What if everyone in the Columbus region was able to live within 15 minutes' walking or biking distance to work, school and everything else they needed in life?

With contributions from Jessica Fleming and Jordan Davis

Many of us understand how city and infrastructure design have historically created racial and social divides between neighborhoods. We know how highways have segregated our communities, and how policy decisions, such as redlining and exclusionary zoning, have resulted in further discrimination and barriers for people of color and people of lower social status to move ahead.

On top of these inequalities, our cities were primarily designed to move cars rather than people. This car-centric development has led to communities full of large parking lots and swaths of asphalt. Some cities estimate that 10 percent of their land is used for parking lots alone.

This piece of thought leadership is part of 11 Moonshot Ideas to Move the Columbus Region Forward: A Future 50 project.


The need for a civic renaissance

The private sector should fight inequity

Closing the digital divide

Driving equity by funding women-owned businesses

Designing a more equitable region

Using data to guide public policy 

Customer-centricity in social services

A radical recalibration of education

ISO: Ambassadors for science

Finding true work-life balance post-Covid

Reimagining community-police relations

Why we did this project

The consequences are immense: Essential workers can’t easily get to their jobs because the area where their job is located may not have any housing available at their income level. Parents have to miss doctor’s appointments because there aren’t any health facilities near their homes or jobs. Seniors are stuck in senior living facilities located away from the people they love and things they love to do. And children spend too much time on a school bus each day because of the lack of safe sidewalks and trails in their neighborhoods.

It is time to design for a more equitable region.

What if our cities were built as 15-minute cities for people?

In 15-minute cities, all residents could meet most of their daily needs, such as getting to school, shopping, the library, park, or doctor’s appointments, within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their homes. Each neighborhood would be designed, built or redeveloped around hubs for high-capacity transit connecting neighborhoods.

The concept of a “15-minute city” is not a new idea. Just look around Europe or some of our favorite older American cities, like Boston or Washington, D.C. The intimate streets and sidewalks that host homes, businesses, plazas, schools and restaurants are the neighborhoods people love. Poor and rich still exist, but the neighborhoods are closely connected for a stronger sense of community.

A recent Bloomberg article pointed out the things that make an urbanite happy: Living in dignity, having decent work, being able to buy their daily goods, feeling like they belong and having easy access to quality education and recreation. With holistic neighborhood design, all of these things can be achieved within a 15-minute radius.

To achieve this, we need to do the following:

• Understand that each area of a city is a neighborhood—even downtown Columbus. With that definition, zoning should allow for each neighborhood to have an urban fabric where stores mix with homes, bars mix with health centers, and daycares and schools mix with office buildings. Such design will naturally bring people closer to opportunities—housing, shopping, jobs, parks, schools, health care and mobility options. A critical piece to encourage vibrant, diverse, human-centric neighborhoods that are connected by transit, sidewalks and trails is to eliminate parking requirements.

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• Connect neighborhoods through mobility options—sidewalks, crosswalks, bike trails and a comprehensive transit system. Bold regional leadership can make the strategic decision to invest in the type of mobility solutions that lead to better regional connections and equitable access for all. This will mean trade-offs for our region, prioritizing sidewalks, trails and transit over highway and interchange expansions.

• Residents need to be part of the comprehensive planning process for creative solutions and true neighborhood design. Such co-design practices may extend the planning process, but will most likely result in strategies that are centered around people rather than infrastructure. Because they are done with people for people. We need to redefine public engagement by including all residents, not just those who have the loudest voice or are already participating in area commissions.

A truly equitable region commits to every resident having the opportunity for a high quality of life. To do so, we need to build communities that provide opportunities for people to choose where they want to live and how they want to get around—no matter their income, race, age or physical ability.

Kerstin Carr is director of planning and sustainability for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. Kimberly Sharp is senior director of development at Central Ohio Transit Authority.

LinkUS Mobility Corridors initiative

By 2050, Central Ohio is expected to be a region of 3 million people. Today, most people rely on cars to get to and from their destinations. However, there is an opportunity to improve mobility choices and shape how the region grows in a manner that will increase transportation reliability, manage traffic congestion, support businesses and workers, provide access to housing and improve quality of life.

LinkUS is an initiative created to address the future of key regional transportation and urban development corridors and the communities they serve. It is a bold approach for all residents to have better access to jobs, housing they can afford and quality education.

LinkUS will allow more people to get to their jobs in less time than driving, and they wouldn’t have to bother with parking. It will focus housing development along transit routes that the workforce can afford, and it will connect the region’s neighborhoods to each other in ways we have never experienced before.

Call to action

We are asking you, our regional leaders, to come together and use the 15-minute city as an investment strategy for equitable development. To get you started, we ask you to research and get involved in the following initiatives:

• 7 rules for creating 15-minute neighborhoods, an article by progressive development advocate Strong Towns

• Regional Housing Strategy by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, the city of Columbus and regional partners

• LinkUs Corridors implementation by the city of Columbus, Central Ohio Transit Authority and MORPC

• Regional Trail Vision by MORPC

• Insight2050 by MORPC, One Columbus and Urban Land Institute Columbus