Tomorrow - The quarter-hour city: illusion or reality?

It was a campaign argument of the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo: a city where proximity reigns.

The scientist Carlos Moreno, a specialist in the city of tomorrow and urban planning, is at the origin of this movement, which has now spread around the world. He is the author of "Droit de Cité", a book published in 2020 in which he advocates "happy proximity" and a radical change in our lifestyles. The principle is clear: in the long term, we should be able to work, educate ourselves, eat, blossom, and take care of ourselves... all within a quarter of an hour's walk or bike ride from our home.

What do you think the city of tomorrow should look like?

Carlos Moreno: Cities emit the most CO2, consume the most energy, create economic value. It's in the cities that the majority of men and women live. So it is not tomorrow, it is today that we must act, before it is too late.

With the pandemic, today, you have more than half of humanity under lockdown. The pandemic forces cities to slow down. As a result, everything collapses. Since cities can't function, the economy collapses, relationships collapse...In the city of tomorrow, we must have economic, ecological and social harmony. Ecological, in relation to the resources that are very damaged by our way of producing and consuming. Economic, because we must create value while reducing inequalities. Social, because there are too many social tensions, too much violence and too much intolerance. We need this combination, in order to be able to concretely imagine a new way of life.

How can we achieve this?

Carlos Moreno: For too long we have worked on an urbanism that sought to create more square meters. Today we live in cities that are economically fractured, socially dislocated, and spatially stuck in lifestyles of the past that are not sustainable today. To change this situation, we need to change our lifestyles. It's not just about producing less square meters or using only organic architecture. We have to ask ourselves why we live the way we do, why mobility generates so much CO2. Cities are the main contributors of CO2 emissions and in cities, it is transportation that is responsible for it.

So you advocate demobilization?

Carlos Moreno: My analysis is that our way of life is no longer sustainable. Why do we have to move around so much? Why do people have to travel 45 minutes each way, on average, to get from their home to their workplace? Why do we have to go and consume in these consumption temples that are these huge shopping malls? The future of the city is therefore a happy proximity.

Happy proximity means giving ourselves the assets to better discover the hidden resources that we have and that we do not see. It means making better use of the square meters we have, giving them several uses, getting out of this frantic rhythm which means that people never have time for themselves, never see their children, never see the people they love, always in a hurry. And to get out of the productivism that leads us to have a way of functioning that is no longer up to the task. We must give priority to quality of life. We can move towards de-mobility, we can leave the mobility we are subjected to and move towards a chosen mobility. To do this, we must de-segment the city, leave behind the urban planning of the past, the one that gave the roads to the car, the urban planning of concrete, we must leave behind the oil and gas lifestyle. We must therefore produce a city that is much more coherent and therefore much more polycentric, multi-use, multi-service. For me, proximity is the mother of all battles.

Are we still far from it?

Carlos Moreno: When I started talking about this new paradigm, about the quarter-hour city, five years ago, people told me I was a utopian. Today, with the pandemic, this concept has gone around the world! It's absolutely incredible, people are calling me from everywhere. I've even been invited to speak about it at Westminster, for example. In fact, this concept comes at a time when we no longer have a choice, it corresponds to the need for change that is appearing before our eyes, so there is a real awareness and increased sensitivity to the environmental emergency.

But firstly, this requires political will. It is absolutely necessary that local governance, those who are in charge of urban or territorial policies, commit to changing our way of life. Fortunately, this is the case today in Paris, Bordeaux, Rennes, Nantes, Dijon, etc. In France, we have something fantastic: mayors who are very committed to the issue of proximity with their constituents.

Anne Hidalgo, for example, had an initiative approved before the Christmas vacations to open schools on weekends, for activities other than schooling or voting. This is a first. It is indeed necessary to bring services closer to the citizens. Proximity allows for happier, more dignified housing, a supply chain with short and local circuits, access to education, culture and leisure. The mayor of Paris has already launched decisions that go in this direction, such as the multi-use of buildings, like schools. So there are very concrete things that are being done.