top of page


July 28, 2023
Natalie Heslop

The concept of a 20-minute city brings many questions to mind. 

By replacing the word ‘city’ with the realm, we are confronted with an even more intriguing concept yet a forward-thinking solution. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a realm is defined as a kingdom, usually used in a royal sense, the King's domain is an area or place.

Whereas a city is a large town, and surely a 20-minute city now no longer equates to this term. 

A day of deep diving online, trying to connect the dots of this new paradigm, resulted in a phone call from New Zealand to Jason Jacobs, head of the Australasian Chamber from Catalyst 2030.

Catalyst 2030 is a global movement committed to achieving the 17 sustainable UN Agenda 2030 development goals aka SDG’s.

Before I continue, here is a complete list of the UN Agenda 2030 goals:

  1. No Poverty

  2. Zero Hunger

  3. Good Health & Well-being

  4. Quality Education

  5. Gender Equality

  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

  7. Affordable and clean energy

  8. Decent work and economic growth

  9. Industry, innovation, and infrastructure

  10. Reduced inequalities 

  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

  12. Responsible consumption and production

  13. Climate action 

  14. Life below water

  15. Life on land

  16. Peace, justice, and strong institutions.

  17. Partnerships for the goals

It was evident Jacobs had got to work since receiving my email earlier in the day because Jacobs let me know he reached out to Asha Murphy, co-founder of the Australasian Catalyst 2030 Chapter to arrange a group Zoom call.

A week later, Jacob’s starts our Zoom call about Sustainability with a Māori prayer to invoke spiritual guidance:

“Tuku te wairua kia rere, ki ngā tuamata hei ārahi”

Allow one’s spirit to exercise its potential…

I am grateful for all the spiritual guidance I can get as I try to find my way through these sustainable realms.

Jacobs and Murphy generously gave their time to speak about the sustainability goals achieved through Catalyst 2030. Both individuals come from extensive business backgrounds and have come together to head the Australasian chapter for Catalyst 2030.

Catalyst 2030’s systems change approach is taken seriously with a big interest in working towards a common goal within communities.  

Murphy highlighted the effectiveness of social enterprises such as STREAT, a Melbourne organisation dedicated to supporting the youth through their hospitality businesses and leadership programs was highlighted as examples of applying systems change approach in communities.

From businesses to consumers, intention underpins the foundation of sustainability, and I am given this impression when it comes to planning 20-minute cities.

Jacob provides insight into former actress now turned entrepreneur; Jessica Alba was also thrown into the mix of our call due to her systems thinking when it comes to her clothing label. As Jacobs put it, Alba is paying attention to her social contract with the universe.

With questions from Jacobs as deep as, ‘What is your social contract to the universe?’, I knew all my questions weren’t going to be answered in this one phone call but with the push in the right direction to Jacob’s connection, Professor Dr Iain White, the universe was conspiring me to get to the bottom of it. 

Murphy states Melbourne has signed up to the 20-minute city conglomerate.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates Victoria has the second highest increase of population growth at 2.1% following Queensland as of December 2022.

The Victorian State Government’s Department of Transport and Planning confirms Melbourne is well and truly underway with the 20-minute city planning.   In 2018, The Heart Foundation and the Victorian Government created key hallmarks to abide by for 20-minute city planning:

  1. Safe and accessible for all pedestrians and cyclists to encourage active transport. Appealing to public and open spaces

  2. Provide all amenities and lifestyle services to support local living.

  3. Easy access to all public transport to help connect people to jobs. 

  4. Ensure mixed housing densities are incorporated. 

  5. Provide guidance and support to local economies.

An example of a 20-minute city has been applied in Victoria out in the Western Suburbs within Point Cook, Soho Village built in 2014 – 2016.

Urban designer and architect, Dean Landy together with MASbuild kept a key focus on minimising car usage thereby encouraging more foot traffic, enabling all amenities, essentials, and attractions to be kept local.  The village also features a church which is used as a conference centre and childcare facility.

The residential area is mixed from apartments to two – three-story townhouses.

The numerous public amenities within the village help with the smaller housing options. To help foster the village feel, community group events are organised at the key attraction, 

In Village Square.

Urban Design worked with the City of Wyndham and the MASbuild developer to create narrower streets encouraging more foot traffic and carbon emissions which ties back into keeping aligned with the SDGs.

Landy says, “Soho Village, at the front of the Alamanda estate on Sneydes Road, has quickly become popular among young couples entering the housing market and retirees wanting to downsize without going to a retirement village.”

I am curious to know whether teenagers will find the freedom to carve out their identities in these sustainable realms. Has there been enough consideration towards this precarious age group?

While driving around in the south-eastern suburbs of Victoria, I noticed a new village called M-City just off the Princess Highway in the suburb of Clayton. 

All the same qualities and characteristics of Soho Village at M-City were recognisable, the convenience of having a supermarket, gym, beauty boutiques, cinema, and mixed residential housing all in the one square.

M-City even has a hotel, and just about all the desirable living conveniences in this one realm.  This time some consideration towards teenagers is evident with a game arcade also created.  Could the 20-minute city now be condensed to a 5-minute city?

The only 20-minute phrase I noticed on the M-City website was the location of the city is “only 20 minutes away from the Melbourne CBD”.

Jacobs’s connection, University of Waikato professor Dr Iain White who put forth the 20-minute city concept to the city of Hamilton in New Zealand in 2020 says “Planning should always be about the people” and this planning isn’t anything new, “Providing self-contained areas reducing the need to travel between them”. 

Despite many conspiracies around the idea of 20-minute cities, White says, “The planning can be contributed to many different agendas, for example, the need to use land efficiently, reduce carbon emissions, or the need to encourage active travel for health reasons. In part, it’s the confluence of these different agendas that have helped the 20-minute idea become championed by different agencies or stakeholders.”

“I would say Paris is probably the global leader at the moment, in part due to the high political profile, but Melbourne is also at the cutting edge.”

Driving around some cities in Melbourne, particularly the CBD I can see how the news arising regarding the plans to cut down on cars entering the city is becoming more and more louder going by the increasing traffic.

In contrast, the lifestyle of a 20-minute city can be appealing to some groups.

It’s time to catch up with my friend, Jessica Dargan who is an Environmental Planning Consultant over dinner to hear her thoughts.

The 20-minute city concept was news to Dargan but after some thought, she believed it to be, “A city where all the amenities you would expect to find in a city are within 20mins of where you live”.

The notion of travelling 40 minutes to a petrol station is not sustainable therefore a “20-minute city seems very reasonable” to Dargan.

Dargan’s concern is a 20-minute city is good if there are not all low residential dwellings, “I think you need to have a mix of high density and low density. In Australia, instead of building up, we tend to just build out and it’s not sustainable.”

This journey of has uncovered some answers but many of my initial questions remain unanswered.  It’s confirmed the concept of a 20minute city is evident and so far, seems sustainable but as it’s still early days we are yet to know whether this will suit all demographics.

It is natural for people to express concern over anything with a limit imposed particularly for people living in the stat of Victoria who had to endure two-week lockdowns in 2020 which subsequently became an on and off two-year timeline of stop start freedoms. 

Therefore, my suggestion to planning parties is to remove any time limit in all promotional and marketing campaigns for the villages and if possible, also remove the word cities and look at the concept of using the word, realms, dimensions, and paradigms.

One village that has applied this way of thinking is, Realm Caulfield Village which caters to students providing accommodation and housing convenient to nearby Monash University.  Realm Caulfield Village ticks off all the sustainability boxes.

In the world of AI, jet pack delivered pizza deliveries going by Domino’s latest marketing promotion at the Glastonbury Festival and the many varied pronouns to consider when addressing a person, it’s time to apply a different approach to the way we label living spaces for starters.

In the words of Jacobs’s closing prayer, “The life force of us combined, restrictions are moved aside so the pathways are clear to return to everyday activities, to draw together, together as one.”

bottom of page