Walkable cities: the 20-minute neighbourhood

Analysing the 'walkability of our neighbourhoods, to assist in achieving sustainability objectives, and improve health outcomes.

5 minute read
OS considers the concepts of 'walkability' and the '20-minute neighbourhoods' - relatively new concepts that link people to places, with the opportunity to improve both health, and our environment.

Location is an important criterion when it comes to choosing where we live. We might consider certain aspects such as proximity to schools, or a train station, or a place of work.

But another, important question which perhaps gets overlooked: how will the location of a home, and ‘walkability of its neighbourhood, affect our health outcomes? That is, are the services and infrastructure that factor into our regular needs within a reasonable distance? Somewhere that can be reached by walking, cycling, scootering, and so on.

It’s a critical deliberation to be made. Being able to reach these places not only means we can meet our needs; it also presents opportunity to reduce unsustainable modes of travel, and instead prioritise quality of life.

So arises the concept of ‘the 20-minute neighbourhood.’

Good for us, good for the planet

The 20-minute neighbourhood is a relatively new concept being considered worldwide, and already being implemented in London, Paris, Portland, Melbourne, Milan, and more. Each city can have its own approach to the matter, but at its core, the 20-minute neighbourhood is about ensuring people can achieve their essential needs within a 20-minute walk (within approx. 800m) of their home. As an idea, potential benefits range from the individual level, to global.

Implementing 20-minute neighbourhoods helps to enable people live better, healthier lives. A brisk 10-minute daily walk benefits our health, and counts towards weekly 150 minutes of recommended physical activity exercise, so a 20-minute walk helps increase the health benefit.

Improved walkability can provide an alternative to driving. Not only does this reduce inequality, by making it accessible to those who are unable to drive or can’t afford to, a walkable city can also reduce air and noise pollution, and help ease congestion. Transport contributes to an approximate 26% of greenhouse pollution, so choosing to walk a short journey instead of driving makes for significant advantages for the environment (as well as helping you save on fuel and parking costs).

This also helps governments and local authorities support their own net zero ambitions by lowering carbon emissions with fewer cars on the road, and alleviates other matters of concern such as traffic and parking.

A 20-minute neighbourhood would consist of housing planned alongside local infrastructure, such as:

  • Schools
  • Community centres
  • Local shops
  • Greenspaces
  • Health and social care

But, how to plan this infrastructure? And what if you wanted to analyse the walkability of existing neighbourhoods?

Steps in the right direction

Scottish Government has introduced a new policy, intended to help citizens access their daily requirements, within a 20-minute travel time, and West Dunbartonshire have used OS data in their own project.

Their teams used OS MasterMap Sites Layer to complete service area analysis and calculate travel times, across the local authority. A dashboard was created, to communicate results with senior leadership teams and identify where populations exist with limited access to services. West Dunbartonshire plan to demonstrate their work to other local authorities.

Aerial image of a neighbourhood
New neighbourhoods could be planned with walkability in mind.

The gridded data approach

Following talks between Ordnance Survey and NHS England, OS has started to develop the idea of neighbourhood walkability, using a gridded approach to understand: where residents are, and what services are available to them.

Our teams generated a grid of 50m squares for the full land extents of England, and from each 50m grid square that contained residential properties, it became possible to calculate walk time to relevant services; healthcare (GP, pharmacies), retail, public transport, and so on. Sources for these services include AddressBase, Sites Layer, Retail Geographies, and directories of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), and Organisation Data Service (ODS).

This range of data suppliers even made it possible to identify more than the ‘must-have’ services, like schools and greenspaces – it could also display ‘nice-to-have’ locations, like culture and entertainment venues.

Using the OS MasterMap Highways Network – Paths meant OS could create routes between residential areas and relevant services, and then provide a walkability score.

For this project, specific services – GP, pharmacy, transport – were each graded on a scale of one to ten depending on proximity. Then, adding all results together creates a single walkability score. The higher the number (i.e. the closer the services) the better.

This walkability score is a prototype concept at the moment, and may be assessed in different ways by different cities.

But, further development of this project will help support government and local authorities, optimising their decision-making processes on a local level. New housing can be planned and developed with local infrastructure to ensure optimal walkability from its conception, and existing residential areas with lower walkability scores can be prioritised. 

Simple concept; significant benefits

These combined efforts, from West Dunbartonshire, OS, and cities worldwide, can start ensuring citizens have appropriate access to the services they need. A reasonably simple concept on the face of it, but the 20-minute neighbourhood has the potential to improve health and therefore quality of life, while suitably responding to the current climate emergency.

Contact us

If you or your organisation is interested in walkability, and the OS proof of concept data we’ve been working on, contact the Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA) Helpdesk: psga@os.uk

By Iain Goodwin

Strategic Development Manager

Iain Goodwin is a Strategic Development Manager in the Government Relations team at Ordnance Survey.

Products and solutions featured in this insight

  • OS MasterMap Highways Network - Paths

    A path network dataset for Great Britain showing who is responsible for all the footpaths through towns and cities.

  • AddressBase

    AddressBase matches 29 million Royal Mail postal address to unique property reference numbers, bringing a new dimension to the matched records.