Velvet spoke to Laetitia Vitaud, director of Cadre Noir Ltd, about the 15-minute city concept. She explained that it is a residential urban concept, where residents should be able to reach most – if not all – facilities and amenities within a 15-minute walk or bicycle ride. The 15-minute city concept was popularised by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who drew inspiration from French-Colombian scientist, Carlos Moreno.
Laetitia has published three books in French, Du Labeur à l’ouvrage (Liberté de l’esprit); Faut-il avoir peur du numérique? 25 questions pour vous faire votre opinion; and Welcome to the jungle: 100 idées innovantes pour recruter des talents et les faire grandir. She also writes an English newsletter entitled Laetitia at Work, which handles topics such as the future of work from a feminist perspective. Since the pandemic began, her subjects of interest have been more topical than ever before and she has many webinars and podcasts on various subjects such as the transformations of work.
Laetitia lived in London between 2015 and 2020 and now lives in Munich, Germany. She has worked with many companies in different fields, on the subject of ‘the future of work’. A major focus for her is the impact of infrastructure policy and culture on female work and gender equality, which has brought about her interest in urban issues and 15-minute cities.
15-minute city experiences
Laetitia lived in Paris for 35 years before she moved to London and says that the 15-minute concept is close to her heart. “Paris is quite special because it is the most densely populated city in Europe and it is also extremely small, London is 15 times bigger, and Berlin is nine times bigger. In addition, there are no green spaces, it is built up everywhere.”
The problem with narrowing the 15-minute city definition to Paris was whether 15-minutes was relevant. The idea received a lot of criticism and debate because of the way that it was largely applied to the centre of Paris, which mainly hosts rich, white people and is expensive.
“I strongly believe in inclusion and diversity and the most important questions that were not addressed were, ‘How do we create a sense of community within these city centres’ and ‘How does it include less fortunate people of colour and immigrants, or those who live far from the centre in the periphery but who serve people in the centre?’
The needs of these people were not really addressed. Based on that, I would like the 15-minute city to be more inclusive, even if that means changing it to 25 or 30-minutes and three important issues need addressing: inclusion, transportation, and childcare.”
One of the major problems that the 15-minute concept faces is that real estate prices have risen much faster than the revenues of service workers, particularly women, who are needed in the city centre, which has led to more geographic segregation. In many large European cities, there is even more geographic segregation today than there was a generation ago.
“These workers need transportation to the city centres where they work and, if they are further away, like 30-minutes, then they may not be able to walk or bike to work. The first priority across the European Union would be to make sure that pockets of such workers are not disconnected, isolated, deprived of access to public services, including schools and health care, or access to communities.”
“I recently interviewed the Communication Director of the Dutch Cycling Embassy, Chris Bruntlett, who published a book with his wife, Curbing Traffic. He is an evangelist for bike lanes, but in a way that is more inclusive than is thought of outside the Netherlands, where it is a mode of transportation for everyone. Bike lanes can take you everywhere and this is what is needed within these 15-minute cities.”
“What startups can look at doing is improving the transportation system that connects workers outside the 15-minute zone to labour centres. They have the opportunity to create work for those who are unemployed and create better situations for those who serve the rich in these centres. They have the ability to be inclusive and spread diversity amongst the working class,” concludes Laetitia.