The latest fixation of the anti-vax, 5G-fearing goons is the ‘international socialist concept’ of… being able to walk to the shops.
The 15-minute city is nothing new. It has existed for as long as humans have been settlers, save for a brief hiatus of 100 or so years (post WW2) where city planning became exceedingly car centric. During that period, low-density urban-sprawl proliferated out from the nuclei of our cities, requiring suburb-dwellers to get in the car whensoever they need groceries, green-space or to go into the office for work. Our car-centric cities dedicate disproportionate amounts of space to driving, as well as low density housing, which could be repurposed to substantially greater effect.
Having the ability to walk or cycle to the amenities you need within 15-minutes seems to be a wonderful idea. To have schools, barber shops, health services and good employment opportunities local to home drastically improves the sense of local community and promotes a cleaner, greener, city.
Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, was among the first to grasp onto the idea of a 15-minute city as part of her 2020 re-election campaign. Given that she was overwhelmingly re-elected, it is unsurprising that the 15-minute city has caught the attention of mayors the world-over.
Why is the concept receiving such backlash?
15-minute cities are designed to encourage walking and cycling to local amenities as much as possible, by creating a series of low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), which discourage car use.
Several LTNs have been recently introduced in Oxford, UK, which has received widely publicised backlash. Some opposition to this is completely legitimate, as it will make once short car-journeys longer, which will impact certain individuals and businesses. However, some protestors, who seem to have exhausted all avenues of their anti-lockdown, anti-vax, anti-immigrant demonstrations, need another issue to fixate on to satiate their compulsion to remonstrate — this is it. They claim that the 15-minute city will confine us all to our own individual neighbourhoods, like ‘open air prisons’.
The fundamental principle of the 15-minute city is about providing people with more choice, not less. If you so wish, you are still free to get into your car and drive from Brighton to Inverness to do your weekly food shop. However, you also have the choice to go to the shop at the end of the road, whilst getting some exercise along the way.
The impetus is on local authorities and particularly devolved city administrations to lead the way on expanding the 15-minute city concept across the UK.
There is a risk of exacerbating inequalities with something of a postcode lottery, whereby the facilities and amenities in one neighbourhood far exceed the facilities and amenities of another. Regrettably, some level of inequality is inevitable, however, investment into the most deprived areas, through the governments Levelling Up Fund, could help to tackle this.
Furthermore, the 15-minute city should help provide an opportunity for local businesses to grow. As a consumer, if supporting the start-up café at the end of the road is the easier option, rather than driving to your local drive-thru coffee outlet at a soulless retail park, then it paves the way for community-focussed businesses to open up and thrive.
The repurposing of our road space will disproportionately impact those who rely on vehicular access for work. Whilst this is an important consideration, the long-term economic and ecological arguments will likely outweigh the slight hassle LTNs impose upon a small minority.
Increasing the gentle density of our urban centres is a key step towards realising the ideal of the 15-minute city. This means that rather than building the 1-4 story houses that dominate our neighbourhoods (aside from the skyscrapers of our city centres), we build 5-10 stories throughout the city. It is this density that, when done correctly, gives a city such as Paris it’s charm.
To house 10,000 people within one square kilometre takes virtually the entire area if building low-density 1-2 story terraced houses. However, building higher density apartments (rather than houses) of 5-10 stories on that same square kilometre could house the same number of people and afford 50% of the space to be used as public outdoor space. This makes for a far better city to live in, which happens to be far better for the city’s ecosystem, bringing a little more urban biodiversity to the area.
Community is at the heart of the 15-minute city. It is perhaps apt that conspiracy theorists who seek to divide us have selected this policy as a cause for revolt. In an increasingly polarised world, community, civility and ease of mobility seem good foundations to build our low-emission cities upon. More density within our cities, and less within the minds of those who seek to fight against town planning fit for the 21st century, can only be good news.