We have 30 minutes
to save the world ...

“Let’s map a 30-minute circle, marking the things that we have come to realise matter most and the things that don’t. Plot the things that are missing and imagine, if they were there, where they might be.”

Bernie Foulkes, Director, LDA Design

A bit dramatic? It’s meant to be. Like some latter-day fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, COVID-19 rode into view behind climate emergency, the fourth Industrial Revolution and Brexit and it is this one that could change the way we think about the world around us in the most fundamental way.

Lockdown made our world shrink, with everything we might need to survive and to thrive within 30 minutes of our doorstep, on foot or by bike. It made us find out more about our neighbours and our neighbourhoods, the healing power of nature and the spaces we share. Our powers of observation became more acute, making our environment feel richer and more meaningful. We wondered if it would ever be this quiet again.

We need to use what we have learned. We must not forget what we have come to realise we love and value, nor the emotions and the feelings shared. This new world revealed shocking inequality all around us. Those of us lucky enough to own private gardens experienced lockdown differently to the family living on the 15th floor with no private space: the same people who were demonised in the press for using crowded public parks in the middle of our crowded cities. It has become clear that space is not equally shared.

No time to lose

So, tipping it on its head, this is the chance to plan our world around us in a different way. Imagine a placemaking plan focused on delivering most of the things we need within 30 minutes of our doorstep, both for places that only exist in the future and for existing places we retrofit. Abandon the outdated plans for a bypass, give us all superfast broadband instead. We need more trees, more cycleways, less tarmac, a pocket park instead of a car park, locally grown food instead of berries from South America – the list will be long.

Let’s map that 30-minute circle, marking the things that you came to realise matter most and the things that don’t. Plot the things that are missing and imagine, if they were there, where they might be. What’s outside the circle that you want inside? And what could you live without.

Is this the moment to rethink densities? Crowding people into undersized apartments in tall residential buildings around transport hubs might make sense if you think of people as a commodity in a flow diagram, but we know now how it comes at the expense of their health and their sanity. This would never happen in a 30-minute place. People need better housing space standards and access to green space. Is there any good reason why nurses or teachers or cleaners should not be able to afford to live within 30 minutes of their workplace?

Fundamentally, this is about making an equitable and resilient place, built around the health and wellbeing of people and the health of the planet. We need to get together and draw this plan now. There’s not a moment to lose.


This article appears in the Summer 2020 edition of the Landscape Institute’s Journal.

Bernie Foulkes is a master planner, urban designer and landscape architect at LDA Design.

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