Written by Emily Scoones on 07/10/2021

Implementing Walkable Neighbourhood Concepts

With the release of our new White Paper about how we can leverage SiteSolve technology to drive decision making around walkable neighbourhoods, we wanted understand more about the benefits and challenges of actually implementing theses principles. We spoke to Rebecca Dillon-Robinson, an urban planner in Ramboll’s Regeneration and Cities team, who has recently completed a 20-minute neighbourhood research study for the Scottish Government. As well as finding out about her work, we also got her thoughts on the benefits and challenges of implementing the 20-minute neighbourhoods concept, also known as Complete Neighbourhoods, Barrios Vitales or 15-Minute Cities.

What are the key benefits of 20-minute neighbourhoods?

RDR: When this concept is delivered on the ground it should improve liveability and quality of life, tackle climate action, improve the local economy and decrease health inequalities. By making places that are walkable for everyone; for example ensuring access is not limited by the cost of transport; this way of planning places can help society to tackle aspects of inequality and provides access to quality local services for all.

Encouraging walking should also have public health benefits, both physically and for mental health. The demand for local car journeys should decrease, helping to reduce carbon emissions and contribute to climate action. It could also free up space for road reallocation, allowing spaces for greening, which in turn offer climate resilience solutions, and places for people to gather and socialise improving liveability and social value. There is also an economic benefit. Countless studies have shown that people who walk to high quality spaces typically spend more money. This concept supports local economies to provide thriving highstreets or neighbourhood centres whilst ensuring a connection into city- or business-centres through public transport and cycle networks.

An essential part of places functioning as 20 minute neighbourhoods is community participation, engagement and behaviour change. By engaging in their communities, citizens maintain a sense of control and local connection.  As a people centred approach, along with the other benefits, ultimately this concept should make residents of these neighbourhoods happier and healthier.


Can you explain how Ramboll has been helping local authorities/local government try to apply these principles?

RDR: Different authorities around the world are looking to implement this principle, either across cities of regions. Scotland, for example, is looking to implement the 20-minute neighbourhoods concept nationally. Ramboll’s research for the Scottish Government showed that communities across Scotland have the required services and infrastructure that would allow them to be 20-minute neighbourhoods. This is the case across both urban and rural settlement areas. However, the assessment did not allow for the conclusion that the required quality of services or infrastructure is in place. Nor does it conclude that these places are performing as 20-minute neighbourhoods. From the examples reviewed in the research it is evident that a clear plan with bespoke local considerations is needed to achieve the vision. It is also clear that this plan must be people-centred and developed with the stakeholders in the community.

Ramboll’s research recommended that the concept, framework, and funding should be defined at a national level and the local ambition, delivery, and community participation should be defined at a local level. Following the publication of the research the concept was further embedded into Scottish Policy through the re-election of the SNP, with it being a key part of their manifesto. The National Planning Framework 4 will also embed this concept at a national level and at a local level. any local authorities in Scotland are already taking the lead on shaping places based around this concept. Edinburgh is focusing on key regeneration areas such as Wester Hailes being planned around this concept. In Glasgow the Local Place Plan for the neighbourhoods of Tradeston, Kingston, Kinning Park, Plantation, Cessnock and Ibrox is using the concept of the 20-minute neighbourhood to provide a focus for local identity and a rethought community centre. Rural places such as Applecross in Westeross used a community Land Use Plan to select housing sites in a democratic and collaborative way, based on the 20-minute neighbourhood principles.    


What do you believe the biggest challenge in actually delivering 20-minute neighbourhoods?

RDR: The 20-minute neighbourhood concept is simple and it has caught the professional, political and public imagination, however the solution is not a simple one. There is no quick fix to transforming decades of urban planning in the UK focused on the car, tackling high street closures, under funding of local services and the housing crisis. Although the 20-minute neighbourhood concept does seek to tackle all of these issues, there is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution for every place in the country. Each place will take a different set of interventions to enable it to function as a 20-minute neighbourhood and each community will also prioritise different things in its evolution towards a more liveable place. Transport planners, urban designers, landscape architects, economists, public health professionals and community engagement specialists will all need to work across the traditional boundaries of their professions and obligations to understand the bigger picture and to work together to find solutions.

The biggest challenge will be ensuring that this concept is implemented equally across affluent and disadvantaged areas. There is the potential that if not managed carefully across a city or nationally this could lead to a situation where enabled communities further improve the quality of their local spaces and disadvantaged communities become further segregated and disadvantaged. It is therefore essential that a national framework for implementation and funding supports and directs funding to the areas that need it the most. It is equally important that where this concept is applied in disadvantaged communities it does not lead to Green Gentrification, where the improvements in the area increase property prices and desirability so that more disadvantaged residents are forced to leave.   

Alongside the presence of services, there needs to be quality. Good healthcare facilities, reasonably priced and available fresh fruit and vegetables, well maintained green spaces, public spaces that feel safe and comfortable to walk in, safe cycle infrastructure, a variety of affordable and secure housing typologies must be part of delivering this concept. Controlling for this quality is another difficult challenge.  

How do you think technology can help in delivering them?

RDR: Technology can support the implementation of this concept in many ways. Firstly baselining, what do we have, what is planned and how good is it? Understanding the place, presence of services and their quality will allow us to find what is needed. Secondly supporting community participation and engagement; digital tools, supported by offline measures can allow for greater community participation, where people can participate wherever they are and at anytime without having to go to a set location. Thirdly exploring the possibilities, digital tools, such as SiteSolve, can rapidly speed up the viability and planning processes, both for housing demand but also for transport and air quality. Models that give us options that we can work through more quickly can help with the streamlining of traditionally cumbersome processes. Fourthly measuring outcomes, it is essential that we also measure whether interventions have achieved the aims we set out. Digital tools can allow us to monitor and track against our baseline, to see if we have achieved what we set out to.


If you want to find out more about Ramboll's Scotland work - please follow this link

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