October 27, 2020

Sebastian Weise

Building the 20-minute neighbourhood – Lessons from Mambourin

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Who would not want to live in a neighbourhood where every essential aspects for a good life are close by? A grocer is around the corner, on weekends we can go to the park, and if need be the medical practice is also around the corner. Even better if most people in the neighbourhood enjoy a similar level of access. 

This principle underlies the philosophy for planning in Melbourne Australia via Victoria State Government's 35-year Melbourne plan. The concept has since gained traction in many other places around the globe. In the UK, the Town and Country Planning Association in collaboration with Sport England are exploring how the 20-minute neighbourhood concept can be implemented in towns in England to support healthier, active lives.  

In this article, I am picking up on this concept in relation to an on-going innovation project to deliver a tool that provides feedback on health outcomes for early stage master plans. If you like subscribe to the newsletter (on the right) or sign up for early-access via the link at the bottom of the article. 

The planning approach in Melbourne has recently been detailed in a report on the planning of a new neighbourhood, Mambourin, by Monarch University (20-MINUTE NEIGHBOURHOOD - LIVING LOCALLY RESEARCH), which I used here to pull out relevant details on definition, implementation challenges, and lessons learned. 


Characteristics of the 20-minute neighbourhood 

The 20-min neighbourhood refers to the proactive planning for short (800m) distances to vital local services. An 800-metre distance is considered to be walkable by the majority of a neighbourhood population.

It emphasises on “community infrastructure” in the neighbourhood, which includes traditional services, such as parks, but importantly also other ‘non-traditional’ services, such as co-working spaces, and third spaces that encourage social interaction. 

Through an easy-accessible and walkable neighbourhood, the 20-minute neighbourhood caters to the health and wellbeing of residents through greater levels of social interaction and active forms of mobility; while also aiming to support equal access to vital services and thereby improved life chances for residents. 

The principle link between a walkable, green neighbourhood and the health and wellbeing of residents is now fairly well established. 

As outlined in the report on Mambourin, the principle benefits of a 20-min neighbourhood, are the following:

  • Short walking distances promotes resilience and sustainability, also life satisfaction and control by having access to what is needed in everyday life in the neighbourhood.
  • Evidence shows that proximity to local services is a significant predictor of wellbeing.
  • Interaction supported by the co-location of vital community infrastructure also creates a feeling of communal safety and protection and therefore makes developments more popular to residents. 

20-minute neighbourhoods don't only exist in Melbourne of course, but the conscious effort to plan for short distances is a conscious effort that will need to be done at plan making stage. 


Implementation challenges 

In England, 91% of the 803,000 homes built between 2011 and 2019 were built in the suburbs, which by chance also highlights the key implementation challenge for the 20-minute neighbourhood. In urban fringe locations, the closest town centre tends to be further away than 20-minutes, and many residential projects tend not to plan in extra services, which often is tried to be covered indirectly through with developer contributions. 

The report on Mambourin shows how there are a number of key factors in delivering the 20-minute neighbourhood, starting with a built form suitable to walking and early consideration of the location of community infrastructure.

Another key aspect is the coordination of the delivery and staging of any new community infrastructure, as that has a major impact on the sustainability of a scheme from the get-go. 

Image shows the location of Mambourin, a master-planned development by Frasers Property Australia (20-MINUTE NEIGHBOURHOOD - LIVING LOCALLY RESEARCH, p.8)

The report on the 20-min neighbourhood notes the following challenges, especially in the implementation of the community infrastructure.  

  • The lack or delayed implementation of the community infrastructure makes it harder to realise the 20-minute neighbourhood. It is essential to staging community infrastructure development as the development unfolds to provide meeting spaces and access to essential services.
  • The financing of that infrastructure: Developers want to build houses first. Developer contributions lag the completion of the development. 
  • Infrastructure is often dependent on other people or organisation; and therefore needs coordination and perseverance.

Similar challenges are typical for any larger new built project. It was demonstrated in the development of Cambourne, UK, for instance, a major development in an out-of-town locations where residents reported lack of activity during day time hours, delayed phasing of school places, a lack of community meeting spaces or a retail or entertainment offer within the development


What can we do better?

The Melbourne report captured several key lessons for 20-minute city principles in suburban locations, based on an insightful analysis of the provision locations and phasing of the community infrastructure. 

The key recommendations and lessons learned for me were those below. These do not appear as surprises. Given the large developments are complex, given the sheer number of people involved, and eventualities in any project, these principles can still pan out in unexpected ways if not kept on top of:  

  • Design teams need better processes and tools for knowledge sharing on the local social environment and what is provided by them to deliver community infrastructure intelligently.  
  • Projects should start with an in-depth audit of the community infrastructure: The report shows how it can be done. It categorise critical services and their minimum catchment areas; then evaluate what is near the development site; then look at understanding demand and compare this with the projected provision of facilities.
  • A place-based collaborative approach is necessary to coordinate provision. This is because all social and communal infrastructure depends on delivery by various organisations, including local government, regional government, and other third parties.
  • Proactive activation of temporary spaces during construction helps with bringing residents together. This can serve to bridge gaps in provision while waiting for the community infrastructure to be delivered. 


Conclusions 

The majority of new housing developments are built in sub urban locations. The report on the planning for Mambourin based on 20-minute neighbourhood principles provide essential insights for improving the design quality in new built residential master plans in suburban location. 

Future challenges in relation to global climate emergency and now Covid-19 show remind that an easy-to-walk neighbourhood with key community infrastructure nearby is essential to achieving health and well-being; and it helps to live more sustainably, too. 

We need better ways of coordinating local insights and testing options with a large number of local decision-makers and residents. A key focus of the Melbourne example is infrastructure audits based on access to key facilities to allow shortcomings to be identified early on in the process.

 

PlaceChangers is working on tools that help ambitious project teams to incorporate health outcomes in master plans. Get early access by signing up to the beta programme. 

  • An easy way to characterise the existing neighbourhood and access to key facilities to understand how to optimise the master plan.
  • Easy and quick means for testing master plan versions against performance with regard to creating a 20-minute neighbourhood. 
  • A framework for capturing feedback and insights at every step in the development lifecycle.
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