Why 15 minute cities are the future
The idea is simple: 15 minute cities are meant to be community-led cities that aim to have all human essentials within a 15-minute walk or cycle from any part of a city. This would include education, shopping, healthcare and any other activities one needs in daily life. The goal is to get people out of their cars and into their communities while trying to implement walking as the most used mode of transportation.
The idea took off in light of the Covid-19 pandemic when lockdowns showed us what an inconvenience commuting is and how precious time outside is. The concept is being implemented now in places like Paris, Melbourne and cities in South Korea.
MP Nick Fletcher of the Conservative party has called them an “international socialist concept,” in an effort to put down the initiative that is rising in popularity within the Labour Party. The conspiracy theories put forward include the idea that governments want to control our every move, capture us in our neighborhoods and never let us leave these 15 minute communities. To say that this is a ridiculous idea is an understatement. The idea of a walkable city can have so many positive effects including better health, quicker access to essentials (medicine, a bar of chocolate at 10pm after you’ve had a long day).
One only has to take a look at some North European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen to understand how moving away from cars is not only good for the environment, but also for mental health. Let’s take The Netherlands for example: a country whose economy took off so much that between the end of the second world war and 1972, the average income of a Dutch household increased by more than 200%. This led to people purchasing more cars and cities struggling to keep up. As Amsterdam wasn’t a city built for cars, they looked towards the US to improve their roads. As the city was struggling to adapt to the increase in people using cars, road accidents soared and people started protesting. Slowly, people started giving up their cars and demanding bike lanes. For the past 50 years, Amsterdam has been focusing on the people living there instead of the cars. Nowadays there are so many bike paths in the city that most places are more easily accessible by bike instead of driving.
Funnily enough, it seems that people from Amsterdam are also some of the happiest drivers. According to a study from 2016 by Waze, the Netherlands is the best country to drive in. Some of the categories for rankings included traffic and road safety and the Netherlands did incredibly well in all of them. This shows that providing people with bike paths and other modes of transportation doesn’t automatically mean cars are extinct. Given the choice, I think most people would choose simplicity.
The problem in the UK is that there are not enough bike paths in big cities. Only the bravest of people take their lives in their own hands and dare bike through London. Throughout the UK, there have been traffic restriction trials in order to test out the idea of traffic free areas in cities. This led to a lot of pushback in Oxford, where, according to the BBC, councilors started receiving death threats because people had a “genuine fear that they might be locked in their own homes.” Fear not, no one has been imprisoned in their house in Oxford, residents were just worried that their lives might have to change. Lives will indeed have to change, but probably only for the better. If restrictions start being implemented, that will increase demand for different modes of transportation and therefore easier access to places. Once our needs change, our cities will have to adapt.
To wrap it up, 15-minute cities are revolutionizing urban living, bringing everyday necessities closer to home. Despite political pushback and wild conspiracy theories, remember that in Amsterdam, they’ve got more bicycles than there are tulips in spring! So, as these cities gain ground, let’s pedal our way toward a healthier, more accessible future.