Map: Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
The logic behind the city’s twenty-minute neighborhood concept is sound. If services and amenities are located close to housing, people will drive less and walk/bike more, reducing the social, economic and environmental costs of the automobile.
But, human nature being what it is, perhaps the design goal should be a ten-minute neighborhood–if city planners actually want to get people out of their cars.
Grocery stores are a prime example. It takes me 10 minutes to get to the neighborhood QFC on foot– 12-13 minutes to Whole Foods–and that’s about my upper limit for pedestrian transport and food shopping. And unlike many people, I love to walk–and don’t mind at all carrying a large backpack loaded down with milk, cheese and other staples.
Transit is another service/amenity that needs to be located within a 10, not 20-minute radius. Until gas prices become prohibitive, people are not going to walk more than 10 minutes to a bus or light rail stop—not when their car is 30 seconds away in the garage.
Other variables determine how close a given service or amenity needs to be.
If you are baking cookies and run out of butter, you want the butter ASAP, not in 40 minutes, the time it would take to walk to and from the grocery store. So in this scenario, you jump in the car.
But if you are leaving for work every day at 8:00 a.m., you plan ahead for the time it takes to get there. In that case, proximity of employment isn’t as important as the reliability of the mode of transportation.
So here’s a set of rules I would use to determine whether a given service/amenity falls into the 10 or 20 minute-plus category.
If a service or amenity fulfills a need that occurs at a fixed time every day/week/month, it can be located 20 minutes away.
But if a service or amenity fulfills a need that can occur at any time of day—and often does—it needs to be less than ten minutes away.
Ten minute services/amenities: grocery stores, parks, transit
Twenty minute plus services/amenities: jobs, high schools, hardware stores
By this logic of course, the ten-minute neighborhood requires more than locating amenities close to housing. It also means radically rethinking the way we structure those amenities.
Real estate-wise, you can’t have a New Seasons/QFC/Safeway within walking distance of every home in the city. But you can create a network of smaller grocers, corner stores, farmer’s markets etc. that would provide most Portlanders access to a limited but high quality selection of grocery items.
The ten-minute neighborhood also assumes Americans would abandon their weekly grocery shopping ritual in favor of the daily practice common in many European and Asian countries. Because only the hardiest of souls would carry a week’s worth of groceries–for the typical family of four–by bike or on foot.
Any other ideas about how close–or how far away–a given service should be?