The concept of a 15-minute neighborhood, one whose residents can access essential amenities within a 15-minute walk from their homes, has become a popular yet contentious topic in urban planning discussions. Advocates say that such neighborhoods can improve quality of life, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and foster social connections. Opponents raise concerns about the feasibility of implementing this model across a wide range of geographies and population densities.
In a recent YouGov survey, Americans shared their views on turning their community into a 15-minute neighborhood, as well as which amenities they believe should be included in such a goal. The results show that most people in the U.S. are open to the idea of their local governments setting a target to have amenities within a 15-minute walk in their neighborhood, though there is some disagreement as to which amenities should be included in this goal.
Although there is broad support for the 15-minute concept, most Americans — especially ones who live outside of very urban areas — believe a 15-minute walking target would be difficult to achieve in their neighborhood. This could be in part because, as our survey finds, the 15-minute target is far from the present American reality: Very few Americans currently live within walking distance of most amenities they consider essential.
Who supports a 15-minute neighborhood?
After being told about the concept of a 15-minute neighborhood, Americans were asked the extent to which they would support or oppose their local government setting this target where they live.
A majority of people (55%) strongly or somewhat support their local government setting a target to have essential amenities within a 15-minute walking distance of homes in their neighborhood, while 32% strongly or somewhat oppose the idea and 14% are unsure. Support varies by age and urbanization level, with adults under 45 and people in more urban areas being more likely to support a 15-minute neighborhood target than are people who are older or live in more rural areas.
What kinds of places should be in a 15-minute neighborhood?
After voicing their support for — or opposition to — a 15-minute neighborhood proposal, respondents were asked which amenities should be included in such a plan. The top amenities, of 17 polled about, that Americans say should be included are grocery stores (74%), parks (72%), and pharmacies (71%). Bus stops (68%) and restaurants (66%) also are selected by large majorities. Sports arenas (23%), universities (24%), bars (32%), movie theaters (34%), and shopping malls (34%), on the other hand, are seen as less essential to include within a 15-minute walk of every home.
How feasible is a 15-minute neighborhood?
While the idea of a 15-minute neighborhood is appealing to many Americans, most don't think it is easily achievable where they live. Just one in three say it would be very easy (11%) or somewhat easy (24%) to achieve, while more than half say it would be very difficult (32%) or somewhat difficult (26%).
People who say they live in an area that is "very urban" are especially likely to view a 15-minute neighborhood as feasible in their area: 53% say it would be easy to achieve, compared to just 35% of Americans overall. However, roughly three-quarters of Americans say they live outside of very urban areas, and among these people, more think a 15-minute neighborhood would be difficult to achieve than easy.
What is walkable in American neighborhoods today?
One reason a 15-minute walking goal may not seem feasible to many is that most Americans currently live further than 15 minutes from the amenities majorities said should be included in the target. Fewer than half of people say that they live within a 15-minute walk of any of the 17 types of places asked about. A bus stop is within 15 minutes of the largest share of people (43%), followed by a gas station (41%), park (39%), and restaurant (38%). Many say it would take more than an hour to walk to the nearest sports arena (47%), university (46%), shopping mall (43%), or hospital (38%).
For all but one of the amenities asked about, there is a significant disparity between the proportion of Americans who believe the amenity should be incorporated into a 15-minute neighborhood plan in their area and the proportion who already live within a 15-minute walk of that amenity. Grocery stores, hospitals, and post offices have the largest gaps, with more than twice as many saying they should be included in a 15-minute neighborhood as saying they currently have one within a 15-minute walk of their home.
Setting aside Americans' preferences and perceptions about the distance of amenities, which amenities do people currently walk to from their homes? According to our poll, only around one in five or fewer Americans have walked to each of the types of places asked about within the past year — though this is in part because many people have not been to some places at all, whether by foot or vehicle. The largest shares of Americans had in the past year walked from their homes to a park (19%), grocery store (19%), or restaurant (16%).
People who live within 15 minutes of each amenity are far more likely than Americans overall to have walked there from their homes within the past year. For example, 29% of people who live within 15 minutes of a shopping mall have walked to one in the past year, compared to just 8% of Americans overall.
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— Fintan Smith, Carl Bialik, and Linley Sanders contributed to this article.
Methodology: The poll was conducted among 2,000 U.S. adult citizens on two separate surveys from March 9 - 13, 2023 and March 13 - 16, 2023, with each survey taken by 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 2%.
Image: Adobe Stock (Ekaterina Pokrovsky)