the 15-minute city concept | Mark Meyer, Monte Anderson & Kevin Shepherd
The 15-Minute City is a residential urban concept revolving around accessibility and convenience. At its root, it is the idea that a person’s basic needs can be met within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their home. The creator of this idea, French-Colombian scientist Carlos Moreno, won the 2021 Obel Award — an international prize for architecture that honors recent and outstanding architectural contributions to human development all over the world.
TBG Principal and Chairman of the Board Mark Meyer, PLA led a virtual discussion of the 15-Minute City concept that included Kevin Shepherd, PE, ENV-SP, founder and CEO of Verdunity, and President of Options Real Estate, Monte Anderson and developer of MidTowne in Midlothian, Texas to discuss how as planner, civil engineer, and real estate developer this idea is making its way into each realm of design.
Q: What does the 15-Minute City mean to you?
Anderson: Quality of life. This concept has to do with what happens from 8:00am on Monday to 5:00pm on Friday. How can I get to work? Get a haircut? What about taking the kids to and from school? It’s how to deal with things on a day-to-day basis.
Meyer: It seems like social issues are fundamental to your design process.
Anderson: That’s true; it’s a driving factor of mine. A person’s social situation is one of the more important elements to consider when looking at design.
Shepherd: There’s a 2010 article by IBM that discusses the neighborhood-centric city that says quality of life is measured at the neighborhood level. Mental and social health really goes back to the design of our neighborhoods.
Q: What was your inspiration going into the design of MidTowne community project?
Midlothian’s MidTowne development is a two-decade mixed-use district that TBG worked with Options Real Estate to create a walkable community and flexible development pattern. Over the years the development has evolved into a development that promotes place and people over the car. The community includes all ages of walkable school access, walkable retail from an independent pharmacy to retail, live-work buildings and housing for all ages. TBG’s efforts included developing the masterplan plan and zoning to help implement the overall plan.
Anderson: I did with MidTowne what I do with all of my projects — think of someone I love and care for. This time it was my mother, who, before MidTowne, lived in assisted living with poor accessibility to my family and me. I wanted to create an environment that made it easy to access and for the residents, like my mother, to do daily tasks. It came to be a multi-use, multi-generational site that allows my mom to have independence, as well as allows my children to do the same when visiting their grandmother.
Q: Why is it that so many people in our profession never think about projects with people they love in mind? Is it due to institutional capital?
Anderson: I believe it is institutional capital. The reason many developers, planners, and civil engineers don’t always think of design with a real person or loved one at the forefront can be traced back to institutional capital. Companies have to put out big money, but that not all companies are given the opportunity to do this, even though local developers can often create the same capital.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how these multi-generational, mixed-use communities work for family health and family wealth?
Shepherd: The fiscal health of a city depends not only on the city, but equally the people who live there. It comes down to how much people are willing and able to afford. A huge part of closing the affordability gap, he says, is missing middle housing. A part of the work we do at Verdunity is collaborating with cities to be smarter about their infrastructure, land use, and planning. An example of this is educating residents on the cost of living outside of housing, which when not understood, can contribute to the housing affordability crisis.
Q: Can you talk about your challenge in creating live-work units?
Anderson: The apartment and duplex side of the housing spectrum is often disliked, which can be challenging. However, it allows people with different price points and income to live in desired areas.
Anderson: I have this neighbor in my building — it’s one I own and is located above a restaurant. My neighbor has a disability and works at the local pharmacy down the street. We have dissimilar income levels, but despite this he’s able to afford living there because of his unit’s smaller size. He’s able to live in a nice apartment with a prime location and walk to his place of work. The varying unit sizes allows a variation in cost and opens the door to a wider range of residents.
Q: How do we educate cities on the 15-Minute City and make sure we aren’t causing gentrification before it’s even designed?
Shepherd: Thinking about things from a code standpoint has been helpful, but truthfully, money is the language everybody speaks. Verdunity has had great success with explaining things like land use and zoning through the lens of cost. The conversation of ‘why’ needs to happen or else the city council will cave. Plan developments are beneficial in that little details can be negotiated, which is something TBG excels at. The ‘why’ is a community-wide conversation, with trust being the key element. The municipalities must defend their standards and push back on a developer if needed.
Q: What does trust mean to you? Are there still challenges with this in working with a City?
Anderson: Policy decisions that would get rid of parking requirements, do away with 5,000 square foot restaurants and superblocks, and allow duplexes are a few that can help to prevent gentrification. This way money is streamlined to the local community. In the Bishop Arts district of Dallas, the exact opposite of this happened. Once the City Council made zoning six stories, the land went from $10/foot to $40/foot overnight.
Q: What are your thoughts on 15-Minute cities with mid-rise and 20-story buildings that are potentially in jeopardy of creating wealth for small businesses?
Shepherd: ‘Cultivate fiscal health and local wealth’ is a phrase I like to use, with emphasis on the word cultivate. It means growing and nurturing this fiscal and local wealth. A strong neighborhood and city are built incrementally at a smaller scale. Parking and cars are fundamental to this idea. Having lived in Europe for a few years I have a solid perspective of truly walkable cities. It’s a challenge to pull people back from the auto-centric lifestyle, though.
Q: This approach is certainly not taking the easy way out. What keeps you motivated?
Anderson: What got me up this morning is that we’re changing the course this ship is going. That’s what gets me up — the ability to create change. I want to leave behind a better future for my children.
Meyer, Anderson, and Shepherd may not see the total end result in their lifetime, but their talents and power allow them to at least get things on the right path. Meyer closes by thanking the two guests and emphasizes that “building the appropriate place and scale is one of the most relevant things in society right now.”
The impact a person’s environment has on them is truly substantial, and one whose significance is often disregarded or unknown. Designing appropriate, sensible, and accessible communities, like the 15-Minute City solves more problems than meets the eye, and we are fortunate as planners and landscape architects at TBG to have the ability to contribute to this movement.