What is the 15-minute city movement?

We live in strange times, a world where we are told peace is anti-progress, war is peace, and it is unconstitutional to consider life in our communities without endless automobiles.

Photo: Ivan Marc / shutterstock

20 February 2023 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News

I do not own a car. While it may appear as a deliberate choice to reject societal norms, my reasoning is more intricate.

Nonetheless, I have realized that it is feasible to live without a car, including insurance and maintenance, except for occasional visits to IKEA or replacing a broken umbrella.

Unfortunately, living without a car is not considered “normal,” and this is not a coincidence.

From the moment we become adults, everything seems predetermined, requiring us to follow a typical path that includes paying for post-secondary education, owning a house, buying a new car every few years, replacing household appliances, having children, and so on.

All of this is part of participating in a consumer society driven by corporate desires to increase sales and profits. We are the only ones who can satisfy shareholders’ wishes to purchase new homes, cars, and college educations.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with this way of life, it has become the norm in the West. We are content to participate as long as our “progress” is not hindered by unexpected expenses like COVID, war debts, or the cost of transitioning to green energy.

It is only when faced with these additional expenses that we stop and ask ourselves, “Do I really need all of these things?” We know the answer. But the fact remains that there is nothing wrong with trying to reshape our communities to foster actual communities.

The notion that driving five miles to reach a supermarket is normal did not occur by accident. It happened because of the “need” not only to buy cars to drive everywhere but also to support the various “business-to-business” industries that feed off this absurd notion.

Therefore, the idea of the 15-minute community is not a 1984 conspiracy. We have already had one of those.

In reality, the idea is not to force anyone to give up their cars, but rather to give people the ability to live a significant part of their daily lives outside their cars.

That does not sound like a communist spy balloon or Putin or even a Trump-inspired conspiracy to me.

It sounds like taking back control of our lives.

James Porteus | Clipper Media

Defining what exactly it means to be a 15-minute city can be a bit complicated because of the diversity of needs people have and the ways in which those needs can change during a person’s lifetime. (Credit: moveBuddha) See more

What is the 15-minute city?

The 15-minute city is an urban concept in which most daily necessities and services, such as work, shopping, education, healthcare, and leisure, should be located within an easily reachable 15-minute walk or bike ride from any point in the city.[1] This approach aims to reduce car dependency, promote healthy and sustainable living, and improve the overall quality of life for city dwellers.

Implementing the 15-minute city concept requires a multi-disciplinary approach, involving transportation planning, urban design, and policymaking, to create well-designed public spaces, pedestrian-friendly streets, and mixed-use developments. This change in lifestyle may include remote working which reduces daily commuting and is supported by the recent widespread availability of information and communications technology (ICT). The concept has been described as a “return to a local way of life”.[2]

The concept’s roots can be traced in pre-modern urban planning traditions, where walkability and community living were the primary focus before the advent of street networks and automobiles. In recent times, it builds upon similar pedestrian-centered principles found in New Urbanismtransit-oriented development, and other similar proposals that promote walkability, mixed-use developments, and compact, livable communities.[3] Numerous models have been proposed about how the concept can be implemented, like 15-minute cities being built from a series of smaller 5-minute neighborhoods, also known as complete communities or walkable neighborhoods.[1]

The concept gained significant traction in recent years after Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo included a plan to implement the 15-minute city concept during her 2020 re-election campaign.[4] Since then, a number of cities worldwide have adopted the same goal and many researchers have used the 15-minute model as a spatial analysis tool to evaluate accessibility levels within the urban fabric. (wikipedia)

15-minute cities: how to separate the reality from the conspiracy theory

17 February 2023 | The Conversation

Conspiracy theories aren’t a new thing, and for as long as they’ve been around they’ve ranged from the benign to the absurd. From the six moon landings being faked to the Earth being flat, or our ruling class being lizards, we’ve all probably come across them in one form or another.

Yet, in a surprise twist, the hottest conspiracy theory of 2023 comes from an unlikely corner: town planning. This relates to the idea of “the 15-minute city” and has even gone so far as to be mentioned in UK parliament by an MP who called the idea “an international socialist concept” that will “cost us our personal freedom”.

As town planning academics who have published research on 15-minute cities, we know this is nonsense. But what actually is the 15-minute city? And what’s the fuss about?

The 15-minute city itself is a simple idea. If you live in one, it means that everything you need to go about your daily life – school, doctors, shops and so on – is located no more than a 15-minute walk from your house.

Designed for people not cars

The concept, which originated from the French-Colombian urbanist Carlos Moreno, is the current zeitgeist in planning, and calls for city design that is centred on people and their needs rather than being designed for cars.

It gained international attention when the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, announced her intention to make Paris a 15-minute city following her reelection in 2020, with the plan to enhance neighbourhoods across Paris while ensuring connections between them.

The idea flourished in the wake of COVID, when lockdowns and working from home had more of us ditching the car and recognising the need for well-served local neighbourhoods.

Paris street scene
Paris: ville du quart d’heure? Anton_Ivanov / shutterstock

Yet this connection to how our towns and cities are changing in the wake of COVID is also probably the reason that 15-minute cities are now a hot-topic in the conspiracy world.

Among other things, the charge sheet against 15-minute cities is that they are a “socialist”, or even “Stalinist”, attempt to control the population by actively preventing citizens from straying more than 15 minutes from their homes.

However, the reality is that the 15-minute city does not seek to exclude people or to prevent them from leaving. Instead, the idea is about providing high-quality neighbourhoods so that you don’t have to travel further to get the service. Crucially, this doesn’t mean you’re trapped where you live.

Yes, if travelling by car, the 15-minute city might make the journey to leave the neighbourhood longer as the urban realm and roads shifts from car dominance to a more equal distribution of space for active travel.

But this might also mean that other ways of getting about town (walking, wheelchair, cycling, bus or train) might make sense for most journeys, with the car used only when necessary.

It’s fairly easy to see how Moreno’s idea has been perverted here. Within this, it’s also equally easy to trace a line between this and the prevalence of conspiracy theories surrounding COVID and the role of government.

In this world, encouraging us to use cars less is seen as a limitation of our freedom rather than an opportunity to live in more vibrant and less polluted neighbourhoods.

Cafe on pedestrianised uk street
Restriction or opportunity? travellight / shutterstock

The thing is, like so many other conspiracy theories, it gets into trouble when it comes into contact with reality. In many British cities, the reality is that having most services within a 15-minute walk of your house is already closer than you might think – what matters more is the quality and equity of those services.

Most people want things nearby

What’s more, these ideas are popular. Not only have organisations like Sustrans consistently shown that more than two-thirds of people are in favour of these sorts of interventions, they are also endorsed at the ballot box.

For example, when some candidates attempted to turn local council elections into a referendum on active travel interventions, they largely failed to get this opposition off the launchpad.

If anything, the 15-minute city envisages even the most urban parts of the country as something quintessentially British: a small market town. Indeed, if harking back to the past is your thing, then the past 50 years of transport planning has done more to damage this British ideal than make it a reality.

In fact, you would imagine that the Conservative MP who raised this conspiracy theory in the House of Commons might regularly get correspondence from the public bemoaning the lack of high-quality services in their neighbourhoods.

After decades of car-dominated culture there is a “gear change” happening in which pedestrian and cyclist experiences do increasingly matter in city planning. There is still a long way to go to make our streets and neighbourhoods places for all, and movements fuelled by conspiracy theory risk slowing these transitions and spreading unjustified fears.

While the 15-minute city has nothing to do with creating ghettos where people will be locked in, fake news like this circulates broadly and quickly, making it crucial for policymakers to convey clear messages about what’s at stake.

Has the 15-minute city become one of those allegedly ‘viral’ causes that seem to spring forth fully formed?

The “15-minute city”: how Paris is turning density and lack of space into a strength

A remarkable transformation is taking place in one of Europe’s most densely populated capitals. Paris is turning famous hotspots such as the Champs-Elysées into green corridors, cars are making way for cyclists and pedestrians and urban farms are popping up all over the City of Light. It’s all part of a bid to transform Paris into a greener, cleaner and safer city and to make services accessible to residents within 15 minutes of their homes. Including locally grown food.

When Anne Hidalgo was elected mayor in 2014 she declared the ambitious plan to cover 100 hectares of Parisian walls, facades, and rooftops with greenery, of which one-third being dedicated to edible crops. One of the central ideas in her successful re-election campaign in 2020 was the pledge to turn Paris into a “15-minute city”, where residents have access to services such as schools, health centers, and restaurants, all within 15 minutes of their home. 



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.