A new idea – the 20 minute village

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Rex Burkholder is from Portland in the United States. For the past 10 years in this city, urban mobility has been a resilience issue that has been yielding results. Rex who is responsible for the city’s transport system believes that “opening up both poor and rich suburbs is a major social and environmental urbanisation issue”.

By making it possible to cover greater distances, cars have contributed to pushing back the limits of cities and encouraged a wider spread organisation of activities. This has had a double effect on urban spaces. Firstly, from an environmental point of view, the carbon dioxide output caused by congested roads has seriously affected the whole ecosystem. Secondly, on a social level, in cites where mobility is the norm, poorer populations run the risk of being marginalised.

As Rex highlighted, “during the prosperous years in the United States, we tended to get further away from city centres without necessarily creating new communities locally. Americans on the outskirts of towns relied on their cars to do their shopping, take their children to school and go to work.”

But the new “20-minute village” concept changed this vision of urbanisation. Whether one is walking, cycling or using public transport, all essential activities and services (food, doctors, schools, theatres…) must be accessible in less than 20 minutes. On the outskirts of towns, villages are being recreated and having to go “downtown” is once again becoming an exception. The idea is to consider towns as groups of autonomous villages where the inhabitants own and share their “village” whilst still feeling they are part of the town. The urban village is therefore a space that brings together the best of both urban and rural worlds in a harmonious and symbiotic way.

“The results in Portland are encouraging. Between 1991 and 2011, the number of road users decreased by 10%, the number of single journeys on public transport increased by 80% and the number of cyclists increased by 200%. Over 10 years, the city has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 10%. Relationships between inhabitants have been strengthened. We are affecting urban resilience by favouring social interaction.”

Rex attended the international “Cities and climate change” summit in Bogota and wanted to share the project the American city had set up. He also wanted to swap views with others about future climate challenges and learn from them by finding out about other local initiatives that have been implemented. As he explained, “we must not dissociate carbon emissions from the evolving needs of our societies. Owning a car is no longer a symbol of wealth, quite the opposite.”

Roxanne Crossley, Bogota

The “Cities and climate change” summit was held in Bogota from the 19 to 21 November 2012. It was co-organised by the French Development Agency (AFD) and brought together mayors and experts from all over the world so that they could discuss challenges linked to population growth and its social and environmental effects.

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