Aotearoa New Zealand is not immune from having to confront these big complex problems. There’s no quick fix, but evidence suggests that the right blend of planning and design can make all the difference in creating cleaner, safer, better connected and more equal neighbourhoods.
Consider the 20-minute city - an innovative approach to urban design where all the things that contribute to living a good life are within a 20-minute walk, cycle or quick public transport trip. Your home, work, essential services, public amenities and favourite hospitality and retail haunts are just a stone’s throw away.
20-minute cities are a response to rising transport emissions and sprawling urban regions where long-suffering commuters sit in heavy traffic or spend hours on public transport getting to and from work. They also nicely respond to transport, health and housing inequities, and bring communities closer together.
We know that due to issues of geography, cost and practicality, many people in towns and cities across Aotearoa don't have equal or easy access to existing transport systems. Plus, those living in distant suburbs or satellite towns are often forced into cars through lack of practical alternatives.
Placing more affordable housing, workplaces and public amenities close together in the heart of local neighbourhoods means there's less need for people to use cars. Private vehicles feature less in the 20-minute city - replaced instead with well-connected paths, streets and public spaces designed for everybody.
Prioritising equity and accessibility
A core tenet of the 20-minute city should also be its ability to improve equitable outcomes and improve accessibility for our increasingly diverse communities through the effective urban planning and infrastructure design. 20-minute cities connect the dots with non-motorised modes of travel, public transport links, ride sharing and multi-modal transport. This makes it easier for people to quickly get to where they need to be, without a heavy reliance on private motor vehicles, and helps create more equitable and accessible outcomes for everybody in the community.
In adopting a 20-minute city model, the local community and minority groups need a voice in the planning process. Involving locals throughout the process means planners can identify where people are unable to meet their daily needs. Plans can then be shaped around reducing existing neighbourhood inequities.
Here in Aotearoa, we have an opportunity to create our own definition of the 20-minute city – one that incorporates our unique cultural identity and embraces our unique diversity.
Ultimately, success for Aotearoa would be in applying the Māori principles of sustainability and stewardship, kaitiakitanga. A 20-Minute city in Aotearoa could also look to and learn from papakāinga, a collective form of Māori living.
Build the way we want to live
The concept of a 20-minute city has gained traction recently thanks in part to the global pandemic making it more attainable and desirable.
Globally, our cities have been growing rapidly. By 2050, two thirds of the projected world population will live in urban centres. Here in Aotearoa, around 86 percent of our population live in cities – and the number is on the up.
We can’t continue to build the way we have been. Our cities have largely been designed on the post-war principles of people living in suburbs commuting to work in a CBD by motor vehicle. With 70 years of urbanisation came densification and grid locked cities, which necessitated a re-think in city planning.
Shifts in social behaviour that embrace flexible working, active and environmentally sustainable travel and a digitally enabled world where everything is at our fingertips and on demand is driving a return to localism. That’s where 20-minute cities come in.
Building back public transport
As a result of COVID-19, the public transport sector underwent steep ridership declines and the need to meet major health and safety considerations. This forced transit agencies, local governments and related stakeholders to urgently rethink how to address mobility needs in our cities. Far-reaching challenges lie ahead, but opportunity exists for public transport to evolve and once again connect people to each other and destinations both in and beyond their communities. There is significant opportunity to advance the development of integrated, efficient and accessible public transport systems through the concept of a 20-minute city.
Many of our cities in Aotearoa are primed for adopting the features of a 20-minute city – and the likes of Hamilton are exploring the idea. There’s a laundry list of reasons for it and other local authorities to get on board. Plenty of evidence overseas, including in Melbourne, Paris and Portland show how compact and connected neighbourhoods do wonders for equality of opportunity, quality of life, the environment, and social and community connection.
Find out more
Read more about the 20-minute city here: The 20-min city in Aotearoa | WSP
Click here to read more on creating a decarbonised and equitable transport system in Te Ara Matatika: the Fair Path