The idea of a 15-minute city is one of the most polarising concepts to have emerged in recent years. Arguments for and against the plan – which involves creating regions in which people live within a quarter hour walk or bike ride to work, necessities and lifestyle outlets – have been aired across various sectors, from urban planning and government to academia and community groups. On the commercial property side, the concept is seen as a plus due to the large volume of business precincts these communities require.

But first, what is it?

The term 15-minute city was coined in 2016 by Franco-Colombian scientist, Professor Carlos Moreno, a specialist in ‘intelligent control of complex systems’. His idea was that being within 15 minutes of the basic requirements of regular daily life including workplaces, food and grocery stores, cinemas, restaurants, doctor’s surgeries and so on would benefit both the environment and consumers. Arranging communities in such a way would make for happier, healthier societies in which jobs and all else were accessible by bike or on foot, thus cutting the need for lengthy commutes by car or other means of motorised transport while promoting the push to a zero-carbon future.

Not everyone shares this utopian vision. Opponents of the idea tend to adhere to conspiracy theory-type views that a 15-minute city is more akin to a Stalinist plan to keep people more easily under control. When the concept was raised in Edmonton, Canada, for instance, conspiracy theorists spread flyers purporting that a 15 minute city would allow governments to monitor people’s movements right down to their carbon footprints. The flyer read: “You will spend 90 per cent of your life in this 15-minute area as they are monitoring your carbon footprint.”

The upside

The supporting argument however is rooted in societal solidarity and greener living, the pursuit of which has been widely embraced by business as well as residents wanting a more convenient and relaxed lifestyle where long commutes become unnecessary.

The plan was given widespread publicity in 2020 when Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo placed a big stake of her re-election campaign on the 15-minute city concept. People liked her support of a pedestrian and cycle-centred future and Ms Hidalgo was duly re-elected.

In Australia, one of the more prominent examples of such an area is the new city of Merrifield taking shape 30km north of the Melbourne CBD in Victoria. Underway since 2011, the project involves transforming over 1500 hectares of land into residential communities with commercial and industrial precincts in and around them that which will deliver around 30,000 jobs.

Developer Merrifield Corporation has stated its aim is not to create a new suburb isolated on the edge of Melbourne but one where employment, lifestyle opportunities and conveniences are created close to where people live.

 The Victorian State government has been committed to developing areas such as Merrifield for some time, albeit like several other government bodies, with the addition of five minutes on the original concept. Victoria officially committed to the idea with the release of its 20-minute neighbourhood policy initiative in 2017.

Merrifield is now well underway and delivering significant benefits for CRE stakeholders as well as new residents. The city comprises an industrial employment area on the east bordering the Hume Freeway, which sits adjacent the commercial and retail zones in the new city centre while the residential areas are concentrated on the west. Last week, a sod turning ceremony was held to mark the next stage of development at Merrifield City - a 4-level commercial/mixed-use building to be known as 21 Cityside Circuit. The new development is geared toward businesses looking for modern office space close to Merrifield’s residential communities.

To be built alongside an existing shopping centre, café and restaurant area, it will hold a swimming school, childcare facility, medical suites, gym and commercial offices – all scheduled for completion mid-2024. 21 Cityside Circuit will also be 100 per cent electric with interiors designed to deliver an abundance of natural light within its modern upscale offices.

Delivering convenience

Such neighbourhoods offered high levels of liveability according to UNSW Built Environment Professor Linda Corkery. “The goal of the 20-minute neighbourhood is to make available the essentials of day-to-day life within a convenient walk from home,” she said.

“This means having shops and services, schools, public transport, and employment within a 20-minute walk.

“So considering a typical day, I might need to get my kids to school, collect a script at the chemist, meet a friend for coffee, pick up groceries, and ideally that could all be done on foot.”