West Town – Growing a 20-min Neighbourhood

Guest Speaker: Ewan Anderson, 7N Architects, Edinburgh, Scotland

5 Key Takeaways:

  1. What Constitutes a 20 Minute Neighbourhood? 

Ewan Anderson joins us from Ednbourgh, Scotland to discuss the vision behind West Town and the guiding principles of the 20 Minute Neighbourhood. 

The 20 Minute Neighbourhood is a place designed around people and their diverse and ever-changing needs. The concept does not mean residents are limited to a 20 minute radius but is instead about establishing a community where people don’t feel like they need to leave. 

The emphasis is on creating a place where residents have easy and convenient access to all amenities and services they require daily. Creating safe and accessible places for people to live, work, and enjoy is the driving force of this philosophy. 


2. Incentivising Active Transportation Networks 

The 20 Minute Neighbourhood is a place where it is easy to live life without a car. Cars still have a place but are the third priority after active travel and public transport. 

The 20 Minute Neighbourhood is a place that is readily accessible through various transportation options, and is well connected to adjacent developments and existing neighbourhoods.

A guiding principle of West Town is improving walking and cycling networks to make them a more appealing option for residents. Enhancing active transportation systems incentivises people to choose these options more frequently, which is the best way to steer away from car travel (literally). The momentum of requiring less car travel, encourages less car travel. 

A recurring theme throughout the presentation is would you feel comfortable with your 7 year old child cycling to school using these networks? This puts the framework through a really interesting lens, and reframes connectivity and safety in the urban context. 


3. Sustainability is Embedded Throughout the Whole Approach 

Sustainability is deeply important in community building and is applicable to many aspects of the 20 Minute Neighbourhood. With that said, without context or action tied to it, the term can lose its impact. 

Ewan emphasises that sustainability must be embedded throughout all aspects of the approach, and specifies some ways communities can make this happen. Some sustainable initiatives that Ewan discusses are renewable energy forms, high-performance buildings, and mobility hubs. 

Establishing frameworks that encourage people to choose the greener option is the key to longevity in any community. 


4. Neighbourhoods are Fundamentally Mixed-Use 

At its core, the 20 Minute Neighbourhood is a mixed-use community. What we know about mixed-use areas is that they encourage a range of commercial, residential, and industry-related operations. It’s not only about encouraging people to live in the neighbourhood, but is about finding ways to draw people from all over the region.

An important characteristic of the 20 Minute Neighbourhood is a defined town centre.  

West Town centre is built around an existing tram stop that plays a major role in transporting people in and out of the neighbourhood. The concentration of retail, education, civic services, and housing around the transit hub and town centre attracts people to the area because it is easier to do so. 


5. Providing a Framework, Not a Prescription 

West Town is the guide for cultivating a thriving 20 Minute Neighbourhood but is not a one-and-done solution. 

As Ewan emphasises in the webinar, you will never have full control over what goes where and when and need to leave a little room for flexibility. The 20 Minute Neighbourhood is about focusing attention on the implementation of urban design tools that have a time dimension built into them. 

This reinforces more adaptable systems that are better equipped to accommodate the inevitably of change.