Fifteen Minute Cities are spreading - even to villages - as the movement takes off.
Mellac, in northwestern France, is not a major name on the Brittany tourist trail. With a population of just over 3000 souls, the village is hardly bustling. But it is part of a quiet global revolution to re-shape the way we're living.
A new movement - to establish Fifteen Minute Cities - is resonating everywhere, from London, to Copenhagen, to the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. The simplicity of the idea that everything you need should be no more than a quarter of an hour away by foot or bicycle from your front door, cannot hide its depth or ambition. While the movement is already transforming urban living, its presence even in an under-visited part of France shows the breadth of its appeal.
Mellac has an organic supermarket and a homeware shop, but it’s the village's Good Eeffee cosmetics store, which uses Ankorstore, an online wholesale marketplace for small businesses, that has really big ambitions. Companies like Ankorstore are making Fifteen Minute Cities a reality by giving small businesses access to the kind of sophisticated products usually only found on the fashionable boulevards of capital cities.
Low minimum orders, and access to 20,000 lines, let small businesses compete with bigger rivals. So shops like Good Eeffee can stock big-draw products in small towns. “I can discover brands and offer new products for my customers to try with limited financial risk,” says Maïté Favennec, the shop’s founder.
Ankorstore also has some big-name advocates, keen to help change the way we live, work, and relax. In the UK, Mary Portas was a BBC hit in the first decade of the 2000s. With her razor-sharp, flame-colored bob-cut she dispensed no-nonsense business advice to mom-and-pop stores competing with the big chains.
Three seasons of ‘Mary Queen of Shops’ even sent her through the most famous front door in Britain, when Prime Minister David Cameron brought Portas into 10 Downing Street in 2011 to lead a policy push to energize town centers. In 2023, she sees an opportunity for Fifteen Minute Cities to thrive after Covid-19 changed the world.
While there are major implications for investors, policymakers, and planners, Portas knows that revolutions usually start small. Nowadays, the bob-cut has given way to a glamorous natural look with eye-catching highlights, channeling the British retail guru’s ability to pick out the most compelling strands of cutting-edge thinking.
She cites a well-established real estate management technique and shows how it can work in local neighborhoods. "Landlords creating a new destination give a 'peppercorn' rent to the businesses they want … I'd love to see councils understand what is important for regenerating our high streets, and what businesses we need to feed a sense of local community. This isn't just about individual landlords or businesses, it's about real cohesion."
Everything you need should be no more than a quarter of an hour away by foot or bicycle from your front door.
Portas points out that during Covid, a sense of community and togetherness, even during lockdown, made people more aware of the kind of neighborhood businesses that build resilience: local bakeries and grocers, takeaways, coffee shops, and even pubs offering carry-out beer.
Along with the bright and glamorous Good Eeffee, these are the firms that can bind communities together, drawing in customers. They should benefit from the same lower rents offered to cornerstone tenants, which should also include the doctors surgeries, gyms, and other service providers that everyone needs.
A similar approach is at work in Copenhagen, helping one of the Danish capital's major landlords to burnish its reputation after a controversial change of ownership. Kereby, which owns a chunk of the city's historic housing stock, also has hundreds of ground-floor commercial tenants. The company pledges to match them to the character of the local community, what it calls "the unique feeling that makes each city district so special".
Kereby’s commitment to local color and character follows the company’s acquisition by US private equity giant Blackstone. After the deal, local laws were introduced to prevent residential rent rises unless accompanied by improved energy efficiency. Reflecting the Environmental Social Governance issues currently sweeping the investment management industry, the concept also aids good relations with local communities.
Kereby’s commitment has helped Vesterbro, in the west of Copenhagen, add to its appeal while remaining true to its roots. It’s now home to designer shops and courtyard bars where once there were mostly tattoo parlors and late-night venues (although some of these remain). It also helps the vintage fashion shops, furniture stores and bookshops of the Frederiksberg district to survive alongside upscale retailers.
The concept is further amplified in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom’s blockbuster Neom development on the Red Sea coast has huge ambitions. One of its main features, The Line, is a linear smart city that will have no cars, only walkways between its neighborhoods, with all freight conveyed underground. Public transport will link the whole development in under 20 minutes. Despite doubts about the sheer scale of the vision, the importance of the fifteen-minute living concept to these cutting-edge plans shows how well-established it has become.
Back in the UK, in a world-famous but unglamorous part of London, it is already clearly underway. Wembley Park, near England's national football stadium, is a multi-million pound residential and retail development. Its planners are well aware of how the right mix of amenities, and the lifestyle they offer, make all the difference when attracting buyers for its homes. There are three major supermarket chains within walking distance, over 50 places to eat and drink, and 20-plus street food vendors.
The change in emphasis is reflected in the name of the company that developed the site. Known for years as Quintain Estates, the masthead of the Wembley Park site now reads "Quintain Living".
Portas backs Ankorstore's aim of giving access to high-profile designer and artisanal goods to small businesses, within or outside blockbuster developments. As she explains, local, distinctive businesses are better able to thrive if they are in areas that help them stand out.
"Everything you need should be within a Fifteen Minute City. Whatever we call them, this should be a priority for governments. We need to focus on the social, local infrastructure that is vital for living."