Next year, Detroit will invest $1.6 million towards “20-minute neighborhoods”. It’s an attempt to revitalize some of the city’s commercial corridors so that amenities such as groceries and schools are within a 20-minute commute. It’s a strategy already in play in Portland, Oregon.
Eric Engstrom is the project manager of the Portland Plan, the city’s multi-faceted urban blueprint. He tells WDET’s Eli Newman that “20-minute neighborhoods” are a way of implementing many changes through a single tactic.
On the motivating factors to develop 20-minute neighborhoods
One was our interest in trying to become a more sustainable city, trying to reduce the amount of traffic congestion and pollution. Also equity; some communities had good access to [amenities] in a vibrant commercial district but other communities had a much sparser array of services.
On the origin of the strategy
Historically when cities were developed before the automobile, there was more reliance on getting your daily needs met closer to home. We see that a lot in historic neighborhoods, what we call in Portland “street-car neighborhoods.” That’s a historical pattern we see in a lot of American cities that has been lost with more commuting and freeway development.
The resources needed to make 20-minute neighborhoods a reality
We do have to make investments in transit. A lot of it has to do with zoning; many cities have zoning rules that preclude some of those development patterns that used to exist. There’s been a large interest in new development in communities where some of that zoning has been eased.
That’s one thing Portland has been struggling with. We’ve seen a lot of development in streetcars and sidewalks, reinvesting in urban infrastructure to stimulate growth, but we’re struggling with the displacement of current residents that are communities of color or lower-income. Portland is probably a lot whiter than Detroit, but this has still be a point of friction: how do we get shared success when we do see the revitalization of existing neighborhoods?