Planning and urban development has always been a significant player within the public sector and plays an integral role in Australia’s quality of life. However, amidst COVID 19 chaos and strict lockdowns, the notion of ‘liveability’ has become a huge focus, causing global and national leaders to accelerate urban planning policies. Suddenly, with the majority of Australia’s workforce working from home and a significant proportion of the population prohibited from leaving their suburb, people are forced to take a closer look at their local surroundings and the ease in which they can carry out their daily activities. Suddenly, catching public transport to your local Coles, can have severe repercussions.
Cue the rise of the 20-Minute Neighbourhood , the new gold standard in urban planning. The concept focuses on planning and developing a city around how easily it’s inhabitants can access daily goods and services via walking, bike riding or a short drive. Why 20 minutes? Research shows that the 20-minute mark is the maximum time people are willing to walk to meet their daily needs.
The Key Features of a 20-Minute Neighbourhood
Local Shopping Centres
Local Health Facilities and Services
Local Playgrounds and Parks
Local Employment Opportunities
Lifelong Learning Opportunities
Affordable Housing Options
The 20-minute neighbourhood has significant benefits for post-pandemic life as it minimises the need for travel and reduces transit crowding, particularly in relation to public transport. In theory you shouldn’t need to catch a bus across town to buy your groceries or go to school- these amenities are walking or cycle distance away, which should help reduce the chances of COVID 19 spreading throughout cities. Furthermore, 20-minute neighbourhoods can help rebuild local economies, as they present opportunities for small business and provide greater ease in citizens shopping locally. They would also require infrastructure to be built (more bike lanes, walking tracks, local parks etc.) which in theory should generate more jobs for the wider community.
In fact the international coalition of urban leaders, C40 has recently created a ‘Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force’ which has taken the 20-minute concept one step further, encouraging the development of 15-minute cities. Global urban leaders have already begun to invest in the development of more parks and green space, micro mobility (lightweight transportation devices like bicycles and electric scooters) and pedestrian transit as part of the Task Force’s long-term strategy for financial rehabilitation.
Many international cities have swiftly launched into action with Paris beginning the installation of ‘corona cycleways’ to ease mass crowding, while Portland Oregon in the U.S, has fast tracked plans to turn 90 miles of roads into neighbourhood greenways.
Back on Australian soil, The City of Melbourne trailblazed ahead when they launched their metropolitan planning strategy in 2017. ‘Plan Melbourne 2017-2050’ dedicated a significant portion of its strategy to ‘living locally’ with a long-term plan to deliver 20-minute neighbourhoods in outer suburbs like Croydon South, Sunshine West and Strathmore by 2050. Developments have already started for community wellbeing precincts and education services in neighbourhoods currently lacking in these facilities. The City of Springfield in outer Brisbane has also recently taken up the 20-minute challenge, starting developments to integrate 20-minute characteristics into their wider council plans.
Meanwhile, inner-city Australian suburbs, particularly in older cities like Melbourne and Sydney already meet the 20-minute criteria, which is why they are such popular places to live. The catch-22 is that this popularity boosts property values and these inner-city neighbourhoods have become unaffordable for many Australians. Rising property values has caused a significant migration of young professionals and families to the outer-suburbs. Greater Western Sydney in particular is projected to reach 3 million people by 2036, making it one of the largest growing urban populations in Australia. Paramatta alone has one of the fastest growing new economy nodes outside of the Melbourne and Sydney CBD.
Despite this, construction for a 2nd international airport in Western Sydney is only just underway and believed to be finalised in 2026. There are still many pockets of the region which are ‘transport deserts’ and job density in comparison to the region’s employment rate is still very low. In 2018 it was believed that over 10,000 people leave Western Sydney each day for work. And herein lies a key challenge of the 20-minute neighbourhood; how do we create the same levels of liveability in these outer suburbs that exist within the inner-city? Moreover, how do councils and state governments ensure that affordable housing options exist in these inner-city areas?
Linda Corkery, a professor of landscape architecture at UNSW Australia shared her thoughts on the challenges Australia faces in creating more 20-minute neighbourhoods; ‘These neighbourhoods won’t happen overnight. Planning for them involves detailed analysis of existing facilities, businesses and services, local open spaces and activity patterns’.
While sponsored by State Governments, ‘living local’ initiatives are led by local councils and require detailed consultations with the community in-order to start the planning and development process. COVID 19 has presented a unique opportunity for councils however, as the self-isolation and lockdown measures enforced across Australia has caused individuals to take more notice of their local environment, reassess what they need from their community and become invested in how their neighbourhoods should grow and develop. If this interest can translate to an uptake in feedback, local councils will have the added pressure to make 20-minute neighbourhood initiatives a priority in future.
Senior lecturer in Urban and Environment Planning at Griffith University Tony Matthews, agrees with this sentiment “These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary responses. It is not a time for planners and policymakers to plan for people; it is a time to plan with people.”
Ultimately, COVID 19 has presented innovative opportunities for the future of urban planning and what cities could look like in a post-pandemic world. However, for the 20-minute neighbourhood to become a reality across Australia, it will require the integrated efforts of many; planners, governments, engineers and most importantly us, as active members of our local community.
If you would like to hear more about the opportunities available within urban planning and design or want to keep abreast of future opportunities as councils forge ahead with their developments plans, don’t hesitate to reach out to our consultant Emma Murphy. Emma focuses on the planning and environment sector and is always happy to offer support and advice on the industry’s job market – firstname.lastname@example.org