Inside the industry: Will 15-minute cities really kill the car?
Government. Socialists. The World Economic Forum. Russia. China. The French. Lizard Kings. In a world where anti-vaccination fervour has largely lost its point, all these and more have been accused of inventing the latest bête noire of the angry, 15-minute cities.
On paper, it’s an unlikely cause to rile against: in its purest form, a 15-minute city (sometimes also referred to, less ambitiously, as a 20-minute town) is one that has been planned so that all the amenities are within a 15-minute walk or cycle of where residents live. Dive deeper, and there are more, surely laudable, goals, from removing social divides through better planning to engaging citizens so that they prize their surroundings, plus providing connected public transport solutions and high-speed internet for everyone.
Even among car enthusiasts, who wouldn’t prefer to walk or cycle to the shops, gym, school or doctor, using car-free routes, care-free, because the threat of everything from being run over to inhaling noxious fumes has been removed from the vicinity? And who of a fair mind would stand in the way of increased equity and equality for all, including the enticing but rarely delivered prospect of reliable, affordable public transport?
But, the crux appears to be whether the car has any role at all to play in this vision. Local authorities, eager to be among the first-movers, are taking a particularly hardline approach to implementation, with draconian plans to close roads, restrict access to roads, limit motorists to set numbers of driving days and more in order to force a change in habits. Bristol, Birmingham, Canterbury, Ipswich, Oxford and Sheffield are at the vanguard.
Ardent supporters justify this all-or-nothing approach on the grounds they need to force change, from how we use the space taken up by roads and cars through to the impending climate emergency. In contrast, protesters claim it is an attempt to remove long-held freedoms, at their most extreme alleging the idea has been dreamed up as part of an ongoing attempt by dark forces to restrict movement back to covid lockdown levels.
Either side might be right, of course, but as so often the most constructive outcomes probably sit in the grey area in the middle. No question, the car has a lot to answer for; it causes pollution, congestion, death and injury. However, it is also irrefutable that the advent of the affordable personal car has also opened up endless opportunities, supercharging social and economic growth, broadening our horizons and more.
Given the electric car and green energy can provide so many solutions to today’s concerns, the answer surely lies in allowing the best of both sides of the argument – removing them from the areas they are least suited but allowing them to thrive elsewhere. The greatest risk of all is surely not the implementation of the 15-minute city, but whether such polarised arguments around their make up allow for a considered approach to prevail.