15 minute settlements for 15 minute cities

As we develop our Build Back Rural project, and the associated mobile factory, we are exploring different environments and theoretical approaches which this project would relate to, measuring its impact within the UK. One of these, is the 15 minute city.

Historically, cities within the UK have grown organically as a merger of smaller, perhaps rural, settlements. The concept of the 15-minute city is slowly being implemented throughout the UK and more quickly further afield, making it important for us to consider its relevance to the cities of the future. This is even more prevalent during (and after) the Covid-19 pandemic, as many people seek refuge from large, dense cities for a safer rural life. Traditional rural communities are not able to easily absorb this societal transformation, and lack affordable housing as well as education and healthcare facilities. How then, can the principles of a 15-minute city be applicable within a rural environment, and provide for the changing requirements?

the 15 minute settlement

There are a number of key elements to the 15-minute city, outlined by Carlos Moreno, which must be within 15 minutes of both an individual’s home, and each other:

  1. To learn

  2. To work

  3. To re-use

  4. Groceries

  5. To relax

  6. To engage

  7. To heal

  8. Recreation

  9. To eat well

Taking each of these principles to see where they apply within a rural setting, it quickly becomes evident that there is a lot lacking. "To heal”, for example: there are very few hospitals, hospices or treatment centres within rural locations, and quite often patients have to travel considerable distances for specific, or even emergency, treatment. To enable the 15 minute cities of the future, we need to consider the needs of the small settlements now.

settlement growth

Facilitating access by remote rural locations to MMC (modern methods of construction) through the mobile factory concept we are developing, enables community or privately-owned land to be utilised to build the resources needed for a sustainable community, and in time, theoretically, for it to grow into a city of the future.

In previous journal posts we have explored the sustainability of the Build Back Rural proposal as a route to a better quality of life for rural communities. The mobile factory proposition allows sustainable and organic expansion to be planned (as opposed to urban sprawl) in a way that has a relationship to the unique architecture of rural settlements, whilst also empowering communities to take control of how they see the future of their settlement.

It is important to distinguish that while we are examining the application of the 15-minute city principles to rural life, in particularly in Scotland, we are not proposing that rural settlements should expand to become large conurbations. Rather, the principles are predicated on continuing population growth throughout the UK, and the need to plan for this, in ways that sustain the unique nature of these locations.

There are many differences between rural and urban areas that will influence the the way in which the 15-minute city concept is implemented, whether with or without our proposed mobile factory. Transport, for example, within urban areas is slowly moving away from car usage towards active travel whereas it would be unrealistic currently to expect public transport and cycling routes to be created within rural areas to connect every farm, settlement or individual house. Pragmatic acceptance of the fact that people in these environments will continue to rely on motorised vehicles makes it possible to envisage more innovative applications of the 15-minute city principles being throughout Scotland’s existing community networks.

In a nod to convention, the 15-minute city concept relies, to a certain extent, on governing bodies (local councils, national government, enterprise agencies, etc.) being willing to spend money on implementing the necessary transport routes and facilities. The Build Back Rural project, by contrast, proposes an alternative approach by enabling local residents and groups within communities to take responsibility for creating the networks they need to sustain, and improve, their way of life, at the same time as actively working to meet the affordable housing targets local councils are obliged, but all too often failing, to meet.