Digital Book of Landscapes 2022


Chaired by Rene Lindsay Sommer

A workshop discussion under the heading Active Travel, Green/Blue Infrastructure, 20-minute neighbourhoods which summarised the core purpose that ties these headings together is the theme of “Liveable Cities”. Atkins are a Global Infrastructure firm and one of the Unique Selling Points of Landscape and Urban Design is that we contribute with Placemaking Infrastructure. The groups discussed the three topics separately before discussing how we (LUD) can bring added-value to our (Atkins’) projects.

20-minute Neighbourhoods

20-minute Neighbourhoods is the principle of planning for compact, complete and connected neighbourhoods where you can fulfil most of your daily needs within a short walk or cycle. While this comes in many shapes, one way of understanding the 20MN is living in a way where a private car is not a requirement for a full life. Rather you can travel to and from work, school, shops, social services and everyday day activities within a short walk. Not every neighbourhood has to be able to fill every need. Some Neighbourhoods might have a Cinema, some might have a Michelin Restaurant and some might have a Hospital. The ideal town/city consists of a cluster of distinct neighbourhoods that are well-connected and easy to travel between – ideally by active travel or public transport – so that the city as a whole fulfils most of the functions you require through the year.

Green/Blue Infrastructure

Having many people, and many functions crammed on a small space also leaves cities fragile to disruptions. Green Infrastructure can be part of a climate resilience strategy by managing heavy rainfalls. In terms of creating liveable cities one of the things we spoke about in the group is how we should be planning for added value – how does the space work when it’s not raining? The technical solution will provide surface water management infrastructure in an extreme rain event but an urban park can serve as a meeting place, recreational space and increase biodiversity every day. This is the story we need to get across to clients and colleagues!

Active Travel

Place over Movement was the key message here. Some active travel projects are about movement and can be quite technical solutions. However, the projects where we bring most value are projects in towns/cities where we provide alternatives to using private cars and here convenience is what gets people on bikes. With Copenhagen as an example, very few people there choose to cycle because it’s healthy or good for the environment. It’s because it’s the easiest and fastest way to get from A to B. However, some projects show how convenience and directness can be combined with experience, such as the Cycle Snake (cykelslangen), which is the cycle bridge that was never meant to be. Originally, City of Copenhagen asked design team to build a ramp which would create a sub-par route for people cycling. Going down a ramp, over a local street, along a shared path with main entrance to shopping centre, over a bridge and up another ramp. Instead design team convinced client that the best solution would be a direct link so cyclists didn’t have to go up, down and over, and wouldn’t have to cycle on a busy pedestrian space. The project became big success and has twice and many cycle users as expected. Even had to put up a sign to say pedestrians were not allowed as capacity would not allow it. This shows that people want also want a good experience if they are to choose to travel actively.

Key points of discussion

  • 20 minute neighbourhoods are a largely urban phenomenon. Due to the current planning practice there are few rural settings and almost no suburbs where the 20-minute neighbourhood can be implemented. Active Travel Infrastructure that is disconnected from a wider network will not create 20 minute neighbourhoods in itself.
  • Active travel projects will benefit from creating safe, direct, and convenient routes but the shift in everyday cycling will be helped if the route is attractive. Edinburgh is an example where a large proportion of residents happily walk 30-45 minutes to work everyday because the environment you travel through is pleasant. Cycle routes should be designed to provide similar experiences along the route, and ideally have a density of experiences at short intervals along the way as the 20-minute neighbourhood ideal suggests.
  • Designing for Cycling isn’t a thing. Need to distinguish between sports cycling, such as road cycling, mountain biking, cyclo cross, etc. and everyday cycling. Commuter cycling can fall into both categories depending on location of route bit infrastructure is different and ideal behaviour on infrastructure is different. We need to be clear in telling this to clients and designing for the correct context.


  • There is a lot of funding available for Active Travel, and it will keep growing in the coming years. The majority of this requires design which is focused on Place over Movement, i.e. active travel for the 20 minute neighbourhood and Landscape/Urban Design is key to good outcome.
  • Speaking about Active Travel under the heading of 20-minute neighbourhoods or Liveable Cities, makes it clearer to everyone involved that the project is a holistic endeavour and lets us include other important features such as green infrastructure and climate resilience in project scope.
  • Active Travel doesn’t always have to include protected cycle tracks. In certain contexts this is the right solution but in other contexts, such as George Street, the solution may be to change the function of a street and reduce the volume and/or speed of cars to make it safe and comfortable to cycle in the carriageway and simply design the street environment to change the behaviour of other users (mainly motorists).