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The urban quarter of an hour

21/12/2020 in Your time
Having all essential services and businesses within a fifteen minute journey from home: anyone would be forgiven for thinking that this is yet another measure linked to Covid-19. But urban planner and researcher Carlos Moreno advocated this redevelopment of urban areas well before the beginning of the pandemic and the need to limit movements to slow the spread of coronavirus.
 
A professor at the Sorbonne, this Franco-Columbian defends a better quality of life in urban environments through his research and suggestions into more local solutions. He reminds us that the majority of towns and cities were transformed and planned around major roads that make it possible to reach their nerve centre quickly. And to be able to leave just as quickly. Of course, this was before we were concerned with the environment, pollution and noise. At this time, the car ruled and more ecological means of getting around prompted a smile. 
 
In this increasingly hectic and connected world, barely any thought was given to life in city districts and the little local shops that formed part of the social fabric. The most important thing was to get to where you were going quickly, ever more quickly. And straight to your intended destination. To not waste any more time at the weekend than during the week. And so many towns and cities witnessed the progressive loss of specialist shops in their historic districts . Instead consumers developed a preference for generalist hypermarkets where all consumer goods were available under a single roof. 
 
Often these temples to consumerism were far out of town, even right in the outskirts. But that didn’t matter with wide roads creating the impression of being able to access them quickly, parking was easy and, even better, these brands were hardly ever closed… Oh blessed be the opening times ! Obsessed with the passage of time, modern man sometimes resembles a headless chicken running around all over the place, rushing to the other side of town just to save a few minutes, or seconds even, when they used to have everything to hand.
 
 
Carlos Moreno
 
Carlos Moreno refers to this incessant race against the clock to justify his visions of urban planning based around a quarter of an hour. Over the course of the last few decades and the development of new technologies, we have become used to getting immediate answers whatever the distance. Firstly it was an immediate response by mail instead of two or three days later by letter, then instant images, live videos and now instant goods and services. There is no longer any day or night, week or weekend on these e-commerce platforms … no opening or closing times at all in fact. The only time that counts now is the delivery time in relation to our own schedule, and not the opening hours of the service provider or retailer. 
 
The urban planner and researcher spoke of "towns in continuous time", "multi-rhythmed", which requires having everything close to hand. Once again, this dates from before Covid-19. But someone’s misfortune is another man’s joy. These days and weeks in 2020 have been suspended in time and have enabled us to rediscover the pleasures of proximity, of all that is local. The pleasure of renewed contact with neighbours in the same building or local retailers… Discussions have resumed and often last more than 15 minutes. It doesn’t matter. After all, in times gone by, good manners dictated that city dwellers were always quarter of an hour late so as not to rush their hosts. 
 
Text : Frédéric Martin-Bernard
Photos : camille-brodard sur Unsplash, Carlos Moreno
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