walkable neighbourhood, the 20-minute neighbourhood caters to the health and wellbeing of residents through greater levels of social interaction and active forms of mobility; while also aiming to support equal access to vital services and thereby improved life chances for residents.
The principle link between a walkable, green neighbourhood and the health and wellbeing of residents is now fairly well established.
As outlined in the report on Mambourin, the principle benefits of a 20-min neighbourhood, are the following:
20-minute neighbourhoods don't only exist in Melbourne of course, but the conscious effort to plan for short distances is a conscious effort that will need to be done at plan making stage.
In England, 91% of the 803,000 homes built between 2011 and 2019 were built in the suburbs, which by chance also highlights the key implementation challenge for the 20-minute neighbourhood. In urban fringe locations, the closest town centre tends to be further away than 20-minutes, and many residential projects tend not to plan in extra services, which often is tried to be covered indirectly through with developer contributions.
The report on Mambourin shows how there are a number of key factors in delivering the 20-minute neighbourhood, starting with a built form suitable to walking and early consideration of the location of community infrastructure.
Another key aspect is the coordination of the delivery and staging of any new community infrastructure, as that has a major impact on the sustainability of a scheme from the get-go.
The report on the 20-min neighbourhood notes the following challenges, especially in the implementation of the community infrastructure.
Similar challenges are typical for any larger new built project. It was demonstrated in the development of Cambourne, UK, for instance, a major development in an out-of-town locations where residents reported lack of activity during day time hours, delayed phasing of school places, a lack of community meeting spaces or a retail or entertainment offer within the development.
What can we do better?
The Melbourne report captured several key lessons for 20-minute city principles in suburban locations, based on an insightful analysis of the provision locations and phasing of the community infrastructure.
The key recommendations and lessons learned for me were those below. These do not appear as surprises. Given the large developments are complex, given the sheer number of people involved, and eventualities in any project, these principles can still pan out in unexpected ways if not kept on top of:
The majority of new housing developments are built in sub urban locations. The report on the planning for Mambourin based on 20-minute neighbourhood principles provide essential insights for improving the design quality in new built residential master plans in suburban location.
Future challenges in relation to global climate emergency and now Covid-19 show remind that an easy-to-walk neighbourhood with key community infrastructure nearby is essential to achieving health and well-being; and it helps to live more sustainably, too.
We need better ways of coordinating local insights and testing options with a large number of local decision-makers and residents. A key focus of the Melbourne example is infrastructure audits based on access to key facilities to allow shortcomings to be identified early on in the process.
Did you know you can use PlaceChangers Site Insights tools to analyse your proposals?