Design | Theory

The Dream of the 15 Minute City

What is community resilience when you can barely get by?

Dawn Nelson
3 min readFeb 1, 2024

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A slightly complicated street intersection at night. Photo by author, © Dawn Nelson.

What is the relevance of a walkable city as rents soar? At what point is it too much to pay for, to be able to walk wherever you need to go?

I remember living so close to the downtown area when I first moved to this city that I could walk to the boutique grocery. I could choose from three small grocers, in fact. Several bakeries. And the open air farm market twice a week.

This was the honeymoon period when I could afford to live in a downtown city neighborhood, lovingly known as Water Hill.

The fifteen minute walkable city is a nice idea. Ideally, folks live and work within a small radius and can divest from fossil fueled transit modes.

But increasingly, it is difficult to live in and access cities at all, let alone live a hyperlocal lifestyle.

So where does this leave sustainability and resilience?

I live in a city where leaders make bold claims about climate resilience. Yet, while there are plans for an inclusive resilient future, effective outcomes remain to be seen. It is still a city accessible only to those who can afford high rents or pricey home purchases.

The working folks who depend on their jobs in this city (and I mean the people who need every penny of their paychecks) must travel farther and farther to access opportunity.

It is a resilience divide. If you can live here affordably, great. If not… well, what is community resilience if you can barely get by?

A common refrain I hear is to share housing.

Get a roommate!’

‘Join a housing collective!’

Of course there is also my all time favorite, ‘Move somewhere else!’

There are a few cohousing communities on the west side of town. From time to time, I talk with folks who live there. It sounds like a dream — neighbors looking out for neighbors; pooling resources, ensuring everyone has what they need. It seems like a Mister Rogers storybook.

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Dawn Nelson

Artist, writer, strategist ~ writing creative nonfiction, memoir, essay. WIP: 0100 Series & The Sunday Dispatch.