Delivering 20 Minute Neighbourhoods


May 31, 2024



The concept of the 20 minute neighbourhood, one of several approaches that broadly espouse the same principles, is gaining traction. Indeed, it’s virtually impossible to argue against an approach towards urban design that promotes sustainable living on so many levels. In several ways it is building upon previous concepts that have come before such as walkable neighbourhoods and urban villages, however, it goes beyond these by beginning to specify the types of facilities and timeframes that you should be able to reach them within. In other words, it is more measurable.

We’ve had 20 minute neighbourhoods before.  We lived in them when the population was far smaller and on foot was how most of us got around. Villages and small towns formed and evolved on the basis that everyone could reach the centre – possibly the market or the market cross, a road intersection, or the church – in reasonable time on foot, or in some cases by horse.  But populations grew, towns swelled, cities expanded, and shops and services have disappeared. Smaller neighbourhoods have continued to exist within our cities but that local ‘definition’ has become less well delineated.

Attempts were made over the last century to create new towns where vibrant communities lived well locally. Examples can be found in the garden city movement, the delivery of new towns in the mid-century, and some private led developments up and down the county by forward thinking landowners who held stewardship dear. They are, however, anomalies rather than representative of the status quo.

Most new development in recent times has followed the same trend. Led by major housebuilders, identikit homes are laid out on cul-de-sac layouts on the outskirts of existing villages, towns, and cities devoid of any facilities. In addition to entrenching car dependence for all the new residents who are separated from the things they want and need; they increase the burden on existing infrastructure. The challenge we face is not only to try and improve these places but to ensure that when we design new places, they’re conducive to supporting sustainable lifestyles.

At PLACE LOGIC we’ve helped clients to assess the degree to which new and existing places meet the criteria of 20 minute neighbourhoods. Using open or proprietary datasets of street network and points of interest, we’re able to measure accessibility along network constrained paths to a host of amenities and services across entire local authorities or regions. This type of analysis can identify where facilities are lacking in an area and give a steer regarding where they would be best placed.

The definition of the 20 minute neighbourhood differs depending on who you are speaking to. Understandably each time the concept is reimagined, it’s influenced by the needs of its new author and the types of facilities considered and their proximity is defined accordingly. In our view, the exact definition is not so important as the delivery of the policy, and its delivery requires measurement and analysis. Firstly, local authorities should use digital tools to identify service needs across their geographies, along with public consultation to understand the quality of provision, when formulating their local plans. Following that, they should seek to design a system of checks and balances that enables them to refuse development if it doesn’t meet the criteria set out in their 20 minute neighbourhood policies.

The City of Portland represents a leading example of how policies on 20 minute neighbourhoods can be delivered. Having set a clear goal for 90% of its residents to live within a 20 minute neighbourhood, they’ve made admirable steps towards achieving it. Following defining what they meant by the term “20 minute neighbourhood”, they now measure the extent to which each neighbourhood in the city meets this definition periodically, and their funding streams for active travel infrastructure and other related infrastructure are linked to it. Unless properly policed in this way, 20 minute neighbourhood policies introduced in the UK will be weak and ineffective, and the status quo will remain entrenched for years to come to the cost of our society.

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