The 15-minute city urban model has been awarded the 2021 Obel Prize in appreciation of its importance in establishing sustainable and people-centered urban areas. The concept was coined in 2016 by Sorbonne professor Carlos Moreno to describe a radically fluid urban concept that assures all inhabitants can access daily requirements within a 15-minute walk, removing the dominance of the car and restoring traditional city values into current urban design.

15-Minute City Concept designed by Carlos Moreno Wins Obel Award 2021 - Sheet1
The 15-minute city, Paris (Diagram) _© Micael

It is only the third project in history to receive an Obel Award, an international accolade given yearly by the Henrik Frode Obel Foundation to recognize “great architectural achievements to human progress.” This year’s challenge centered on creative solutions to the difficulties that cities throughout the world confront.

Moreno’s idea, the 15-Minute City, encourages and supports a fully liveable and sustainable urban future in which each citizen is at the core of their city. The 15-minute city, characterized as a revolutionary urban paradigm, permits all citizens to access their essentials, such as housing, workplace, food, health, education, culture, and recreation, within 15 minutes by foot or bike ride. As per Moreno, this plan significantly decreases automobile traffic and carbon dioxide emissions while improving inhabitants’ health and well-being.

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City life, Copenhagen commuters _©Emilie Koefoed; Courtesy of Obel Award

The hypothesis, which was once dismissed as utopian, gained acceptance during the epidemic as decision-makers began to rethink the foundations of urban living. The C40 network of cities began advocating the notion as a post-pandemic recovery plan, and the concept now entered the sphere of municipal policy, with Paris taking active measures towards implementation. Other cities that have followed the 15-minute city concept include Houston, Milan, Brussels, Valencia, Chengdu, and Melbourne.

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The 15-minute City, Paris (Sketch) _© Micael

Moreno believes in the cross-disciplinary partnership between the sciences and innovative ecosystems by combining science, development, and creativity. Throughout his work profile with the theories of the 15-minute city, he founded six critical urban social functions that are required across all cities, namely living, working, supplying, caring, learning, and enjoying, which can be optionally defined as housing, work, food, health, education, and culture and leisure.

According to the jury, the 15-minute city is a creative and sensible idea with the possibility to considerably enhance the lives of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world and contribute to the building of a healthy planet. “Today’s 15-minute metropolis is built on dense, compact urban zones. We need to widen our attention to cover diverse densities and territories, such as small cities, medium-sized cities, and even rural areas “Moreno stated. “We must keep the concept of the 15-minute city while inventing new ways to implement its vicinity principle at different densities,” he stressed.”

15-Minute City Concept designed by Carlos Moreno Wins Obel Award 2021 - Sheet4

Unused structures, according to Moreno’s vision, might be converted into co-working spaces. On weekends, schools might be available for cultural events. A sports hall during the day might be transformed into a discotheque at night. In the evenings, cafés might organize language lessons, and on weekends, public buildings may host music.

Moreno’s concept of a re-defined metropolis encompasses all of the fundamentals via three main elements and four guiding principles. The fundamental elements indicate that a city’s rhythm should follow individuals rather than automobiles and that each square meter should be optimized to fulfill a variety of functions. More significantly, neighborhoods should be structured to be self-sufficient to eliminate the need for continual commuting elsewhere. “The four guiding principles that act as a foundation for the notion are ecological, proximity, solidarity, and participation.” The highlighted ideas and characteristics may appear straightforward and even familiar.

While the concept of the “15-minute city” is gaining traction throughout the world, not everyone is sold on the idea of hyper-local accessible neighborhoods. According to critics, it might foster tribalism and worsen current urban inequities across districts. This may be prevented by deploying the 15-minute city concept first in underserved sections of the city. A 15-minute city for everybody requires resource management through an urban policy based on the urban commons.”

15-Minute City Concept designed by Carlos Moreno Wins Obel Award 2021 - Sheet5
The street space distributed in a 15-minute city _©N.Bascón / for Paris-en-commun

Moreno’s concept is aimed at urban residents rather than professionals. “What do we require to build 15-minute cities?” We need to start asking questions that we haven’t asked in a long time. For example, we must reconsider how we use our square meters. What is the purpose of the space? Who is utilizing it and how are they using it? What are our resources, and how are they used? Then we must inquire about the services that are offered in the immediate neighborhood. Not only in the city core, but across the surrounding area. Health care providers, stores, marketplaces, artists, sports, cultural activities, schools, and parks are examples of services. Are there any green spaces? Is there a water fountain or a place to cool off? We must also inquire as to how we operate.

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Minute city concept _©Bike
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Minute city concept _©Bike

It is vital to clarify that the 15-minute City does not advocate for a retreat to village life, but primarily for the concept of small self-sufficient clusters coexisting within a larger precinct. The 15-minute city is recognized as an adaptive urban concept for defining and revising what we consider common human needs and functions. The model also promises to be devoid of political ideology and aesthetics, and it does not define any specific instructions for spatial design, instead establishing simply parameters and programs. A substantial part of the human-centric plan is dependent on cities’ willingness to implement the idea.

Carlos Moreno also picked the Obel Award event to launch a new effort by the 15-minute city team for the first time: the International Observatory of Proximities. The global network of cities for climate, C40, the UN-Habitat, the International Union of Architects (UIA), and other partners are behind the program. This strong global ecosystem, which will be unveiled in January 2022, intends to encourage the concept of accessibility in our cities and territories, including geographical, social, cultural, cognitive, and digital dimensions.


- A young architect and a firm believer in the potential of architecture, sustainability, research, and design thinking to significantly improve society and have a positive influence on the environment. A highly efficient and enthusiastic individual who is inspired by the meaning of architecture and its innovative effectiveness to translate thinking approaches into the built environment.

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