Is Newcastle a 15-minute city?
Carlos Moreno is credited with developing the concept of the 15-minute city, which has been successfully applied in the city of Paris. The concept is now being examined by a global coalition of 96 mayors and elected city representatives known as C40 Cities, who are considering the impact of the approach in helping them to deliver the urgent action needed to confront the climate crisis.The C40 group introduce the concept as follows:
“The 15-minute city weaves together strands of climate action and people-centric urban development to create an approach that can help cities of all shapes and sizes live with and recover better from the pandemic. It describes an aspiration for more vibrant, convenient, connected and equitable neighbourhoods.”
So, the concept is growing in popularity, and it offers a framework which may help create socially and economically sustainable outcomes in a post-pandemic world threatened by an urgent climate crisis. In this blog I want to examine the progress towards making Newcastle upon Tyne a 15-minute city, explore the challenges which will need to be overcome to achieve it, and suggest solutions so that Newcastle may also move towards the goals set out by the C40 Cities collective.
Firstly, how close is Newcastle to achieving 15-minute city status already? One advantage of the city is that is quite small, and relatively compact. It is quite possible to walk from one part of the City Centre to the other in about 15 minutes, depending on what the definition of the City Centre is. The map below shows the approximate distance covered by 15 minutes walking. The City Centre therefore has many of the elements required for 15-minute cities. Somebody living and working in the City Centre would have very good access to the leisure facilities, retail, green spaces and transport links etc. required to meet the 15-minute city criteria. They would therefore have very little need for a car as most amenities are within 15 minutes’ walk.
Newcastle City Centre: A 15-minute neighbourhood
Beyond the city centre, however, finding neighbourhoods which demonstrate the 15-minute city criteria becomes more challenging. Gosforth is a good example of a neighbourhood which does demonstrate the criteria. It has retail, cultural and entertainment amenities on Gosforth High Street, well maintained public space in Gosforth Central Park, well maintained cycle paths, and frequent Metro and bus connections to the City Centre. Similarly, Jesmond, the Ouseburn area of Byker and Heaton are well set up for those who want to work in the city or centre or work from home. Transport connections are good, public spaces and parks are large and well maintained.
Contrast these neighbourhoods with those in the West of the city such as Elswick, Benwell and Fenham and the image of Newcastle as a 15-minute city overall starts to unravel. These parts of the city are lacking fundamental amenities which other parts of the city take for granted; for example, the Metro system does not extend to this area, shopping, cultural and entertainment facilities are distributed sporadically and are of varying quality. There are no community facilities in these areas: no swimming pools, no theatres, no libraries, and facilities which engage young people are virtually non-existent. Compare the amenities in the green spaces of Benwell’s Hodgkin Park and Denton Dene to those found in Heaton Park and Jesmond Dene and the disparities are obvious.
It is encouraging that Newcastle City Council has set a goal to achieve 15-minute city status, but I feel it is time the Council shifts its focus towards improving the underfunded and underprivileged parts of the city in order to achieve this goal. By extending the metro line, improving public spaces and investing in green infrastructure, the West end of the City could become far more appealing to investors and thereby more economically successful.
But the redevelopment and reengagement of these neighbourhoods need not come at a high price as the ethos of the 15 minute-city actively empowers community participation. Secondary schools could be used as cinemas at weekends, Youth groups could use existing healthcare facilities in the evenings, Primary Schools could offer cycling and cycle maintenance classes to encourage more active travel. Community events, steering groups and public participation strategies could all be set up at low cost.
Now, for a look at how Newcastle City Council’s vision for the city in the next 10 years, have a look at this article https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/massive-developments-change-newcastle-future-19278508 and ask yourself how seriously the Council consider issues such as social mobility, inclusion and sustainable travel. Consider the councils’s real response to the impending climate crisis. Ask yourself also what is really driving the decisions to approve these projects, and how they will actually benefit the people living in Newcastle’s neighbourhoods.
Ironically, Elswick, Central Gateshead and Walker are only about 15 minutes’ walk away from the proposed Newcastle Gateshead Quays. I wonder how many of their residents will benefit from its development.