Last autumn Dublin Chamber launched an ambitious new urban vision for the capital, calling for the “15-Minute City” principle to become a standard in all development planning.
In Dublin: A 15-Minute City, it calls for the concept of “hyper-proximity” to be adopted by planners, following the approach taken in cities such as Melbourne, Barcelona and Paris.
The aim is to enhance both quality of life and sustainability.
The organisation believes Covid lockdowns have highlighted the importance of urban planning that is focused on creating liveable, walkable communities in which people can live and access most of their daily needs within 15 minutes of their front door and under their own steam – either walking or cycling.
The ideal is to have not just diverse housing options but access to safe cycle routes, as well as local public transport, health facilities, parks, shops and other key infrastructure.
It sounds simple but, according to Dublin Chamber, it stands in contrast to a century of planning that has focused on separating residential areas from those for retail, employment, manufacturing and entertainment.
“By adopting the 15-Minute City principle we can significantly enhance the livability of Dublin. Reduced congestion and pollution, enhanced public spaces, thriving local economies and efficient public transport would all improve Dublin’s international reputation and competitiveness,” said director of public and international affairs Aebhric McGibney, at its launch.
“Such a vision, if carried out successfully, could prove transformative for Dublin and enhance not only the lives of its residents and the local economy but its attractiveness as a place in which to do business. As remote working continues into the future, the 15-Minute City concept will be pivotal in reimagining the city.”
The 15-Minute City is a new name for a well-established concept in planning. It’s also one on which Dublin was historically built, if not planned, via a network of what were first country and then suburban villages, from Rathfarnham on the southside to Phibsborough on the northside.
"We are a city that has evolved from neighbourhoods; urban villages like Finglas, Rathmines, Fairview and Raheny," says Erika Casey, a planning expert from Dublin City Council.
All have faced similar challenges. “The city as a whole has been under pressure from out-of-town shopping centres along the M50, from Blanchardstown to the Pavilions [in Swords] to Dundrum, while the evolution of the bigger supermarkets had an impact on smaller, local traders who couldn’t compete. The rise of private car ownership meant people could access facilities outside of their own neighbourhood,” she says.
Commuting by car, to work and to shop, became a fact of life.
The events of the past year pressed the pause button. “Covid has refocused everyone’s attention to the importance of their neighbourhood, and how lucky they are to have a local butcher or greengrocer,” she says. An appreciation of smaller, independent, local retailers had already been growing but “Covid accelerated it”.
But while it is important to embrace local neighbourhoods, planners must also take a blended approach that recognises the importance of Dublin city centre as a centre of economic development.
It will always be a magnet for corporate HQs, department stores, and as a hub for major cultural and entertainment facilities. “A strong, dynamic city centre is vital for higher-end goods and services. That is complemented by a network of neighbourhoods which meets your day-to-day needs but doesn’t supplant the city centre for higher order goods or services,” she explains.
To be vibrant and sustainable, any city needs to be a centre for social and cultural attractions, for destination retail and food and beverage offerings, as well as being host to a lively night-time economy.
There is, then, a synergy between a city centre and its neighbourhoods. “They feed into each other. For Dublin to be a world-class city to visit, to stay, and for economic initiatives, we have to have places that are attractive for people to live too,” says Casey.
Dublin City Council is reviewing the current City Development Plan 2016-2022, and preparing a new plan to take the city to 2028. Its stated vision is to create “a vibrant city centre complemented by well-serviced and connected neighbourhoods”.
There are challenges. “We are dealing with existing built fabric, which means a lot of improvements and work has to be done retrospectively in terms of refurbishing existing urban villages. That means change, which requires engagement with the huge range of stakeholders involved.”
People may say they want a 15-Minute City, but then object to mechanisms to deliver it such as cycle lanes or traffic calming measures outside their door, she points out.
“Any time you are changing existing fabric it takes time. It’s an incremental process that requires consultation. It’s not something that happens overnight.”
It helps that many of the foundations required for Dublin’s future as a 15-Minute City are already in place. The council’s Your Dublin Your Voice survey, which is being used to inform the current review, found that about 90 per cent of respondents already have a playground, primary school, post office, supermarket, restaurant and park within a 15 minute walk or cycle from their front door.
“A lot of it is here already, in which case it’s about improving it, and making it more attractive and fully accessible,” says Casey.