How long does it take you to walk to the shops? What about your nearest green space? The idea of the ‘fifteen-minute city’ is that you should be able to reach shops, work, education, health, parks and culture in a short walk or cycle.
It’s an idea taking off in Paris, Melbourne – and London. What’s available within a small circumference around home has become more important than ever during the pandemic.
Lots of Southwark residents are within walking distance of the basic elements of the fifteen-minute city. But how good are the links between homes, shops and parks?
It’s not much fun walking when pavements are too narrow to pass each other comfortably. It’s horrible squeezing onto a traffic island as trucks thunder past on both sides, or holding onto children for dear life in case they step into the path of a car. Reduce the number of cars and vans, make space on pavements for people using wheelchairs and buggies, and suddenly walking can become a pleasure. A short walk to school becomes a time to talk, to notice the changing seasons, to say hello to neighbours, cats and dogs…
Pick up time at my local primary school has been transformed in recent months. The street is now a ‘school street’: one end has been closed to through traffic with bollards, and for 45 minutes each morning and afternoon, staff pull moveable barriers across the other end, allowing in and out any residents who need to drive. Parents chat as children scoot and cycle up and down, letting off steam after the day. Small groups of older children walk home independently. You can hear birds – and new connections being made in relaxed conversation. Unsurprisingly, walking and cycling to school is associated with better academic scores and improved behaviour.
Reducing traffic to enable walking and cycling is a virtuous circle, with benefits for physical and mental health, community and commerce – as the streams of people on foot and bike on Rye Lane and around the Walworth Road Low Traffic Neighbourhood suggest. A fifteen-minute Southwark is within our reach.
More about school streets: www.schoolstreets.org.uk
How far could you get in 20 (or five) minutes of unhurried cycling? www.southwarkcyclists.org.uk/wherecanicycleto.