Ireland well suited for ‘15-minute cities’ – report finds

Higher density home-building can bring benefit of easier access to amenities, say authors

Irish cities have unique potential to embrace the “15-minute city” concept intended to increase liveability and put urban centres on a sustainable footing, a report published on Thursday has found.

Conducted by Hassell, an international architecture, design, and urban planning practice, the Close to Home report was commissioned by Irish Institutional Property (IIP), which represents institutionally financed investors with significant international backing in the Irish real estate market.

It is positive about the potential for 15-minute living to be be scaled up in Ireland though it also highlights the issue of public resistance to more compact development.

The 15-minute city is a residential urban concept in which all city residents have access to most of their needs - such as green space, education, good food outlets, work and recreation - within a short walk or bicycle ride from where they live.


While it complements current Government policy advocating increased compact urban development, the report concludes “more informed public understanding of the positive benefits of compact growth is necessary to build and sustain public support for this concept”.

A YouGov poll of more than 1,000 Irish people tied into the study found:

– A third of respondents would like to be able to access every essential type of amenity within a 15-minute walk from home but only 10 per cent can at present;

– Some 59 per cent say walkability makes a neighbourhood desirable as a place to live and work;

– Grocery shops, public transport connections and destinations for leisure activities are regarded as being among the most important amenities to have in close proximity;

– Younger people are more supportive of compact urbanism than older age groups, and more likely to identify the benefits of denser developments and resource sharing.

‘Amenity-rich neighbourhoods’

The report concludes “the challenge for decision-makers is to deal with upfront cost and cultural barriers to creating and compact, amenity-rich neighbourhoods”, while the transition has to be led by the public sector to ensure equity of access to nearby amenities.

Improving liveability in Irish cities depends on the right policy decisions and turning the planning system on its head, said Prof Niamh Moore-Cherry of UCD School of Geography, who collaborated on the research.

“Delivering more compact urban developments that put quality of life, individual and community wellbeing at the centre of planning and decision-making will be a key aspect of making Ireland’s cities both more sustainable and liveable for this and future generations,” she added.

“Ireland’s population is set to increase by one million people over the next 20 years. By focusing this growth on the five Irish cities and placing people at the centre of planning, there is every opportunity to catalyse an urban revival that could also help meet the country’s wider social and environmental needs,” said Hassell senior researcher Camilla Siggaard Andersen.

A 15-minute city “doesn’t mean living on top of each other in a concrete jungle”, she underlined. It is about preserving land with less air pollution and more sustainability.

Ireland had “incredible nature and love of outdoors” yet there was “cavalier use of open space with continuing urban sprawl”.

Despite this, Ireland had unique opportunity to transform its cityscapes. “Down to earthiness can apply to cities,” Ms Andersen added.

While municipalities initially respond by saying “that won’t work here”, an inclusive approach could overcome reluctance, she said.

To make it work, “it has to be more sustainable and the convenient choice, with design for enjoyment”.

Changing attitudes should begin with a conversation asking people what they would like to experience in their areas, she suggested.

IIP chief executive Pat Farrell said: "The national compact growth agenda has been adopted in the local development plans, and there is substantial land to develop. But with much higher construction costs for higher density developments relative to lower density developments and a negative public view on compactness, the reality has yet to catch up with the vision."

He hoped the report not only shows “ higher-density, compact living is a necessity in the age of climate change and urban sprawl, but also comes with highly desirable outcomes such as walkability and amenity access and can deliver real improvements in people’s lives”.

All Irish cities are strategically located close to key natural amenities (such as rivers and coasts), but their potential as “blue and green infrastructure” is largely untapped, the report points out.

Irish cities were initially developed as dense, walkable, and amenity-rich places until the mid-19th century, “but suburban sprawl from the mid-20th century and a reliance on private motor transport has diminished these initial assets” it finds.

At present, the cities struggle with high levels of car-dependency, low levels of density, and large areas of amenity-poor neighbourhoods, it notes.

Blockages to making 15-minute cities a reality include “lack of public understanding of the need for new forms of urban living at higher densities to drive sustainability and the viability of public infrastructure”.

There is a need to show how upfront cost and challenges associated with building more compact, amenity-rich neighbourhoods can be spread over time, it suggests, and to building on “a weak record in Ireland of successful compact growth”.

This will require, the report says, “transcending short-term political gain in favour of long-term, sustainable plans”, it adds, while building mutual trust between citizens, public authorities, and the private sector.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times