20-Minute Living

“Can I get a cup of coffee nearby? Can I get to work by public transit? How close is the dog park? The playground?”

Imagine, they explain, “being able to do all of the necessary and enjoyable things that make life great within 20 minutes of your home… 20 minutes on foot is ideal but 20 minutes by transit, bike, or even auto is a reasonable goal.”

This is what a great firm, Gerding Edlen, said about their brilliant development idea called “20-Minute Living.”

Responsible for such dynamic mixed-use projects as the Brewery Blocks in Portland, Oregon, Gerding Edlen’s philosophy was inspired by, among other things, the town squares of Europe, Denmark’s bicycle culture, the juxtaposition of modern and historic spaces in London, and the sheer beauty of the natural environment that surrounds them daily. Key to their work is researching the way people live; enabling them to create “meaningful and healthy places where people work, learn, and live.” As partner Dennis Wilde explains, it’s all about “planning and development that meet human needs in a district accessed primarily via walking, followed by biking, mass transit, and cars.”

This is only going to become more important. Numerous studies show that Gen Y (those born between the mid-1970s and early 2000s) want to walk everywhere—work, restaurants, recreation—and are eager to live in denser, more urban settings. The founders of rankings system Walkscore.com, which evaluates how easy it is to live in the nation’s cities and suburbs without a car, predict that those in the market for a new home will call their realtors asking not only for good schools and X number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but competitive walkability scores. Portland’s Pearl District, where Gerdling Edlen’s Brewery Blocks Project is located, rates 91 out of 100 for walkability and 89 out 100 for transit with 45 (45!) bus and rail routes. (Any score over 70 indicates a neighborhood where it’s possible to get by without owning a car.)

20min-livingWhy is this relevant? Well, people are increasingly conscious of the increasing costs (not just in terms of money, but of time and quality of life) not just of commuting to an office but of simply getting to the supermarket. They’re thinking not just about a home but a home in relation to all the other routine yet essential details of life: can I get a cup of coffee nearby? Can I get to work by public transit? How close is the dog park? The playground?

A concept like Gerding Edlen’s 20-minute living, along with related endeavors like transit-oriented development (TOD), pedestrian-oriented development, and New Urbanism, recognize the profound importance of creating and sustaining something increasingly absent from recent urban condos and suburban single-family homes alike: community.

Allison Arieff writes about architecture and design for The New York Times and numerous other publications, including the MIT Technology Review and The Atlantic Cities. The former editor in chief of Dwell magazine, she is co-author of the books “Prefab” and “Trailer Travel: A Visual History of Mobile America.”