CLEVELAND — Imagine a Cleveland where everything you need is less than 15 minutes away.
Mayor Justin Bibb says Cleveland wants to be the first 15-minute city in North America, introducing the concept during his State of the City speech Wednesday. The urban planning model is not brand new; it first took off in Paris, but has gained in popularity during the pandemic.
"The basic concept of a 15-minute city is this ideal planning framework where human needs and desires are accessible within a 15-minute walk, bicycle ride, or transit trip," Matt Moss, a planner with Cleveland City Planning Commission, explained. "That's really what we're striving for in this new planning model."
Instead of a concrete jungle where people work and separate places where people live, in a so-called 15-minute city, everything is closer. Moss says it doesn't have to be a dream.
"It's starting out with the city we have now," he said, "and then asking residents how they might want their community to grow or change in ways that, again, make things accessible or provide them with more opportunities to access the things they want to get to in their day to day lives."
First, planners are making a list of what's there in terms of needs and amenities, things like grocery stores, parks, schools, and workplaces. In some neighborhoods, they find it's more quality that's lacking due to busted sidewalks or lack of bike lanes or bus stops. In others, when it comes to green space or food justice, neighborhoods are lacking altogether.
"The problem isn't that, 'We just don't have a store,'" Dr. Darcy Freedman told us. "It's sort of like, 'Well, why don't we have a store?' and we need to dig under and get at the roots of that problem."
Freedman directs the Mary Ann Swetland Center for Environmental Health and is a professor at Case Western Reserve University. Her research has shown addressing nutrition equity can start a strategy of change.
"Unless people have the ability to eat a healthy, nutritious meal every day, I don't know how we can talk about people being prepared to, you know, go into our education systems or get the best job available for them," she said.
Freedman hopes the city can lay out its goals clearly.
"How are we making sure in this 15-minute area that people can meet basic food needs with dignity?" she asked. "How are we making sure in the 15-minute area that there is balance of supply and demand for fresh and healthy food that's affordable, and how are we ensuring in the 15-minute radius that there are opportunities for people to have ownership of food systems work?"
She also urges community members to make sure they're at the table.
"Not just asking, but demanding to say, 'Where is the space for us to inform what this looks like?'" she said. "There should be opportunities for creative ideas and also space to examine existing policies that could be holding us back."
Freedman's team is launching a new study in June called "Nourishing Neighborhoods, Empowering Community," examining how investing in people rather than just infrastructure can transform the food system.
The city says the opportunities for participation are coming, and Moss believes the timing is right with funding from the federal infrastructure bill and other sources available now.
"This will become an important part of that process in terms of engaging residents and understanding, again, what the city looks like now spatially and where we might want it to go," he said.