15-Minute American Cities: Genius Idea or Conspiracy Theory?

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The concept of 15-minute cities is gaining traction globally with urban planners. Here, we discuss the potential pros and cons of these possible cities of the future.
robb dorr
Written by Robb Dorr

Key Takeaways

  • 3 in 4 people would live in a 15-minute city
  • 89 percent of people said walking was their preferred mode of transportation
  • People are willing to spend an average of 30 percent more per month on rent to live in a 15-minute city

Cities of the Future

In 15 minutes, you might be able to fold a load of laundry or prepare a quick meal, but could you bike to your gym, walk to work, or ride the bus to your doctor’s office? Many urban planners and policymakers are exploring the concept of 15-minute cities designed to meet one’s needs and wants, all within a 15-minute walking or biking distance.

The goal of 15-minute cities is to make daily life more convenient and sustainable for residents. However, some people have concerns (and even conspiracies) about the idea. We surveyed 1,000 Americans to gain insight into national perceptions of the controversial 15-minute city.

Introducing 15-Minute Cities

The goal of a 15-minute city is to provide its residents with access to all essential services, amenities, and workplaces within a 15-minute walk, bike, or e-bike ride from home. Planners and developers are buzzing over the idea, but how do potential residents feel about these compact cities? 

Cities most interested in 15-minute cities

The concept of 15-minute cities is definitely starting to intrigue Americans, as searches for the term “15-minute city” have increased an astounding 6,773 percent over the past year. The term was coined in 2016 by Parisian professor and urbanist Carlos Moreno. His home nation of France was the first to implement the concept, but it’s gaining traction in other parts of the world.

The 15-minute city is especially appealing to people with limited access to amenities, such as those in underserved minority communities. Cleveland, Ohio, is a prime example of this, as it’s home to many food deserts where healthy, affordable food is hard to access. This issue might explain why Cleveland was the U.S. city with the largest increase in online searches for “15-minute city” in the past 12 months.

Percentage interested in 15-minute cities

So what perceived benefits are making Americans so curious about 15-minute cities? According to our survey, the top benefits of 15-minute cities would be reduced commute times, better access to amenities, and less dependence on cars. Respondents also thought 15-minute cities could help promote physical activity and healthier lifestyles.

Another potential benefit of 15-minute cities is an increase in more livable and sustainable communities. Life is easier for communities where people have all of their basic needs met within a 15-minute travel distance, and such easy access to all of life’s needs and wants can help cut down on travel, waste, and pollution. In addition, 15-minute cities can create more vibrant and diverse neighborhoods by encouraging a mix of residential, commercial, and cultural spaces.

What the People Want

Quick and easy access to essential services is at the core of the 15-minute city’s design. But which services are most essential to would-be residents? We asked respondents to rank the services and amenities, housing options, and transportation methods that would be most important to them in an ideal 15-minute city. 

People design their ideal 15-minute city

Grocery stores were the most important amenity for the ideal 15-minute city, which may be linked to the presence of food deserts previously mentioned. Parks were the second most-desired amenity, followed by restaurants, health care facilities, and shopping centers.

The first choice among housing options was a free-standing home (38 percent), also known as a stand-alone or detached house. Free-standing homes are often preferred by families with children, as they offer plenty of square footage and yard space. Surprisingly, apartments (28 percent) were the second most-preferred accommodation.

As for how would-be residents would prefer to travel between their home and favorite services, 89 percent said they would prefer to walk, and another 58 percent said they would travel by bike. It may be that 15-minute cities are the most attractive for those wanting to ditch the need for expensive cars. Upgrading to the right e-bike could help take residents even farther around town.

The Downsides

While many support the idea of a 15-minute city, some issues need to be addressed as cities explore the concept. In addition to those concerns, several conspiracy theories are associated with this urban planning trend.

Percentage believing 15-minute city conspiracies

There are several common concerns regarding the idea of 15-minute cities. Three of the top concerns our respondents shared include:

  • Increased housing costs: The demand for housing in a 15-minute city could drive up housing costs, making it more difficult for lower-income individuals and families to afford to live in the area.
  • Limited job opportunities: A 15-minute city may not provide a variety of job opportunities for residents, as job centers may be concentrated in other areas. This could limit economic mobility for some residents.
  • Gentrification: This refers to many people getting priced out of being able to remain where they live. Gen Z was more concerned about this than any other generation.

Another potential drawback of 15-minute cities is limited access to specialized services. While a 15-minute city can provide basic services such as groceries and medical care, these may not include medical specialists and certain types of food such as health and cultural food stores. Reduced diversity was another concern since people won’t need to leave their community as much. Building a 15-minute city may also require significant infrastructure investments, such as public transit and bike lanes.

Aside from these very reasonable concerns, some conspiracy theorists warn that the design of 15-minute cities is intended to limit individual freedoms and enhance government surveillance. The most commonly believed theory was that 15-minute cities will serve as a way for the government to monitor the population more easily, but only 16 percent of respondents believed this theory. 

Creating a New Urban Design

The creation of 15-minute cities may be the key to healthier and more sustainable communities. By promoting walkability, bikeability, and access to daily needs, these cities can reduce traffic congestion, promote physical activity, and create more vibrant neighborhoods. However, they could also limit potential job growth and increase housing and infrastructure costs, among other concerns. As cities continue to grow and expand, it will be important for policymakers and urban planners to consider both the benefits and the drawbacks of 15-minute cities.


We surveyed 1,006 people on their feelings about 15-minute cities. Among these respondents, 49 percent were women, 49 percent were men, and 2 percent were nonbinary. Additionally, 12 percent were baby boomers, 27 percent were Gen X, 52 percent were millennials, and 9% were Gen Z. By political party, 48 percent were Democrats, 21 percent were Republicans, 27 percent were independent, and 4 percent were associated with a different party. We used Keywordtool.io to gather search volume trends for “15-minute city” from the past 12 months. 

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Fair Use Statement

Are you intrigued by the concept of the 15-minute city? We encourage you to share the results of this study for any non-commercial use. Please include a link back to this page in your story so readers can access our full findings and methodology.

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About Our Editorial Team

robb dorr
Written by Robb Dorr
Robb is a massive cycling enthusiast who has more than 20 years of non-motorized cycling experience. He started eBikes.org to lower the barrier of entry to cycling and reduce the intimidation people can experience when getting into the cycling world.

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