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Is The 15-Minute City The Future Of Urban Living?

Is life under the pandemic bringing the central business district to an end? Business school professors reveal whether they think the future of post-pandemic urban life is the 15-minute city

Thu Jul 29 2021

Life in capital cities like Paris, London, and New York is seen as glamorous and exciting—the city is where it all happens, from business to nightlife.

The coronavirus pandemic changed that. The last 18-months saw travel, offices, and social lives shut down.

In that time, we’ve been forced to reimagine our lives, and as we look to a post-pandemic future this could fundamentally change what our cities look like.

Paris mayor Ann Hidalgo has proposed one idea: the 15-minute city. Her idea is a network of neighborhoods that provide inhabitants with everything they need within a 15-minute catchment area, from shops and restaurants to parks and workspaces. 

Reimagining the city without waves of commuters

Before the pandemic, the commute was compulsory and working from home was a luxury. Covid changed that. In December 2020, 71% of Americans who were able to work from home were.


“It’s almost like a real-world experiment, and we had no choice,” explains David Hensher (pictured), professor of management at the University of Sydney Business School.

Of those remote workers, 54% said they wanted to continue working from home after the pandemic. Since then, companies like Amazon and Microsoft have assured staff they’ll be able to work from home regularly, and it’s now widely accepted that the working week consists of both in-person and remote work. 

“Now, depending on your occupation and the job you do, you could potentially work anywhere in the world,” says David. “It’s the unintended positive consequence of Covid.”

David estimates office capacity will never reach more than 80% of what it was before. In the UK, as in-office headcount expectations decrease, accounting firm KPMG has announced plans to permanently close its Manchester office, while competitor Deloitte is closing four offices. 

The pandemic has broken the link between the office and work, creating the possibility to rethink our lives and what our cities look like. Gone might be the days where floods of commuters shuttled in and out of major cities on a daily basis.

“It’s about getting rid of a routine and way of living that doesn’t make sense for us,” says Roxana Bobulescu, associate professor at Grenoble School of Management and expert in alternative ways of living.

“If our way of life is no longer making sense, perhaps it’s time to consider alternatives.”


The benefits of the 15-minute city 

Cities usually revolve around a central business district (CBD), the commercial hub where the majority of people work and commute into.

New York City’s Midtown Manhattan is the largest CBD in the world. In 2019, Times Square subway station, one of a number of stations in midtown, was used by 65 million people. But the new hybrid work system means fewer commuters, reducing the focus on CBDs as the main place of work. 


“The CBD will still be important as an office space, but it’ll become home to a mixture of activities,” says David, “some of that office space could become apartments or leisure facilities.”

Changing the way CBDs operate means cities could become decentralized, with people’s workspaces no longer concentrated in one area. 

Reimaging urban living now commuters have the option to largely work from home means the 15-minute city makes sense on paper. It also has a number of benefits.

Roxana from Grenoble (pictured) believes it could help cities become more eco-friendly. 15-minute cities would rely less on public transport, reducing congestion and creating less pollution. They’d also become self-sufficient and more capable of dealing with issues like a global pandemic.

“We have to build resilience to become less dependent on long distance travelled commerce,” she says, “resilience is important, especially when you think of a pandemic.” 

Changing a big capital city like Paris or London into a cluster of 15-minute cities would have its drawbacks, thinks Laetitia Mimoun (pictured below, right), lecturer at City University of London’s business school and an expert in liquid lifestyles. 


“If you had really self-sufficient communities, there would be a huge loss in terms of the creativity and innovation which comes from large scale synergies and big cities,” she thinks.

“You can’t have the same flows and mixing of ideas within small self-sufficient units as in metropolises like Paris or London.” 

But, Laetitia believes the shift would increase overall quality of life, with less time spent commuting and more time spent in lively suburban areas.

“It could rejuvenate and revitalize the suburbs,” she says, “suburbs could become lively, inclusive, and dynamic places.”

Is the 15-minute city even possible? 

The growing number of third-party coworking spaces globally—expected to double by 2024—is a step towards a multi-centered city. But bringing the vision to life requires government help. 

15-minute cities need investment in suburban infrastructure to work, involving lots of small-scale changes—pedestrianized roads or new pathways for example—rather than large infrastructure projects. This creates difficulties, thinks David of the University of Sydney Business School.

“Politicians normally like big projects because they find them easier to cost and benefit from,” he says. Investment in suburban infrastructure is also a long process, one governments don’t always prioritize when election terms last for four or five years. 


But there are signs of change. “Governments are starting to ask what investments they need to start putting into the suburbs, which they’ve generally neglected, that can improve the wellbeing of people living there,” David explains.

Pandemic-induced lockdowns around the world also saw global daily emissions fall, by as much as 17% from April 2019 to April 2020. The heightened focus on the climate crisis this brought means radical social changes have more chance of being listened to than they did before.

“The advantage of a crisis is it reveals the alternatives,” says Roxana of Grenoble. “The seeds are there, and they’ll grow little by little.” 

Whether the idea of the 15-minute city takes off post-pandemic is yet to be seen. However, David’s ‘unintended positive consequences of Covid’ saw our relationships with work and the environment change. And the signs are our relationship with city life might be about to follow.

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When I first stepped onto the campus of City, University of London, I knew I was in for a ride - and not just on the Tube! With its vibrant energy and an impressive repertoire of programs, City U became my home away from home. The Journalism program was kind of a big deal. Rumour was that we were the best in Europe! The lecturers were not just experts in their field; they’re practically journalistic royalty. They were invested, passionate, and had a knack for turning the most flat press release into a riveting news story. With their guidance, I’ve learned to navigate the chaotic world of media like a pro. The campus was a melting pot of every culture, being that we had such a diverse international crowd. Being in the heart of London, I had the world at my fingertips - there was always a new corner to explore, a hidden gem of a cafe to discover, or a street performer! City, University of London wasn't just a university; it was a chapter in my life story that I’ll never forget.




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The diversity at City University facilitates interactions and is a direction toward the unity of the world. The classes are well built to match the number and needs of all students regardless of the elements of diversity that set people apart. The use of technology in delivery makes learning even more interesting and achievable. At City University there is no distinction pegged on the issues that make people unique.




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The team of lecturers at the Uiversity are well experienced. Their level of insight and the methodologies of delivery works for the interes of the leaeners. My learning experience was largely boosted by the level of knowledge of the professors at the institution, and their passion to transfer the same to learners. I appreciate every class I attended because of the level of insight I was able to gather




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The best university I’ve been to

The campus and the people I've met have made it a wonderful experience. I was reared in a small town with a graduating class of only 88 individuals, so moving to City University was a huge adjustment for me. My dorm has more residents than my whole high school combined! I enjoy the atmosphere here, and everyone is so friendly. Outstanding academic options and a stunning campus. Really great from beginning to end. The educators genuinely love what they do, and the students are ready to learn. On or around college, there is always something to do with friends, and the social scene is particularly warm.




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As a student at City university attending Bayes Business School I would totally recommend choosing this university as the experience is exceptional with great social networking opportunities . Professors are significantly helpful, delivering with excellence and professionalism. Everyone is happy to help and make you feel welcomed in such an esteem university as City, offering exceptional development and guidance through out the course.




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