Why Latin America Faces Challenges to Creating ‘15-Minute’ Cities

Proximity to amenities and quality of life are priorities in this urban model, but the majority of the region’s cities grew without planning and in an informal way

The fight against climate change has given greater relevance to the '15-minute city'model, which, by generating fewer vehicle trips in cities, contributes to reducing CO2 emissions and increases the quality of life.
April 24, 2023 | 12:49 PM

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Bloomberg Línea — One of the most latent challenges for governments and cities is to move toward a society that has greater awareness of the environment and seeks to meet, for the most part, the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations (UN) by 2030.

According to the UN, two thirds of the 10 billion people who will inhabit the planet by 2050 will live in urban areas, and some European countries are already implementing the model of ‘15-minute cities’, a concept conceived by Colombian-French urban planner Carlos Moreno Gómez.

This type of cities seek, in essence, to make life more sustainable and healthy, covering all the basic needs of a population within a maximum of 15 minutes of walking or cycling distance. This implies access to food, education, health, work, commerce, parks, leisure and more.

So far, Paris is one of the cities that has bet the most on this model, as Moreno is an advisor to the city’s mayor Anne Hidalgo. But Seoul is also aiming for make the South Korean capital a ‘10-minute city’, while Barcelona is working on a ‘superblocks’ strategy, under other guidelines but with a similar objective.

The city is one of the first in the world to implement the '15-minute' model in an efficient way. dfd

How would 15-minute cities have an effect in Latin America?

The fight against climate change has given greater relevance to this urban model, which, by generating less vehicle travel in cities, contributes to reducing CO2 emissions and increases the quality of life.

However, Sofía García, a Peruvian urban planner, explained to Bloomberg Línea that this concept cannot be “a single, rigid formula; rather, it implies a different framework for thinking about our relationship with the city and the territory,” while explaining that quality of life and the reduction of the carbon footprint must take precedence.

“It’s about rethinking how we occupy the territory so that services are there before housing arrives. It is very simple, and at the same time so far from what we Latin Americans live. Unfortunately in Latin America, housing has arrived before services, the main expansion of our cities in the last century was organic, informal and unplanned,” adds García on the viability of this model in the region.


Currently, some 16 cities in the world, mostly in Europe and Asia, are implementing this model or a similar one, with distances between 10 and 20 minutes between housing and amenities. In Paris, Hidalgo has focused on making schools the ‘capitals’ of each neighborhood.

Shanghai is also pursuing its own objectives, with ‘15-minute community perimeters’, a model that could be replicated in 50 Chinese cities in the future.

The Colombian experience

For Edwin Chiriví, manager of Camacol Bogotá and Cundinamarca, urban planning is very important.

“The possibility of developing such a model [in Latin America] will depend on many factors, among them the pre-existence of an infrastructure that allows such developments, and the relocation of integral services in the cities that favor this process”, he said in a conversation with Bloomberg Línea.


Although the model is desirable and dreamed of, García points out that it requires long-term planning, continuity in public policy, and “a lot of patience” to achieve these types of cities, in a region where there is very little regulation, which is why “the poorest people always end up living farther away from the nuclei of opportunities”.

Such cities seek more sustainable and healthier urban areas, covering al citizens' basic needs at a distance of 15 minutes on foot or by bicycle. dfd

Latin America’s advance toward 15-minute cities

In his conception, Moreno says that 15-minute cities should have decent housing, access to jobs, proximity to commerce, physical and mental health services, education and culture, and a public space where the pedestrian is a priority.

“It is important to recognize the typologies of cities, regardless of the country. The changing nature, the different scales of cities, and the available infrastructure, must be recognized as a starting point for thinking about the application of these city planning and management models. Clearly, in smaller cities, the feasibility of planning and developing them with this vision is much more feasible,” said Chiriví.


Meanwhile, García pointed out that ‘5-minute cities need density. Unfortunately, in Latin America, this has changed, he says, citing an example Mexico City, which in the 1970s had a density of 16,000 inhabitants per square kilometer, similar to the density of Barcelona at the time; however, today it is around 6,000-8,000 inhabitants per km2.

Finally, he said that public regulation is key, such as thinking that densification should be accompanied by other uses, such as including regulations that encourage or require that a residential building needs the ground floor for commercial services, and this creates “lively neighborhoods at different times of the day”, not like single-use neighborhoods that are only residential or commercial.

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