Imagine you could work, live and play all within walking distance. This is the 20-minute neighbourhood concept that is becoming the new standard of urban living.
The concept of the 20-minute neighbourhood in Australia was originally introduced by the Victorian Government in 2017 when it was implemented into Plan Melbourne 2017-2050, a “metropolitan planning strategy that defines the future shape of [Melbourne] and [Victoria] over the next 35 years”.
The 20-minute neighbourhood was all the talk in 2018 when the Victorian government put into action three pilot projects to test the concept. Since then, this idea has dwindled from Australian planning strategies.
But, as COVID-19 forces us to retreat to our local area, the appeal of a 20-minute neighbourhood concept that encourages local living has resurged Australia-wide.
What is a 20-minute neighbourhood?
The Victorian Government describes the 20-minute neighbourhood as, “Living locally – giving people the ability to meet most of their daily needs within a 20-minute walk from home, with access to safe cycling and local transport options.”
Research into communities has shown that 20 minutes (i.e. 10 minutes to the destination and 10 minutes back home) is the maximum time people are willing to walk to meet their daily needs in a local environment, which includes health services, school and shopping.
Living under COVID-19 restrictions has emphasised the benefits of the 20-minute neighbourhood. “[The 20-minute neighbourhood has] come sharply into focus because we’ve had to stay at home and only go outside for ‘essential’ activities’,” says UNSW Built Environment Professor Linda Corkery. “People are rediscovering their local areas, and we’re seeing increased use of local parks and streets for daily exercise.”
By living in a tight-knit area that promotes physical wellbeing and a connection to the community, Australian’s will see an increase in health benefits.
20-minute (or ‘walkable’) neighbourhoods are designed to support physical activity and promote healthy eating by encouraging people to walk or cycle to complete their daily activities, such as working, socialising, shopping, taking the kids to school and more.
According to the Victorian Government, “By participating in 15 minutes of walking a day, five days a week, the disease burden from physical inactivity would reduce by about 13%. If this is increased to 30 minutes, the burden can be reduced by 26%.”
Professor Corkery says, “Residents of [20-minute] neighbourhoods often have a strong sense of community and connection to place. People are out and about on the street, socialising, supporting local businesses, being involved with local schools and enjoying local parks.”
Living in an active, supportive neighbourhood that allows residents to feel safe and included is shown to lower rates of mental illness, and promote both physical and emotional wellbeing.
The 20-minute neighbourhood provides significant benefits to the Australian environment.
“Walkability and cyclability reduce driving pollutants by as much as 40% and CO2 emissions by 10%,” states Plan Melbourne. “Urban greening and street trees remove pollution and increase tree cover by 10%, which can reduce the energy needed for heating and cooling by 5-10%.
“If 20-minute neighbourhoods existed across Melbourne, they could reduce travel by 9,000,000 passenger kilometres and cut Melbourne’s daily greenhouse gas emission by more than 370,000 tonnes.”
Imagine, then, what could be achieved if the 20-minute neighbourhood was implemented all across Australia.
How to implement a 20-minute neighbourhood
A 20-minute neighbourhood won’t just pop up overnight. Landscape architects and park infrastructure specialists need to take the time to develop spaces that are safe, accessible and connected, and that include extensive retail and public transport options.
Beyond that, housing options for families of all types need to be made available. Urban Planning and Design Professor Carl Grodach from Monash University says, “In low density residential suburban settings, it can be challenging to create walkable environments as homes are often physically disconnected from job centres, retail and entertainment.”
“Popularity boosts property values and then living locally becomes unaffordable,” says Professor Corkery. “We need to make sure that the housing options available will make it possible for families and young professionals to live in [20-minute] neighbourhoods, and at the other end of the spectrum, enable older people to age in place.”
While the 20-minute neighbourhood is more than 20 minutes away from becoming the Australian norm, with COVID-19 encouraging local living, it may be much closer than we think.