Chrono-urbanism: What if we started measuring cities in a few minutes?

For millions of people in different cities around the world, distances are measured over time. We calculate the time it takes to get to work, the gym, the supermarket or the nearest metro station, counting it in minutes. Often these distances are so long that the days seem to get shorter, and those minutes are wasted, wasted on travels.

Some cities have decided to reverse the situation and obtain time on their side. The premise is based on chrono-urbanism, a new model that ensures that everything we need every day – places to live, work, shop, sport and leisure – is available within a few minutes walk or public transit.

The city 15 minutes away

Chrono-urbanism is a new urban model that aims to decentralize cities. This would mean the end of the urban model with business, residential, commercial and leisure areas, each separated by long distances. In this model, citizens spend a large part of their time every day traveling to where they work, shop or play sports. All in all, this system is inefficient.

The new model imagines cities organized around small nuclei, where each district and each neighborhood have the necessary services for everyday life. In these cities, the pace of life is no longer determined by haste, long distances and traffic.

The idea behind chrono-urbanism was popularized by the mayor of Paris, Anna Hidalgo, and her plan to transform the French city into The City of the Quarter Hour (or the city 15 minutes away). The term was coined by Mayor Carlos Moreno, who pledged to transform France’s capital – a city that spans 100 square meters and is home to several million people – into a tight-knit city.

Paris in 15 minutes. Paris in common.

However, the concept of chrono-urbanism is rooted in claims that go beyond the streets of Paris. In 1920, now a century ago, American urban planner Clarence Perry proposed the concept of neighborhood units. These small communities were demarcated by roads for traffic, leaving interior streets free for pedestrian spaces and four basic elements: schools, parks, businesses and residential buildings.

The benefits of chrono-urbanism

The city of 15 minutes first emerged in order to reduce environmental impact traffic in the streets of Paris. This was done by limiting travel by private vehicles and by promoting pedestrianization, public transit and the addition of cycle paths. However, the model offers many other advantages.

Deloitte Consulting highlights creating a sense of community, for example. According to their analysis, these types of cities improve the livability of neighborhoods and promote participation in community issues. By having more free time and enjoying the environment and its benefits, cities become friendlier and less stressful places where cooperation is encouraged.

Pedestrians crossing a city street. Behzad Ghaffarian (Unsplash).

revive the economy and democratize thehousing market also come into play. In recent years, we have seen how gentrification has replaced locals in many neighborhoods and how locals are ceasing to run family businesses, giving way to stores catering to new audiences. One of the premises of chrono-urbanism is that neighborhoods provide solutions for people of all ages and economic status. In this way, Deloitte points out, they will become more affordable places to live.

To finish, improve the quality of life and health of inhabitants is at stake. What does it take to achieve all of this? Deloitte identifies the following as critical factors:

  • Ensure easy access to medical services and food.

  • Building multicultural neighborhoods with different types of housing and different levels of affordability.

  • Have offices, commercial spaces and a selection of hotels.

  • Having abundant green spaces.

  • Create corridors for pedestrians and cyclists.

  • Reduce the ease of travel by car (for example, having only one-way streets or limiting the number of parking spaces).

From Paris to Stockholm

The best known example of chrono-urbanism is the city of Paris 15 minutes away. It is based on four pillars: proximity, diversity, density and ubiquity. But it is not the only one: in Sweden, for example, there are plans to set up one minute townmodel at national scale.

The Scandinavian model (which is based on the Street Moves movement) goes further than the French model by proposing urban developments based on neighborhood life. The aim is for the residents themselves to decide how to use their street spaces or block through consultations and collective workshops. This, its creators point out, encourages the use of shared spaces and cooperation. Sweden plans to implement this model not only in its capital, Stockholm, but on every street in the country by 2030.

Image from the Street Moves project in Sweden. Architects of Utopia.

Chrono-urbanism has also had an impact in the United States. In Portland, Oregon, an approach from a social lens has been proposed, aimed at encouraging the creation of affordable housing, more public transit, more walkable spaces and, ultimately, more inclusive and community-based neighborhoods. Portland’s plan is for 90% of the city’s residents to be able to walk or cycle to meet all of their daily needs (except those related to work) by 2030.

Another example is in Spain, in Pontevedra. If the city plans have never used the term chrono-urban planning, they allow residents to walk in minutes, and they promote cohesion and minimize social differences.

Chrono-urbanism is therefore a solution to make cities more united, more friendly and more human. In these cities, all the neighborhoods are good to live in, you don’t waste time on endless trips and the distances do not determine the quality of life of its inhabitants.