We all know by now that the next decade is critical to setting the built environment up for net zero by 2050. But with emissions from the operation of buildings hitting an all-time high last year, according to the UN’s Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, there are fears that net zero may be out of reach.

Fortunately, with more than 200 events and several new climate action initiatives launched at COP27 in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm El-Sheik, the real estate sector has shown that it has the climate solutions ready to scale now.

Enter the 15-minute city, a ‘complete neighbourhood’ that centres around the idea that residents can meet most of their daily needs by walking or cycling no more than 15-20 minutes away from their homes.

The concept of a 15-minute city is not new – French-Colombian academic Carlos Moreno coined the term back in 2016 – but with the widespread shift to an ESG-focused environment and given that some 68% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050, adopting this strategy may be the key to securing a liveable future through the decarbonisation of urban areas.

And for savvy developers and investors with capital to invest, taking on a long-term view by deploying equity and repositioning their portfolios to adapt to this trend presents an exciting opportunity for the next period of sustained growth and strong returns.

Calling for collaboration

Historically, cities have been developed with clear separations between industrial, commercial and residential zones. In contrast, the 15-minute city centres around an environment which brings together an individual’s everyday needs – from home to retail to work and healthcare.

By its very nature, the concept offers a multi-faceted approach to urban development. Through increased collaboration between investors and developers across various sub-sectors, there is clear value in rethinking and diversifying what spaces can be used for.

Commercial real estate landlords and developers who invest in the potential of tech-enabled, renewably powered, multi-functional spaces will be well positioned to cater to a change in occupier appetites while also meeting quickly changing EPC requirements.

Support in the form of development feasibility studies, such as those provided by Hollis, as well as design and management expertise are paramount in rethinking urban spaces. So too is enabling the retrofitting of our existing building stock to happen at scale. At Hollis, we advise clients to adopt a whole lifecycle approach to reducing carbon, not just from an operational perspective but also by looking at the embodied carbon.

Interestingly, there is a good case for reimagining the 15-minute city on Hollis’ City office doorstep. 140 London Wall, more widely known Bastion House at the Museum of London, has been scheduled for demolition for a number of years, with the current plan to construct a brand-new office block in its place. With sustainability moving to the top of real estate’s priority list, is demolishing one office to build another really the best way of moving forward? 140 London Wall has the opportunity to engage with its local Barbican surroundings and reimagine itself as a space of modern work and play. Through repurposing old buildings to different uses, and retrofitting to meet contemporary standards, 140 London Wall can embrace the idea of a green 15-minute City, which is surely how the Barbican Estate was originally envisaged.

The downturn in certain sub-sectors, for example office spaces, should incentivise owners, investors and developers to reconsider their ‘reliable’ formulas in order to future-proof their portfolios: increasing the quality of what they build, where they build and how they build and in turn help to develop a more vibrant and healthier urban life.