Whether they are called 20 minute neighbourhoods, 15 minute places, walkable neighbourhoods or places of small distances, living locally with easy access to most of the facilities and activities we need on a daily basis is something that can benefit everyone.
However, 20 minute neighbourhoods are not simply about accessing amenities. They can have real benefits for health, the environment and the local economy. They can help to reduce car use, encouraging people to walk, wheel and cycle more, provide easy access to green spaces and help to build connections and a positive sense of community and belonging. A 20 minute neighbourhood is a place where people want and can afford to live so, importantly, affordable housing must be part of it.
Many existing places will already operate as 20 minute neighbourhoods, some may need some changes to harness the benefits of the concept. New and emerging places will require careful planning and consideration of the many assets and interconnections required by a community to deliver 20 minute neighbourhoods.
But these are all places that are 'liveable'; places where the environment improves the quality of life and provides us with a layer of resilience against challenges, be that a pandemic, the climate crisis, poverty or isolation and loneliness.
Characteristics of 20 minute neighbourhoods
Each place is different, with its own communities, characteristics, history, aspirations and challenges for the future.
The characteristics of 20 minute neighbourhoods across Scotland's villages, towns and cities will differ depending on their circumstances. For example, remote, rural and island communities may have infrastructure spread over larger areas. Although access to services and facilities in these instances might not be achievable within a 20 minute walk, the principles of creating connected, attractive places where the environment supports a high quality of life are still relevant.
Whatever the context, 20 Minute Neighbourhoods are an opportunity to rethink how housing, services, city, town or village centres can support new ways of working, homeworking and community hubs, reducing demand for motorised travel and getting more people walking, wheeling and cycling.
A 20 minute neighbourhood is not a tick box exercise and there is no formula or rigid set of requirements. However, there are certain characteristics that help help embed the 20 minute neighbourhood approach.
Generally, the characteristics of a 20 minute neighbourhoods will include:
- a safe, accessible, and well connected movement network for pedestrians and cyclists
- high-quality public spaces, streets and open space
- good access to services that support local living
- a variety of housing types, of different sizes, levels of affordability and tenure, that supports diversity, the ability to age in place, and housing densities and that can support local services
- inclusive and easy access to public transport that caters for different needs, connecting people to jobs and other services further afield
- high quality green spaces for people to enjoy and opportunities for local food production
- thriving local economies with employment and opportunities for community wealth building
- good digital connectivity to enable flexible working, business opportunities, and remote access to public services
- formal and informal play spaces for children
- community participation and local engagement opportunities
Delivering 20 minute neighbourhoods involves an understanding of the opportunities and challenges in a particular place. It requires decisions that make the best use of redundant and vacant land and buildings and retaining, re-using and retrofitting buildings.
It's important to understand that 20 minute neighbourhoods are not 'islands' nor are they the only consideration in planning places and services. They need to enjoy good quality, sustainable connections to the wider environment as part of a network of distinctive places, each with their own offer, requirements, and identity.
20 minute neighbourhoods can support the transformative social and economic change that will be needed to tackle some of the key challenges we face around climate, health, green recovery and the resilience of our communities.
Tackling the climate crisis
Transport is the largest contributor to emissions in Scotland. It accounted for 35.6% of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 and almost 40% of those emissions came from car journeys - the highest emitting mode of transport.
Reducing the need to travel has obvious benefits for the climate and The Scottish Government Update to the Climate Change Plan sets out a commitment to reduce car kilometres by 20% by 2032, with sustainable transport the instinctive first choice for people.
Walkable places, where shops, services and employment are easily accessible will play a major role in achieving this, reducing commuting to places of work, and cutting car travel to shops and for leisure. With an approach that focusses on a less intensive use of the road network, there is opportunity to repurpose this space, providing more space for people and nature. Taking a place-based approach means that issues like sustainable urban drainage can included, using swales and rain gardens, helping to enhance our urban environments and providing space for greater biodiversity. The focus on local living also provides opportunities for local food production and local enterprises, reducing embodied energy in the foods we eat and the goods we buy.
A focus on liveability in local settings can also help to focus on what assets exist in places and what future uses they may have to support the community. Retrofitting and repurposing existing buildings reduces the carbon associated with new construction and leaves the embodied carbon in the existing structure in place.
Adults should aim for around 20 - 30 minutes moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, as a daily minimum. 20 minute neighbourhoods help to ensure that much of this activity can be accommodated within our normal daily patterns of behaviour. When then a place is attractive and easy to move around, individuals are encouraged to choose walking, wheeling or cycling, with benefits for physical and mental health. Fewer vehicles on our roads, travelling at lower speeds can help to increase walking, wheeling and cycling and improve air quality.
Access to green space is an important element of a 20 minute neighbourhood, and this provides opportunities for play and recreation for adults and children. Access to parks and nature, as well as wider community facilities, can also improve social interaction, helping to address isolation and loneliness and supporting better mental and physical wellbeing.
A green recovery
The Covid-19 pandemic has altered many existing perceptions and patterns of work and life. Many people have benefitted from home working, spending more time in their local areas, using local shops and spaces. This has created conditions for more local facilities, supporting the principles of community wealth building. Although these patterns of behaviour have been a necessary response to the pandemic, they have had positive effects for individuals that can be sustained and enhanced by embedding 20 minute neighbourhoods across Scotland. There is potential for local centres to be invigorated and regenerated, providing more opportunities for employment, more locally based facilities and a stronger sense of purpose and identity.
It is important that the cost of transport doesn't limit access to good quality services. The walkable nature of 20 minute neighbourhoods can help address the transport inequalities that exist across Scotland, contributing fairly and equally to the growth of an inclusive, net-zero economy and supporting the principles of the Just Transition Commission.
Liveability and resilience
Inclusivity is at the heart of what a 20 minute neighbourhood is. Places that respond to the needs of everyone in the community have the greatest potential to create opportunities for people to work, relax, exercise and thrive. Putting people at the centre of the way their communities are planned, how they operate and evolve leads to positive impacts on their everyday life.
Successful communities are forged when there is a collective sense of ownership and connection to place and when local people are at the heart of the decisions that affect them.
The ability to live locally allows people to spend more time within their communities with neighbours, friends and family, with opportunities for human connectivity, inclusivity, socialising, play and recreation. Communities connected in these ways are more likely to demonstrate resilience in times of crisis or difficulty.
Retro fitting and repurposing buildings of historical, heritage or civic value in town centres preserves heritage, builds on the local identity, nurtures civic pride and opportunities for local cultural activity. Our town centres can be filled with local business and enterprise, community hubs and opportunities for local working and to be self-sustaining.
Diversity in the housing offering to suit all ages, all abilities and different living preferences of the people means communities can evolve and grow together. The ability to grow older in place has real advantages for a community. Not only are there benefits to the health of older people when they are part of an active community, but the local knowledge, history and skills are shared across the community.