A 15 minute neighbourhood?

5 min readMay 24, 2020

In Camden we’re taking a neighbourhood approach to ensure we design ways of working with people that are at the scale of the way they live their lives. This is particularly important working in a borough which sits at the heart of a global city connecting into mainland Europe and the rest of the UK, with national and international institutions and corporates and development.

Camden has a strong reputation in thinking differently and leading new ways of working, where our people, the council and others work together differently to develop new solutions, from Citizens Assemblies, Public Collaboration Lab or the Knowledge Quarter.

We have neighbourhoods with strong identities at the heart of London, such as Camden Town, Covent Garden or St Pancras, as well as being home to global innovators, such as Google, UCL or the Crick Institute.

Our neighbourhoods in Covid 19 have become even more important to people’s lives as many have been restricted to them in how they get around, work, connect with people and get support. That’s why Dan Hill question about “how do the patterns, edges and dynamics of neighbourhood change in a slowdown” is a powerful area to uncover.

@cityofsound https://medium.com/slowdown-papers/15-from-lockdown-to-slowdown-house-playground-street-b0eec8a01533

What can we learn from designing service patterns to designing ways of living and working in a neighbourhood?

We started this work pre-Covid 19 with We are Snook who are excellent at service patterns and helping us thinking about what this means for neighbourhoods. We pivoted our neigbourhoods spaces to go digital or become spaces to provide essential supplies working with Dare to Care.

What can we learn from the edges of a neighbourhood to influence and disrupt the centre?

We also started this pre-Covid 19 turning our Public Collaboration Lab partnership with Central Saint Martins inside out by developing a neighbourhoods makespace for residents to become everyday entrepreneurs, and pivoting by going digital.

If we can quickly redesign our habits at time, using it as an office, nursery, school and kitchen, how could we redesign our neighbourhoods, in terms of infrastructure and through exercise, to go to the shops or work?

In post lockdown, what do we want to retain from lockdown, recover from before or reinvent?

We may want to retain the peacefulness where sounds of nature reclaim over the noise of traffic, the solidarity of people distancing themselves to avoid infection, the neighbourliness of clapping for all our essential workers with people actively displaying affection for people delivering food and making supplies.

We may want to recover physically coming together even if it’s not possible, local shops being re-opened to sell local goods and being able to visit cultural places closed. All of that needs to be reinvented through a “healthy by design” approach, local supply chains and opening up spaces and paths to make them wider.

Dan Hill https://medium.com/slowdown-papers/15-from-lockdown-to-slowdown-house-playground-street-b0eec8a01533

What about commuting?

We know the longer the commute, the more affected your mental health is. Ever since I started working, I’ve never lived closed than one hours travel by public transport, sometimes having to commute up to four hours ever day. I’ve tried to commute as much by walking two hours into work, even then the journey’s stressful having to navigate traffic! Which is why the Mayor of London’s initiative to make certain lanes in central London traffic free is really welcome and we at Camden are testing ways to encourage ways to cycle and walk safely.

I intentionally walk an hour an day, to get fit, spend time outside the house, with my partner and breathe fresh air. Working at home does end up spending more time in front of a screen than in the office where I’d walk an hour a day just walking up and down the stairs and out and about in London to meetings.

How can we work from home and still have work life balance? What role for the neighbourhood? How can we reconnect to spending more time and money in our local neighbourhoods?

We can learn that improved walking and cycling and Play Streets emerged partly from the activism of Reclaim the Streets and that adventure playgrounds also started out as a campaign

Neighbourhoods could be more self-sustaining and encouraging more human-scale interaction like the Mayor of Paris’ plan for neighbourhoods where you’re no more than 15 minutes away from your basic needs, school, work and open spaces, as CityLab reports.


In practice, Dan Hill shares what that could look like:

This street has different forms of working spaces and studios, unlocked via digital services which ensure high utilisation whilst avoiding unnecessarily high buildings. This enables the kind of extended footprint of home-workplace described previously: your home as your city centre, but multiple workspaces around. With an emphasis on Slowdown, policies to encourage local and distinct independent retail, cultural venues, fabrication and production make much more sense, and can be threaded together by slower and quieter active transport logistics, yet with global presence digitally.

To test this out practically, we could




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese