Study Finds These Cities are the Future 15-minute US Cities

NYC and LA, please move out of the way. A new study by moveBuddha says that the top 25 future 15-minute cities in the United States will mostly be mid-sized cities with 250,000 to 750,000 residents. Some big cities, like Chicago and Philadelphia, that are known for doing urban planning at the neighborhood level also made the list.

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, popularized the idea that people should be able to meet their basic needs within a short walk or roll of their home early in the COVID pandemic. Urban planners and policymakers all over the world, including those in North America’s sprawling cities, love this idea. The 15-minute city could change the way we plan cities in the 21st century in the same way that Le Corbusier’s tower and car-centered radiant city changed the way we planned cities in the 20th century. Plans for cities have started to think about what ten-minute cities and even five-minute cities might look like.

But let’s not get too excited about the idea of a “five-minute city.” Whittier, Alaska, a town of 200 people who all live in the same house, might be one of the few places in the world that can claim this title. Instead, let’s take a closer look at what it means to be a “15-minute city.”

The Future 15-minute US Cities

With a number of 7.83, Miami was ranked first this year. With a score of 6.10, San Francisco came in second. Lack of access to childcare (2.3) hurt San Francisco’s score. This is a problem in many of the top places on the list, including Boston, which got a terrible score of 0.4 in this area.

The study’s authors say that Miami got to the top spot because plans to make small, walkable urban centers all over the city have come together. “A city of interconnected villages,” as the Miami Herald put it. Big projects like the Underline, which is turning land under Metrorail’s elevated rail lines into a ten-mile linear park and trail, are giving people more safe ways to walk and ride bikes.

All of this sounds very different from the Miami I remember walking and taking public transportation through when I was there last, about 14 years ago. It’s good to hear that things have gotten better. It’s true that Miami’s number probably went up because transit quality wasn’t used as a metric. Over the past ten years, the city has been losing bus ridership.

The cost of housing, on the other hand, became a big problem in almost all of the places on the list, including Miami (2.9) and San Francisco (3.3). Six of the ten towns at the top of the list had home affordability scores lower than 5 out of 10. If you look at the list as a whole, Long Beach, California (2.7) was the least expensive place and Pittsburgh was the most expensive (7.3).

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Study Measurements

moveBuddha got data from the 78 biggest cities in the U.S. and analyzed it to make its own data. To make its scores, study author Joe Robison used’s walking and biking scores for cities. It also looks at a number of other factors using freely available data, usually through the Google Places API. These factors include:

  • Participation in the labor force;
  • The number of social connections;
  • The food environment score shows how easy it is to get healthy foods.
  • Access to opportunities to exercise;
  • Number of health and safety service providers (including hospitals, ambulances, mental health professionals, general care doctors, nursing homes, fire stations, and local police);
  • The severe housing problem index measures overcrowding and homes that need repairs right away. The housing to income ratio does the same.

Based on this information, each city was given a number between 1 and 10 (10 being the best) in five areas: how easy it is to get to work, the health of the people who live there, the cost of childcare and schooling, medical care and safety, and the cost of homes. Then, these area numbers were added up to make a general score. Since moveBuddha’s main business is selling long-distance moving services, the company does want to encourage people to pack up and move to a more appealing city. Though the study may have a bias and use simple measures, it is still an interesting snapshot that can start a conversation.

One choice the people who made the study might have been criticized for was leaving out places that could be reached by transport. The choice was based on advice from the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), which has decided that public transit is not part of its concept of a 15-minute city. Still, it seems wrong to not look at public transportation when judging the 15-minute city, since most of us would want to leave even the best 15-minute city sometimes.

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