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The 15 Minute City

Neeta Misra Speaks with Professor Michelle Thompson University of New Orleans Planning & Urban Studies Department on the 15-minute city and investing in low-income and communities of color.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself? 

My passion for applied community engagement was developed as an undergrad in the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs. I also hold a master’s and doctorate from the Cornell University City & Regional Planning Department in the United States. Whether in private real estate appraisal practice or currently teaching at the University of New Orleans Planning & Urban Studies Department, my focus on community engagement continues through data sharing and technology support using Public Participation Geographic Information Systems (PPGIS). 

Tell us about the 15-minute city and low-income communities of color? 

The 15-minute city concept, coined by Dr. Carlos Moreno, is based on urban design from pre-colonization Senegal to Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities and beyond. The best feature of this policy-in-practice lies in being flexible, scalable, and customizable for cities worldwide. The concept aligns with contemporary needs to reduce carbon emissions and increase walkability while incorporating education and social needs within a reasonable distance from home. Definitions of the concept vary including six essential social functions - life, work, food, medical treatment, education, and personal development, or four major principles- ecology, proximity, solidarity, and participation.  Overall, the goal of improving the quality of life for urban dwellers is laudable and more necessary than ever as we navigate living with COVID+. 

Historically,  redlining created artificial boundaries that limited the ability of entrepreneurs to overcome the fear of investing in cash-based economies for many communities of color which, many times, were also low-income. What lies in proximity are products and services that increase the cost of living for the poor such as “Payday”-type services, limited full-service retail, reliable public transportation, and financial institutions. The 15-minute city theory holds promise for marginalized communities with efforts by local government to incentivize (re)investment and prioritize ‘bottom up’ engagement using, for example, a “force of law”, within master plans.  

What is the PPGIS approach and its application globally?  

The PPGIS model is a tool for global planning at a community scale. There are multiple methods for applying the community-led planning model which depends upon access to people, data, and time. The inaugural PPGIS projects in New Orleans relied on community volunteers and WhoData ‘train the trainer’ templates to complete post-Hurricane Katrina disaster property condition surveys. Based upon years of applied community projects, the ability to collect PPGIS data in this manner can be done in the same manner in both the first world and emerging economies. The PPGIS model will continue to be applied as social science university education is expanding the use of applied data and analytics in the non-STEM curriculum. The Black Paris project will provide another example of how to support the community vision, educate students on effective engagement and work with the City Government using a neighborhood-led planning model.  

What are your plans for Black Paris? 

In 2020 Sorbonne University professor, Dr. Carlos Moreno, assisted Mayor Anne Hidalgo with initializing the “ville du quart d’heure” or “‘15-minute city’” concept. The goal is to restructure Paris to improve quality of life, and climate change, limit transportation and increase social and business interactions. Initial plans to modify street usage by decreasing trucks, expanding bike/ped lanes or corridors, and modifying street patterns have been implemented since 2021.  

Starting this summer 2022, the Thompson Noire de Paris PPGIS Project has been launched to evaluate what the community needs and evaluate how well Black Paris meets the 15-minute city’s essential social functions. In part, the study will report on where the social and/or economic gaps are. The goal will be for the City Government to work with the community to address quality of life issues to expand employment and increase goods/services using the 15-minute planning model.  


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