There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about 15-minute cities. This – along with the accompanying term, 20-minute neighbourhoods – is derived from a proposal by the urbanist Carlos Moreno to make cities and neighbourhoods that have all the important amenities accessible in a 15-20 minute walk.
Carlos makes a number of points that resonate greatly with our own architectural-scale efforts:
We need to rethink cities around the four guiding principles that are the key building blocks of the 15-minute city. First, ecology: for a green and sustainable city. Second, proximity: to live with reduced distance to other activities. Third, solidarity: to create links between people. Finally, participation should actively involve citizens in the transformation of their neighborhood.
The 15-minute city should have three key features. First, the rhythm of the city should follow humans, not cars. Second, each square meter should serve many different purposes. Finally, neighborhoods should be designed so that we can live, work and thrive in them without having to constantly commute elsewhere.
© Tree Hugger
When thinking about the architectural scale – as I’ve mentioned this is something we’re doing so actively – I did come across the 30-second rule, which has led to me coining the term 30-second offices (you’re welcome ;-), and appears to bring at least some of this thinking into the office environment.
So, 15-minute cities, 20-minute neighbourhoods, 30-second offices… It’s hard to find something to disagree with in all this, right?
In the UK, right now, the first two have turned into the latest front in the post-pandemic culture wars.
Oxfordshire County Council has been implementing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) over the last few years in an effort to stop drivers from taking shortcuts through residential areas and to make these areas more walkable. The measures to implement LTNs (mainly bollards, I suppose) are apparently being vandalised by protesters. There have also been major protests against these measures in Oxford during the last few days:
OXFORD - People against 15 minute cities, they didn’t vote for NET ZERO policies that will control their lives.— Bernie's Tweets (@BernieSpofforth) February 18, 2023
The council can ignore them but it the end the people will decide!
We stand with you Oxford
It seems protesters against LTNs feel that they’re being implemented without appropriate local consultation, are affecting local businesses and also reduce individual freedoms. Some protesters are apparently concerned that this move is part of an overall plan – no doubt part of the Great Reset – to keep people in their assigned zones along the lines of the Hunger Games books/movies.
This whole discussion has come as a huge surprise to me, but I’m finding it very interesting as it’s the first time (that I can recall) that this round of the culture wars has butted up against urban planning. (I was about to include architecture, too, but I suspect that topics such as unisex toilets probably fit that category.)
If you’re interested in digging into this topic – as I have done over the last few days – then I recommend listening to this recent episode of the excellent AntiSocial podcast on BBC Sounds. If you’re looking to understand more of the concerns around 15-minute cities impacting our freedoms (a position I disagree with) then this article might prove interesting.
It’s really hard to see how these kind of efforts wouldn’t gain traction in mainland Europe, for some reason – I suspect that the Dutch have been building 15-minute cyclable cities since forever – which makes this backlash even more fascinating. I’d be very interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on this, if you choose to share them.