Reflections on modern concept …………
As editor I must apologise. The first half of this article was downloaded from the internet but I cannot recall the source, nor the author. So I apologise and am happy to give credit if anyone recognises this material. The section ‘headers’ are added by me. Likewise the Christian comment at the end is also mine. Editor, July 2023.
“15-minute city” is an urban planning model that has recently found itself at the centre of accusations of conspiracy against freedom of movement. Yet millions already live in them. Is this ‘hell on earth’ as some fear, or is it a logical outcome of Mankind’s urbanisation?
Originally coined in 2016 by Carlos Moreno, an ‘urbanist’ and professor at the University of Paris, the idea of the “15-minute city” is simple: people should be able to get anywhere they need within a 15-minute walk or cycle from any point on the map. This includes work, shopping, education, healthcare and leisure. The concept is hardly new or groundbreaking, and many famous cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona and Paris have followed similar guidelines when erecting infrastructure.
Advantages of such cities have been described as: kids playing on the street, people spilling out of busy cafes, independent shops that stock local produce, a family-run pharmacy, cyclists whizzing past, trees providing much-needed shade, picnickers in a nearby park. Birds chirp and animated conversations reverberate around. Does that sound healthy?
Some have declared war with the concept of 15-minute cities (aka ‘walkable cities’). Jordan Peterson and co. are adamant that local governments are looking to restrict people’s freedom of movement, restricting populations to 15-minute bubbles. This viewpoint results in some protesting against 15-minute cities, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and other city planning measures.
What is it actually like living in a 15-minute city? Is it hell on earth, or is it, in reality, helpful and healthy?
“Within 15 minutes of my apartment – and I live in a residential area – there really is everything from department stores and museums to gyms and tiny specialist shops,” says Freddie, a 28-year-old tech consultant living in Paris. “This has had a 100% positive impact on my life.” Freddie is passionate about ‘walkable’ cities because walking is her primary mode of transport. “As soon as I moved here, I noticed that without even thinking about it consciously, I was walking way more than when I was based in London.”
As well as the benefit of better urban planning on her physical health, Freddie’s mental health drastically improved too. “[Having] such easy access to things, [means] I do more and engage more in the world, rather than being centred only around the home, work and people I know, which instantly makes me feel less alone and part of something bigger,” she explains.
Urban planners in Paris, one of the most densely-populated capitals in Europe, are transforming the city for pedestrians and cyclists. Mayor Anne Hidalgo promised to turn Paris into a 15-minute city as her re-election pledge in 2020. She is pedestrianising large parts of the capital, creating “a bike lane in every street” by 2024, removing 60,000 parking spaces for private cars and revoking main road access to motor vehicles. Are such design measures limiting Freddie’s freedom? “I don’t feel less free at all, or like I can’t go anywhere different if I want to. I still go to other parts of the city,” she says. “There are still cars, but some streets are pedestrian-only at the weekend.”
Clever urban planning gives people better access to the things they need and, arguably, makes them healthier and happier. But it’s also good for the planet. The 15-minute city aims to reduce traffic – and thus harmful pollution – instead encouraging energy-efficient modes of transport. “It can positively impact surface transport emissions, which remain the UK’s largest single source of emissions. It’s a major challenge we’ve got to deal with,” says Jon Burke, an Environment Advisor to the Exec Member for Environment at Key Cities and the Climate Change and Decarbonisation Lead for Gloucester City Council.
As well as creating segregated cycleways, Burke believes that it’s important to implement other radical changes in the public space, like de-paving large areas and planting trees and hedgerows for better air quality and shading. “Not only does that encourage people to walk and cycle more, but the literature is also clear that all people who live in green environments tend to spend more time in the public realm, producing a wide range of positive public health and social outcomes for the entire community.”
“You also need to support this work through other kinds of marginal infrastructure, delivering high-quality public conveniences, such as public toilets and water fountains.” Previously, Burke was London Borough of Hackney’s Cabinet Member for Energy, Waste, Transport and Public Realm. He delivered one of the most significant public drinking water fountain programmes in the UK, no doubt helping to eliminate countless single-use plastic drink bottles.
Good urban planning can also help regenerate rural or neglected areas with ageing populations, a lack of vital services and a heavy reliance on cars. “Once you’ve animated the public realm through fewer short-distance local car journeys to the town shopping centre because amenities begin to spring up, then the market is usually good at responding to that.” Burke explains that entrepreneurs will see new vibrant areas and seize the opportunity to place their businesses there, thus filling vacant units on dying high streets and generating business rates returns for the government and local authorities to be invested back into public services.
It’s not unusual for cities to go through mass urban planning projects to meet a population’s demands. Many people don’t know that Amsterdam wasn’t always the world’s cycling capital. It was in the 1980s that Dutch towns and cities brought in measures to make their streets cycle-friendly after a wave of people, including children, were killed by road traffic. In 1971 alone, vehicles killed over 3,300 people. Neighbourhood groups, environmentalists, road safety organisations and the cyclists union came together to form the ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ (stop the child murder) campaign. They were successful, and today, over 40 years later, roughly two-thirds of daily urban transportation is done by bike, while 19% is done by car.
Lizzie, a 30-year-old freelance art director living in east Amsterdam, most appreciates the city’s cycling infrastructure. “My bike is my primary mode of transport; I pretty much take it everywhere,” she says, citing a recent bike trip to and from a nightclub. “I feel very safe and don’t come into much contact with cars. It’s nice not to always be on edge.” Having lived in Amsterdam, she can’t imagine moving somewhere where she can’t easily walk or cycle to get around quickly. “I think the whole joy of cities is having many things on your doorstep.”
For those who grew up in car-heavy environments, walkable cities feel like a different world. Bella is 27 and originally from Richmond, Virginia, but lives in Barcelona today. For her, the best part of living in a 15-minute city is the convenience and sense of community it creates. “Here, everything is so close; it’s purposely made accessible. [The city’s layout] has helped me create a strong foundation and base within Barcelona.”
Integrated urban planning
Barcelona is famed for its historical urban planning. Much of the city is arranged in neat square blocks, and trees line the streets, boulevards and avenues. Until 2015, Barcelona’s air pollution was steadily climbing, but measures to boost sustainable mobility and cut down the number of vehicles on the road have reduced pollution by more than 30%. Part of this was thanks to the activation of the Low Emission Zone, which reduced 600,000 journeys by pollution vehicles, and the introduction of ‘superblocks’ – a strategic plan that will turn one out of three streets into green streets by prioritising pedestrians, introducing more greenery, and creating recreational spaces. Bella says that work on the superblocks in the Eixample district is already underway. “They’re cutting off all the roads, paving everything over, they’re going to be building a bunch of different terraces and making it pedestrian and cycle friendly.”
Superblocks are proven to work. North-west of Barcelona is a city called Vitoria-Gasteiz that has implemented superblock designs since 2008. Since then, there has been a 42% reduction in Nitrogen oxide, a 38% reduction in particle pollution, and increased economic activity. Most of all, they encourage people to be outside, tremendously impacting well-being. “Living here really does make people happier,” Bella says. “You’re out and about; you’re in the sun – we all need vitamin D!”
Adapting cities shouldn’t take years. Even small changes like phasing out polluting vehicles and creating segregated cycle paths on existing roads can make a big difference in people’s lives. In London, harmful pollution levels have nearly halved in the city’s centre since Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) were rolled out in 2019. There is also strong evidence that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) have reduced road casualties since being introduced in 2020.
The evidence appears compelling. 15-minute cities are not limiting their inhabitants’ lives but rather expanding them in differing ways.
The material above indicates that – in a limited sense – we can be moderately relaxed about the concept of 15 minute cities. In principle, practical benefits outweigh disbenefits. A 15 minute city does not have to be a socialist conspiracy any more than London’s ‘underground’ system was a capitalist conspiracy to get the working classes to their places of employment more quickly so that they could work, ever harder, for their capitalist employers and ‘masters’. There is something here about how we choose to view things!
More broadly, however, the 15 minute city concept must inevitably lead to a situation where travel is frowned upon and ultimately rationed. In turn that increases the power of the State versus the citizen, which cannot, long-term, be a good thing. 15 minute cities also smack, somewhat, of the concept behind the tower of Babel – ‘mankind’ will build for himself a name and a city, in the determined ignoring of his creator God, and build it in his own image.
Also, we must remember that when abortion was legalised, we were assured it would always be an exceptional ‘procedure’ and sanctioned by two doctors. This ‘legalisation’ you see, was for thoroughly ‘good’ purposes and we need not be worried. When ‘civil partnerships’ were brought into law we were told in no way would it lead on to ‘gay marriage’. Going back further, when Britain entered the EEC in 1972 we were assured there was absolutely no plan nor ambition to create a United States of Europe. Seen in the context of historic and persistent State-sector diversionary tactics, and bluntly lies, 15 minute cities will – not may – lead to restrictions on where one may go, whom one may associate with and with what frequency.
Are 15 minute cities a logical extension of the concept of ‘lockdown’ thus restricting communities to their own areas of living? (and was the Covid lockdown a necessary softening-up tactic for permanent restrictions? Remember we were told in 2020-21 that extended house arrest was for our own good, just as we are being told the same of 15 minute cities). Does this ‘lockdown’ enable the State to hide difficult matters such as no-go areas, or even to protect them? Will 15 minute cities make a reality of the desire to create a ‘salad bowl’ society where communities live adjacent to each other, but never meld or truly integrate? Here is a European Union agency promoting the idea of a Salad bowl society: https://www.populismstudies.org/Vocabulary/salad-bowl/
Combine 15 minute cities with State-sponsored ‘fact checking’ (effectively limiting the information we may consume) and CBDC – central bank digital currencies (otherwise dubbed as communist backed default currencies) – that will track every pound you spend and will limit where you can spend (as happened during the pandemic in Canada) and what you can buy, and we have a recipe for virtually total State control of citizens’ lives. This smacks very much of the mark of the beast system being created before our very eyes.
Christians, then, must walk a difficult dividing line between overreaction and under-reaction to such social ‘developments’. That a global(ist) government will be the principle feature of the end time is a biblical ‘given’, yet the individual steps taken to reach that end point may be deemed to be non-invasive developments. Much wisdom , prayer and Berean bible searching is required.