Kaid Benfield Archive


Living smart and well in a “20-minute neighborhood”

Kaid Benfield

Posted October 27, 2009 at 1:29PM

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  the 20-minute neighborhood (by Andy Lubershane via WorldChanging)

A planning concept that is gaining favor as a guide to creating smart, convenient places conducive to green living is the "20-minute neighborhood":  a place where you can meet all of your daily needs within a 20-minute journey, preferably on foot.  Portland's planners are building the city's new comprehensive plan - the first since 1980 - largely around the idea, and I think it's a great phrase to describe a goal that a lot of us can identify with.

Mark Larabee explained the concept in The Oregonian:

"Bureaucrats might say your happiness -- they would call it your 'quality of life' -- is in part related to the place you live and how effortless it may be to pedal to work, walk your kids to school, get involved with your neighbors or make your way to your local park or pub on a warm summer evening.

"And while you probably take all this for granted, city planners see the concept of the '20-minute neighborhood' -- one where you can walk to essential amenities and services in 20 minutes -- as a vital element of what makes a neighborhood healthy.

"The people who design your streets, transportation systems, parks and sewers hope to bring the concept of the 20-minute neighborhood to areas outside the city core. Imagine neighborhood magnets like Hawthorne, Mississippi and Alberta developed in outer Southeast Portland, where paved streets and sidewalks aren't a given."

Certainly, many Americans might envy such a lifestyle.  Researchers at Texas A&M report that, as a nation, we waste an amazing $87 billion each year on lost productivity and fuel while stuck in traffic.  And several years ago, my friend Barbara McCann and her research colleagues found that suburban moms, on average, spend the equivalent of 17 full days behind the wheel each year, much of it ferrying their kids around from one place to another.  Amazingly, that is more time than the average parent spends bathing, feeding, and clothing a child.

Ballard, Washington, a 20-minute city (by: Jason Brackins, creative commons license)The phrase "20-minute living" has been credited to a development firm, Gerding Edlen, based in Portland, whose goal is to build projects that provide "all of the necessary and enjoyable things that make life great," including open spaces, grocery stores, workplaces, libraries, events, and schools, within 20 minutes of the home.  As the firm's website notes, "twenty minutes on foot is ideal, but 20 minutes by transit, bike or even auto is a reasonable goal."

In the October issue of Sunset, Allison Arieff features the concept, citing a number of Gerding Edlen projects, along with other examples of smart-growth neighborhoods in Davis, California, Denver, Los Altos, Tuscon, Victoria, BC, and even Missoula as places that enable a 20-minute lifestyle.  You can follow a blog on the subject, Livethe20.com, based in Portland's Hawthorne neighborhood.  And the excellent webzine WorldChanging has featured Ballard, Washington (home of the "Undriver's License"), as a 20-minute city, with cycling routes, transit, parks, restaurants, food stores, shops, libraries and more within easy reach of residents.

Incidentally, I love, love, love Gerding Edlen's guiding "principles of place":

  • Build community
  • Create inviting spaces
  • Minimize carbon footprint and energy dependence
  • Connect people and buildings to nature
  • Encourage transportation alternatives
  • Craft the first 30 feet
  • Inspire communities with art
  • Make 20-minute living real
  • Integrate schools and neighborhoods
  • Preserve symbols that matter

Wow.  Let's do it.