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The City Design Lab at the heart of the 15-minute city

The City Design Lab at the heart of the 15-minute city

The 15-minute city, an urban planning concept popularized by Professor Carlos Moreno, is making a buzz the world over. But behind the formula lies an approach to the city which is at the heart of the process of L’École de design Nantes Atlantique’s City Design Lab, from the launch of the BPGO – LIPPI Connected Environments Chair in 2014 to the more recent work carried out by the Entrepreneurship Territory Innovation chair. Florent Orsoni, director of the City Design Lab, gives us an update on the contribution of design and the school in the development of this concept.

Carlos Moreno was the guest of honor at the Smart City 2015 event co-organized by the City Design Lab and Aire 38.

The City Design Lab has been a long-standing partner of the Entrepreneurship Territory Innovation Chair. How did you first get in touch with Professor Carlos Moreno, the Chair’s Scientific Director?

We had already established a close working relationship with Professor Moreno even before the foundation of the ETI chair, and had the opportunity to share our visions of a "living" smart city serving citizens and sensitive to the major issues of our time.

This vision was then deepened, materialized and developed into the concept of the 15-minute city, the idea that all essential social functions can be found 15 minutes away from home: food, entertainment, housing, work, fitness, education and culture. It’s a far cry from the technology city, yet data can be a powerful indicator of needs.

How does the City Design Lab contribute to the work of the ETI chair?

We were very fortunate to work for over 6 months with Professor Moreno’s teams and the HETIC computer science school to develop the first models and reflections. Behind the clear and obvious concept, however, there was a need to understand the issues and implications. What are these essential services? How can we implement them? How can we identify them? What is the 15-minute perimeter? What data should be collected in order to have viable mapping systems?

Seunghoon Han was lucky enough to be an intern working alongside the professor on the expression of these new services and cartographies. It should be noted that we have had a great deal of autonomy in this work and an impressive team of specialists assisting us.

The platform: a tool for civic participation Illustrations by Seunghoon Han, graduated in 2019, for the White Paper on the 15-minute City 30-minute Territory Paris Project, ETI chair - 2019

The concept of the 15-minute City was at the heart of the municipal campaign in Paris and was widely covered by international media. What’s special about the design of the 15-minute city?

It is clear that these viable services, far from large urban centers, require a design based on proximity, taking into account both their accessibility and economic viability. A very simple example can illustrate the point: having teleworking facilities 15 minutes away from home means being able to have a third place, for example. The same goes for food: we are not talking about a supermarket but about providing new solutions to do some food shopping close to home.

For the urban designer, the concept of the 15-minute city reveals new opportunities for the establishment and viability of services, boosted by digital technology. There is still much to do in this regard to invent these new proximities and go against a specialized zoning model that has long predominated, and that has contributed to disintegrating the social fabric of cities by favoring cars as the exclusive means of locomotion. It is necessary to rethink, among other things, the typology of buildings and to design first floors in particular differently, to offer more flexibility and adaptability.

The implications of the 15-minute city raise serious questions about urban design, thanks to a strange rebound effect. With a more important role for bikes, scooters and what are known as "micro-mobilities", it has to be said that it is a question of operating a transformation to forced walking, amplified by the recent health crisis. The 15-minute city is not merely a concept, it is a reality that is already being trialed in large cities such as Nantes and Paris. We must now find the means to expand it to pre-existing infrastructures, which must be transformed by experimentation and tactical urban planning initiatives in which design has an important role to play…

The High Quality of Social Life Matrix, Illustration Camille Chevroton/City Design Lab for the ETI chair