Work, play and sustainability in the 15-minute city

Work, play and sustainability in the 15-minute city

The pandemic brought about the biggest shift in work practices for generations – working from home. As a result, cities will have to compete for people who now have flexibility over where they live and work. Today, the 15-minute city represents a major departure from the past, responding to climate change, the pandemic, sustainable businesses, and globalisation.

The “15-minute” city concept was developed primarily for reducing carbon footprints by decreasing the use of cars and motorised commuting time. It is a decentralised urban planning model, in which each local neighbourhood contains all the basic social functions for living and working. Many people argue that the concept of creating localised neighbourhoods in which residents can get everything they require within 15-minutes by walking, cycling, or via public transport, will ultimately improve their quality of life. 

Such spaces entail multi-purpose neighbourhoods instead of specific zones for working, living, and entertainment, reducing the need for unnecessary travel, strengthening a sense of community, and improving sustainability and livability.

To show what the 15-minute city concept could look like in high-density Asian cities like Hong Kong and Singapore in decades to come, architect Mun Summ Wong shared his bold vision recently. It involved green walkways paved with photovoltaic panels that generate solar energy, while on-demand autonomous vehicles transport people both above and below ground, and even underwater. In his vision, buildings have a much broader range of uses nowadays, combining green public spaces with office and retail space, food and energy production, and residences on multiple levels.

“We need to change the way we think about a street,” says Wong, co-founder of Singapore-based architectural practice WOHA, renowned for its buildings lined and topped with lush foliage. “While in Europe the 15-minute city makes sense on one building level, in a high-density environment we must create multiple ground levels higher up. We want to create streets in the sky.”

WOHA’s recent projects include designing the masterplan for Singapore’s Punggol Digital District, which aims to provide residents with a greener, smarter homes within easy reach of the new employment opportunities offered by the District’s proposed new business park.

Cities like Paris and New York, which are relatively more mature concerning this concept, have launched participatory budgets to promote local engagement as a part of their city transformation strategy.

According to cities expert and Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne University professor, Carlos Moreno, the 15-minute city concept is about decentralising work, “There are plenty of jobs that can be done remotely. Commuting for an hour to be behind a computer in the office doesn’t make a lot of sense if you can be behind a computer close to your home. Being close to home means that we can create new spaces”.

Reducing the carbon footprint

Increased travel sharing and use of non-motorised modes of travel help reduce carbon emissions from cars. The effects of a 15-minute city are profound because replacing cars with active modes of transportation like walking or cycling adds up over time. Reducing commuting seriously reduces the carbon footprints of businesses and individuals alike. 

Putting the employee experience first – hub and spoke model

The pandemic has highlighted how companies can more effectively use schedules, space, and technology to be more productive. Companies are turning to a decentralised “hub-and-spoke” model whereby a company operates a centralised main office (hub) with more localised satellite offices (spokes). The Hub and spoke model refers to a flexible workspace and working style, where employees work from either their city hub (a dedicated, strategic spoke location such as a regional workspace) or a personal home-based spoke. 

Hub and spoke models cut down employees’ commuting times, and adapt to the way employees now prefer to work – placing the employee experience at the forefront. 

A successful hub and spoke model is an office layout steeped in behaviour-based design offering separate spaces for meetings and collaboration, private spaces or booths for video and phone calls, and quiet rooms for focused work. WeWork offers both large multidimensional workspaces suitable for headquarters and flexible smaller spaces and hot desks, with the employee experience being a priority.

In this arrangement, individual employees will no longer need dedicated desks. Instead, employees can choose a work location (either a hub or spoke) that best suits their intended behaviour. This is an exciting time for employees, as employers increasingly empower them to personalise and customise how and where they work best.

Hub and spoke models provide teams with access to office amenities along with the flexibility of being closer to home. By giving employees the option to work closer to home, rather than at home, satellite offices can prevent the pitfalls of remote work (such as isolation, poor collaboration, distractions, and makeshift desk setups), but also mirror some of its benefits, such as less time spent commuting.

From an employee’s perspective, high-speed broadband, a dedicated desk, and a designated work environment (without domestic distractions) might be a welcome relief. From a business’s perspective, the management of both employees and the operational environment is easier.

WeWork piloted this practice in New York City by having one central headquarters surrounded by satellite offices throughout the city. Over 70 percent of employees reported being satisfied with this model.

WeWork’s workspace on Taikoo Wan Road, Quarry Bay Park is positioned in one of Hong Kong’s popular neighbourhoods for business, entertainment and culinary innovation, placing people at the heart of the action. The beautifully designed open workspace offers lounge areas, an onsite games room and outdoor space to inspire creativity and elevate everyday work experiences. Only a stone’s throw away from the illustrious Cityplaza mall with more than 170 shops and restaurants, a cinema, and even an ice rink. Cityplaza is the largest shopping mall in Hong Kong island and offers a variety of options to collaborate, network, and celebrate team wins. Customers can access directly from Tai Koo MTR Station to the mall which will get make moving around easy where so you can experience your own version of a 15-minute city! Schedule a visit to the WeWork Taikoo office and explore the shopping mall! Check out another WeWork office located in Lee Garden One, 9 Queen’s Road Central, or Two Harbour Square with similar surrounding packages around the office. 

Good for the environment = good for business

The 15-minute city has yet another benefit: it allows new businesses – such as corner shops and independent retailers that benefit from more foot traffic – to flourish. This is a method for creating sustainable businesses.

“Many people never visited shops close to their homes before because they were busy. They didn’t know their neighbours or the parks nearby. The pandemic made us discover this. We have rediscovered locality, and it has improved quality of life.” says Mereno. 

Where to from here?

While urban hubs like Paris and New York are working towards realising their 15-minute civic dreams, is it possible in Asia and other regions? 

In China, cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou have included 15-Minute Community Life Circles in their masterplans. Chengdu is another city taking a polycentric approach to urban development. It has a Great City plan to create a smaller, distinctive satellite city in its outskirts, where everything will be within a 15-minute walk of the pedestrianised centre and connected to current urban centres via mass transit. Saudi Arabia is also building a new city on the 15-minute principle: Neom will be vehicle-free, with zero-carbon credentials and high-speed autonomous transport.

Despite geography, companies need to rethink the role of the workplace beyond 9-to-5 and keep the employee experience front of mind with a focus on well-being. If businesses consider employee commutes and restructure them to be more flexible, this will support employee well-being and the environment by reducing carbon footprints.

Considering flexible ways to work within 15 minutes of home? Learn more about our adaptable co-working spaces designed to support hybrid work models at Connect with us today to find out more.

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