Dan Hill, an urban planner at Swedish innovation agency Vinnova, runs the Street Moves initiative in Sweden. He tells The Agility Effect how he aims to transform cities at hyperlocal level, street by street, making residents co-architects of the change.

Why do you support the idea of a one-minute city rather than that of the 15-minute city promoted by Paris for example?

D.H. It’s not that I support one idea “rather than” the other: in fact, the 15-minute city comprises several one-minute cities! Just as the city comprises hundreds of 15-minute cities. Based on the premise that all your daily needs can be met within a 15-minute walk or cycle ride, the 15-minute city covers a large area. As such, it doesn’t always give you the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with your immediate neighbourhood. Yet each neighbourhood has its own specific characteristics.   

 So that’s where the one-minute city comes in…

D.H. Yes, the one-minute city refers to the space you have that closer relationship with – the one right on your doorstep. There’s a risk that the 15-minute city simply becomes a feature of urban planning. To create a truly participatory movement, you need to establish a more immediate relationship and that starts at street level. That’s where you can engage with people about what specific spaces can be developed.  

“The one-minute city refers to the space you have that closer relationship with – the one right on your doorstep.”

Residents are at the heart of the change ownership process.

D.H. That’s right. They can talk to each other, their neighbours or other street users about what the city means for them and about their role in it. This helps develop a shared approach to managing the environment and a real ownership of the space. Indeed, this form of engagement is key to reinventing our cities and securing the top spot on the “ladder of citizen participation” devised by Sherry R. Arnstein(*). It’s then possible to tackle issues like shared gardens or pooled infrastructure for energy, water, waste management, housing, cooperative structures, shops and independent work spaces. We’ve had enough of top-down technocratic urban planning!

Might this type of approach lack coherence from the point of view of an entire neighbourhood or more widely a city?

D.H. Not at all. The real issue is ascertaining what should be coherent and what isn’t. There are cities in which some of the basics are ineffective or incoherent. All the engineering (plumbing, wiring, networks, etc.) should be coherent, but that’s not a city’s ultimate goal. A city, first and foremost, is about a culture, interactions, communities, shops and so on. Of course, some services likes trains, underground systems, buses, payment systems, etc. should be developed coherently on a large scale. But this isn’t difficult, we know how to do it. What’s more complicated is having diverse places, cultures and decision-making structures at hyperlocal level and adding all of it together to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words a city.

Would you say that’s the whole point of the one-minute city?

D.H. Absolutely. The one-minute city approach raises these kinds of questions. A more advanced form of technology – distributed, decentralised, adaptive, modular and straightforward – can help make smaller parts coherent, piecing them together in an agile way. We don’t need cumbersome, centralised systems. It’s time for a new generation of infrastructure to emerge. One that is inspired by a “more human” concept and based on cooperative systems and contemporary network practice. It’s a way to achieve recognisably different, fully participatory public places, while at the same time having coherent systems on a larger scale as needed.

What are the Street Moves project’s most symbolic achievements to date?

D.H. It’s easy to describe a prototype of street transformation that starts locally at single street level and aims to transform all the streets in the country. But moving the project forward and indeed seeing it through is less easy! This type of initiative tends to use a tactical urbanism approach, which is almost activist in nature!

Here in Sweden, Street Moves is supported by the government with the assistance of several local authorities and businesses like Volvo and Voi [shared scooter service]. To give an example, we’ve shown that school children could reinvent a street, receiving a 70% approval rate from residents to remove parking spaces and replace them with modular and adaptable wooden units that feature sandpits, greenery and social spaces. Getting the government to work in that way is already a step forward. Even if it’s a small step, it serves as an example and demonstrates that more is possible. It creates optimism, and that in itself is a great achievement.

 

(*) American consultant Sherry R. Arnstein in 1969 set out 8 levels of participation by citizens in projects that concern them in “A Ladder of Citizen Participation”.

 

14/10/2021