What is a 20-minute neighbourhood?

Four people walk along a pavement in a Scottish neighbourhood.
Published: 22/08/2022

The idea of 20-minute neighbourhoods, 15-minute cities or places of walkable distances is not a new concept. In fact, it has already gained momentum in locations such as Paris, Melbourne and Scotland. In this blog, we aim to explore what it means, highlight its importance, and share examples of this concept through our ongoing projects. 

From 15-minute cities in Paris to 20-minute neighbourhoods in Melbourne, the definition might differ globally, but the idea behind the concept remains relatively the same. 

In their publication ‘Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland’, the Scottish Government explains the idea of a 20-minute neighbourhood as a place: 

“…where people can meet their needs within a 20-minute walk from their house - enabling people to live better, healthier lives and supporting our net zero ambitions.” 

Though it is not just about access to services that represents a 20-minute neighbourhood, there is in fact a little more to it.  

Attributes of a 20-minute neighbourhood

Each city, town or rural area in Scotland differ in their characteristics, from its size to demographic range. So, there will not be a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to the 20-minute neighbourhood concept. 

Ourplace.scot however, provides a good understanding of the different attributes of a 20-minute neighbourhood: 

  • a safe, accessible, and well-connected movement network for pedestrians and cyclists 
  • high-quality public spaces, streets and open space 
  • good access to services that support local living  
  • a variety of housing types, of different sizes, levels of affordability and tenure, that supports diversity, the ability to age in a place, and housing densities that can support local services 
  • inclusive and easy access to public transport that caters for different needs, connecting people to jobs and other services further afield 
  • high-quality green spaces for people to enjoy and opportunities for local food production 
  • thriving local economies with employment and opportunities for community wealth building 
  • good digital connectivity to enable flexible working, business opportunities, and remote access to public services 
  • formal and informal play spaces for children 
  • community participation and local engagement opportunities 

20-minute neighbourhoods can benefit our people and places. It can help us create a positive impact to our health, tackle climate change and create thriving communities.

How is Scotland adopting this concept?

The Scottish Government includes the 20-minute neighbourhoods concept in its new spatial strategy in the National Planning Framework (NPF4). It highlights the application of the 20-minute neighbourhoods to ‘our cities, towns, and rural areas so that places where we live, and work are more resilient and sustainable.’ 

The Scottish Government published a final guide on creating neighbourhoods where people can access their daily needs within a 20-minute walk, cycle or wheel. This follows feedback from a summer 2023 consultation. The guide is designed to be clear for everyone involved in creating these neighbourhoods, including councils, residents and businesses. It provides a framework and things to consider to make sure these neighbourhoods meet people's needs and work well with other planning tools. You can read more about the Local living and 20 minute neighbourhoods guidance here.

Our contribution to 20-minute neighbourhoods in Scotland

At Architecture and Design Scotland, we work with our partners to demonstrate what a joined-up approach to deploying the 20-minute neighbourhood looks like. Above all, we bring people together to share evidence and examples of the benefits it can bring to our places and those who live there. 

Some examples of our work with 20-minute neighbourhoods include projects involving the Key Agencies Group, Climate Action Towns and a Public Sector Client Forum event on rural futures. 

Examples of our work as part of the Key Agencies Group  

The Key Agencies Group (KAG) consists of a group of public bodies that focus on supporting planning authorities and public sector developers with work on large-scale and complex projects.  

The examples below include projects we are working on as part of the KAG, which includes the application of the 20-minute neighbourhood concept to Scotland’s places. 

Place-based approaches in Stewarton, East Ayrshire 

In Stewarton, East Ayrshire, we are supporting their planning department to take a collaborative approach to their development framework. The 20-minute neighbourhood concept was a part of the recommendation, testing this approach to their housing development. 

The Scottish Government Planning Digital Strategy Team is currently progressing this project, using Stewarton as a live site to test the concept using various mapping techniques and data analysis. 

Knowledge sharing session in Fife and City of Edinburgh Councils 

We facilitated a knowledge sharing session between Fife and City of Edinburgh Councils on the mapping and delivery of 20-minute neighbourhoods. 

The session provided an opportunity to share an understanding of how those involved can work together to share practices and approaches to the application of the 20-minute neighbourhood as part of the early-stage preparation of their Local Development Plan. The session formed part of wider support to Fife Council with their plan preparation.

New city district in the West of Edinburgh 

We are supporting the City of Edinburgh Council, to take a collaborative approach to their plans for a major new city district in the West of Edinburgh. This work is part of their proposed City Plan 2030. 

We delivered a workshop to bring together representatives from across council departments and key agencies to share knowledge and understanding of the city’s ambition for a mixed-use, net zero, 20-minute neighbourhood. 

Examples of our work through Climate Action Towns 

For the Climate Action Towns project, our teams are adapting a mapping-based workshop to use the 20-minute neighbourhood radii to identify existing assets, services and opportunities to create a resilient, climate adapted town. This mapping-based workshop will be used in Blackburn. 

Similar to this concept, our team used two out of the eight principles of carbon conscious places (a place of small distances and a network of small-distance places) to map Alness, Invergordon and Stevenston. 

The mapping exercise focused on communities' experiences aspects of walkability, connecting public transport to other areas and reviewing local routes that can be improved to create healthy, thriving and sustainable communities. 

20-minute neighbourhood in a rural setting 

On March 29, 2022, we held a Public Sector Client Forum (PSCF) event on rural futures that explored the different ways we can work together to create thriving rural communities across three areas of discussion: climate, housing and investment. 

The event provided an opportunity to build a shared understanding of how we can work together across the three areas, with the 20-minute neighbourhood as part of these conversations. 

Implementing the 20-minute neighbourhood in a rural setting will be an interesting development, as the application of the concept will differ from urban areas.

Continuing the work to create 20-minute neighbourhoods

As part of our Corporate Strategy 2021-31, we aim to build a common understanding of a whole-place collaborative approach by sharing evidence of the benefits it can bring to our people and places. 

The 20-minute neighbourhood is another brick in the foundation that can help us create places that are healthy, sustainable and thriving. We will update this blog with more information as our projects continue. 

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Header image credit: Miss Lydia Photography