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Perfect Circle guest blog: How can 15-minute neighbourhoods offer environmental sustainability?

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The growing response to the climate crisis has made us review how we live and work in a major way. In our latest guest blog, sustainability experts from Perfect Circle, a SCAPE partner, explain how a ’15-minute neighbourhood’ could be the key to tackling net zero in the built environment.

A great deal of imaginative work is going into rebuilding for the future and essential changes are being embraced to drive net zero solutions in construction. This includes the concept of a ‘15-minute neighbourhood’.

What is a 15-minute neighbourhood?

A 15-minute neighbourhood is an environment constructed where residents can access all their basic needs within a 15-minute walk or cycle from their homes.

Adapting to a new sustainable way of working

Dr Jose Hernandez, sustainability director at Pick Everard, one of Perfect Circle’s shareholders and founding partners, says we are living in interesting times as city centres face a number of issues, including a surplus of office and retail space which is no longer needed.

“There are moves to convert some of these spaces to alleviate housing pressures but there are concerns if that kind of accommodation is of sufficient quality and meeting people’s needs. There is a lot we can learn from the 15-minute city idea as we face up to the challenges of the future.

"How do we help people to access everything they need, from shopping to healthcare, just a quarter of an hour from home by walking or cycling?

“Originally, the 15-minute concept was planned for city centres, but it now has the potential to be applied everywhere. If more people are going to be working from home, that changes their geographical boundaries, so you have more of a 15-minute neighbourhood.

“It is a huge challenge that needs some great thinking going forward, looking at a redefinition of lifestyles as well as the infrastructure that will be required.”

What are the benefits of a 15-minute neighbourhood?

The original concept of the 15-minute neighbourhood came from looking at the benefits it would bring to people’s health and wellbeing. The environment would prompt sustainable transportation and help reduce carbon emissions.

Jose added: “In some neighbourhoods, looking after the health and wellbeing of people who have been working from home and increasingly shopping online should involve helping them to enjoy more quality time outdoors. We need to ensure there are more open, green spaces for people to access – and that is also a major factor in combating climate change.”

Any health benefits from people walking and cycling more need to be considered in the context of reducing emissions and improving air quality by tackling pollution.

Sara Boonham, head of cost management UK at Gleeds, one of Perfect Circle’s shareholders and founding partners, added: “The French concept of the ‘15-minute city’ in which all residents are able to meet most of their needs within a short walk or bike ride from their home is noted as being more relevant than ever as a principle for urban development.

“The convenient location of services saves time and improves quality of life and of course, the need for transportation is minimised and therefore the reduction in fuel mitigates global warming.”

Tackling our infrastructure

Tara-Leigh McVey, infrastructure director at Perfect Circle, says the 15-minute neighbourhood is an exciting concept for the world of infrastructure, particularly with how important the delivery and end performance is for the user.

“Often in design, it’s about the lifespan of a bridge or structure, for example, but this adds in an entire new dimension that will drive us as an industry to think about how many purposes that piece of infrastructure can deliver to a community.

“We need to be thinking about this from day one at the pre-feasibility stage as it will influence the entire development of the design, such as links to the right stakeholders, the benefit and cost evaluations and potentially funding regimes.”

Working together to build a carbon neutral future

“As we move towards achieving a carbon neutral future, it’s vital that everyone involved in the built environment – whether that’s contractors, designers, planners or councillors – works collaboratively to create a sustainable infrastructure,” says Jose.

“It is a long-term plan and needs significant investment, commitment and support – but we are moving in the right direction and there are many positive things we can look forward to in the future.”