Imagine walking out of your door on a Tuesday morning with your 8-year-old daughter. You pop into a cafe for a flat white for you and a juice and a slice of a banana loaf for her. You stop and say hello to Elliot the cafe owner who also lives a few blocks away.
After dropping your daughter at school, you skip across the street to the post office to ship a parcel before heading to work just a 5 minutes walk away at your local independent coworking space.
You find your seat for the day and begin getting logged into the wifi when Lucy from your normal workout group comes and asks why you didn’t make it to class yesterday evening, to which you respond that you had been stuck in Dr McKenzie’s dental chair for a few hours before slipping to your local brewery & pub to meet your mates for a pint.
For lunch, you head to the local fruit & veg which serves great fresh smoothies and sandwiches from their counter and walk to meet another friend at the park to chat and walk a few laps while enjoying the unseasonably warm sunshine.
You pop back to the coworking to send those emails you’ve been avoiding and then back to the schoolyard to collect your daughter. On the way home, you pick up your weekly produce box to find there are some amazing looking tomatoes, so you decide to swing into the wine store for a nice bottle to go with the pasta dish you are now planning for dinner. As you walk in, your neighbour from 9b waves hello and smiles.
A Fantasy for Coworking
You may be asking if this is some sort of fantasy land or a story about the “good old days”, but this is the future that many are hoping and planning for in major cities like Paris.
It’s been called the 15 Minute City, a term coined by professor Carlos Moreno, who is an adviser to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Ms Hidalgo has embraced the idea of “la ville du quart d’heure,” or the 15-minute city, an extension of her work to create a post-car city.
The 15-Minute City
“It’s a city of neighbourhoods where you can find everything you need within 15 minutes from home,” she tweeted in French last week. Believing that proximity is key to vitality, they plan to remake the city so that people can access all of their daily functions within a 15 minutes walk (or bike ride) from their home. And now given the worldwide rethinking of how we move, work and generally operate in our cities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this idea has taken flight.
Other than the romantic images of Disney fairy tale villages, what does the 15-Minute City have to offer our modern society?
It is well known that a large percentage of planet harming carbon emissions are generated in the transport sector. If our collective daily needs can be met within a walk or bike from home, our need for the massive transport infrastructure diminishes. Reducing the need for longer trips can allow space to be reallocated for bikes and people rather than cars.
The Mayor of London is currently working to retake space that had been dedicated to private autos and remake the city into a more bike and pedestrian-friendly landscape. Demand for public transport can be smoothed throughout the day resulting in better service and more comfortable trips. All of this creates a city that is greener, healthier and more enjoyable to live in.
Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the economy. As much as 80% of all jobs are created through SMEs and an equivalent ratio of economic activity is generated by them.
If our local businesses are able to survive and thrive because their local community is around and able to patronise them throughout the day and the week, the local economic activity grows, encouraging more local businesses and resulting in more local tax revenues.
A variety of smaller businesses in smaller locations results in a more resilient economy, where shocks are distributed throughout the network rather than felt by large corporations who make purely financial decisions which can be more harmful to the local community.
When shops and restaurants are busy and people are walking down the street it makes for a great place. Encouraging citizens to be active and live locally increases safety and community vibrance. One busy cafe begets another. One successful shop encourages the emergence of a complimentary one. A few people on the street give others the confidence to go out as well.
When we live in the 15-minute city, we have more opportunities to go to the same shop each week and potentially get to know the shop keeper, which in turn encourages us to return and buy more.
We see the same people walking their dog down the street and maybe strike up a conversation. Active local areas are vibrant, growing and healthy local areas.
In order to create the 15-Minute City, different areas will need different things. For example, the central City of London is an almost entirely commercial area with less than 10,000 residents in its square mile boundaries.
Because of this, the businesses that have been built to cater to the office workers that commute into this area have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the mass work from home movement. This area needs more places to live to be a sustainable community.
In order for people to move in, the area will need childcare facilities and schools able to care for the new families, it will need parks and quiet areas, and it will need supermarkets to stock for the daily needs of residents rather than suburb-expatriate workers.
This is an extreme example, but most of the areas of our cities look exactly opposite – full of residents and businesses catering to them, but empty during the weekday because they all commute to the city centre. These areas need places for the resident to work. Locally owned, neighbourhood based coworking can help solve this problem.
Space for the Remote Worker
At GOOD SPACE, we have created a space for the marketing executive to accomplish his daily tasks, for the data manager to lead his remote team of analysts, and for the creative director to sketch out design content for his clients. They could have gotten on the tube and travelled to Holborn, Shoreditch, or the West End, but now they can stay close to home. They can go to the cafe that they thought only did weekend brunch or run home midday to check on the cat.
There are precious few spaces in the neighbourhood that allow for the community to gather together. With their well designed and equipped open plan work areas, Coworking spaces typically transition well into event spaces in the after-hours and on weekends.
Creating a gathering hub as a sort of community centre is an under-appreciated aspect of a local coworking space.
Engage and Enliven the Other Local Businesses
Our space is across the road from an amazing little cafe. It tends to do incredible weekend brunch but struggled to find its fit during the week.
With tonnes of new everyday workers now in our space who tend to walk out looking for lunch each day their midday service has increased massively.
In addition, their evening wine tastings and dinner service has picked up as well with members looking for a place to relax after a workday.
Connects the Community
A good local coworking space connects disparate parts of the neighbourhood through shared workspace and turns that into new opportunities.
Networking within the space comes naturally as members get to know each other. Shared challenges and local problems find a forum for creative solutions and potentially just the right entrepreneurial thinker to address them. When people come together, good things tend to happen.
It isn’t lost on me that the above few paragraphs present a relatively idealistic vision of what our cities could look like if we focused on our localities rather than the big flashy centres. Moving to a more local model wouldn’t be without challenges. But to me, it seems that many of us would find our neighbourhoods to have a much higher quality of life if we trended this direction and spent a little less time ignoring each other on the tube.
And just to let you in on a little secret, the story at the top is actually a very typical day from my own experience living and working in our 15-minute neighbourhood in London!