Living in a 15-minute city

Recently we came across a hot new concept in city planning: the 15-minute city. As longtime Cleveland Heights residents we said, “Wait . . . this describes where we’ve lived for years!”

Residents of a 15-minute city can work, shop, learn and play within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their homes, with good transit options for further destinations.

With the rapid expansion of work-from-home during the COVID-19 pandemic, this concept gained international currency. Carlos Modena, a professor at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, championed the idea, and sold it to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Hidalgo made it the centerpiece of her 2020 campaign, winning re-election to a second term.

Cleveland Heights is already a complex of overlapping 15-minute cities. Cedar Fairmount, Coventry Village, Cedar Lee, Noble and Severance each provide some access to groceries, green space, and social hubs, such as restaurants, coffee shops and bars. Three strategically located branches of Heights Libraries supply residents with brain food, entertainment, educational programs and community meeting spaces. MetroHealth Medical Center and its 24-hour emergency room came to Severance a few years ago, greatly improving health-care access there. 

Modena points out, “The 15-minute city is not a silver bullet. Today our neighborhoods are segregated by money—rich, poor, middle class, workers, bars, offices. . . . But what we must do is use 15-minute cities to focus on the common good. With enough funding and support, deployed in the right way, we can guarantee they are for the people.”

Clearly, Severance and the Noble corridor need the most support to realize their 15-minute potential. Since the two areas overlap, positive improvements in one will enhance quality of life in the other, and, of course, boost the city as a whole.

Cleveland Heights is a great community for working from home, as we know from experience. But many essential jobs cannot be done from home, and we could certainly use more decent-paying employment for local residents. With all the hand-wringing about Severance over the years, we cannot recall any discussion of redevelopment specifically focused on creating jobs that pay a living wage; for example, light manufacturing of some kind.

Save a Lot provides some groceries in the northernmost part of town, but it is not a full-service supermarket.  A service like the CircleLink shuttle, which provides free transport from various stops in University Circle to Coventry Road, could do wonders to draw the Severance and Noble 15-minute cities closer together, providing easier access to food, health care, and other amenities.

Severance and Noble both lack a sufficient range of social hubs. Noble residents have tried for years to attract a coffee shop. Cleveland Heights-based Phoenix Coffee has become a worker co-op under the Evergreen Cooperatives umbrella. Could it be enticed to expand into Noble? Heights Libraries’ purchase of the church property next door to its Noble branch is bound to increase foot and bicycle traffic in that neighborhood. Wouldn’t it be great to check out a book and peruse it over a cup of Joe on the patio of a local, worker-owned cafe?

Adding community transit and a cafe would amplify two great efforts already underway in Noble: increased green space in the Delmore Community Orchard, and the Roanoke and Noble mini-park; and the pilot Community Learning Center at Noble Elementary School, which will offer after-school, weekend and summer programs for all ages beginning this fall.

We see synergy starting to work its magic in the Noble 15-minute city. Let’s encourage the mayor and council we elect in November to rally our city’s economic development staff and new planning director to realize the potential of Noble and Severance.

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are writers, editors and longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at

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Volume 14, Issue 6, Posted 10:21 AM, 05.27.2021