In 2020, as pandemic lockdowns forced billions of people around the world to become intimately familiar with their neighborhoods, one of the hottest ideas in urban planning was the “15-minute city.” A vision for a decentralized urban area that allows residents to meet their daily needs within a quarter-hour walk or bike from their homes, the concept has been pursued as a means of cutting greenhouse emissions and boosting livability in a host of global cities — especially Paris, where Mayor Anne Hidalgo has embraced the model as a blueprint for the French capital’s post-Covid recovery.
Now Sweden is pursuing a hyperlocal variation, on a national scale. A plan piloted by Swedish national innovation body Vinnova and design think tank ArkDes focuses attention on what Dan Hill, Vinnova’s director of strategic design, calls the “one-minute city.” It’s a order of magnitude smaller than other recent think-local planning conceits. While Paris works with a 15-minute radius and Barcelona’s superblocks with nine-block chunks of the city, Sweden’s project operates at the single street level, paying attention to “the space outside your front door — and that of your neighbors adjacent and opposite,” Hill says.
Called Street Moves, the initiative allows local communities to become co-architects of their own streets’ layouts. Via workshops and consultations, residents can control how much street space is used for parking, or for other public uses. It’s already rolled out experimentally at four sites in Stockholm, with three more cities about to join up. The ultimate goal is hugely ambitious: a rethink and makeover of every street in the country over this decade, so that “every street in Sweden is healthy, sustainable and vibrant by 2030,” according to Street Moves’ own materials.
Unlike the 15-minute city concept, Sweden’s one-minute city model is not about meeting the needs of all city residents at a hyperlocal level — that would overlook fundamentals like public transit, job access, or specialist health care. Instead, the spaces just beyond the doorstep are ideal places for cities to start developing new, more direct ways of engaging with the public, Hill suggests. They are a filter and a portal to the wider world; the atmosphere they generate and the amenities they contain speak volumes about how a community operates and what it values. “Everyday infrastructures like streets hold the keys to our possible cultures,” Hill says.
By rethinking these patches of pavement as critical connecting spaces for communities, the project seeks to break through assumptions — as prevalent in Sweden as elsewhere — that address streets primarily as places to move and store cars. The micro-focus on the sliver of city outside your door, Hill says, can be a wedge to wider urban transformation. “Here, you have the most regular and direct participation, responsibility and interaction, merely propped up on propinquity.”
Though Street Moves’ first steps predate 2020, its choice of focus seems doubly relevant in the wake of a year when stay-at-home orders and street demonstrations reinforced a sense that our immediate neighborhoods are platforms where we must tackle and overcome the most fundamental of social hurdles. While its mix of removing car space and increasing community consultation may sound too utopian to be imitable in the U.S. or elsewhere, the basic tools Street Moves uses are American in inspiration — street furniture units based on the “parklet” model.
A national parklet
Vinnova’s plan works like this. With design firm Lundberg Design, the project has developed a kit of street furniture, designed to fit the dimensions of a standard parking space and built on hard-wearing pine decks. These units, inserted into the curb space, can be fitted depending on need with seating planters, bike or scooter racks, children’s play spaces or electric car charging stations attached. Easily connectable, the deck panels can either be stand-alone units, or configured to flank an entire street. According to Hill, the concept “draws inspiration from things like Lego or IKEA — or Minecraft — where you have a consistent system that can be adapted or hacked, remodeled, added to.”