Have you ever heard of the 15-minute city? If you haven’t yet, it won’t be too long before you do. One will probably be popping up near you anytime soon.
The purpose of a 15-minute city aims to reduce the reliance on cars and public transport by encouraging people to walk more often. In a 15-minute city, all the amenities you need will be no more than 15 minutes away.
The idea was first proposed by Professor Carlos Moreno in 2016. 15-minute cities have since popped up in Barcelona, Melbourne, Buenos Aires, Paris and Milan among others.
Yet despite the good intentions of urban planners, the 15-minute city model is not finding favour with everyone. Conspiracy theorists think the concept is a master plan to contain everybody in areas of confinement where they can be surveillance and policed easily.
In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of a 15-minute city — and address whether conspiracy theorists have a point. Their concerns may not be “conspiracy theories”, but foresight.
What is a 15-minute City?
A 15-minute city is a concept for urban planning that aims to create cities where people can access all their basic needs within a 15-minute walk or a short bike ride from their homes.
The idea is to create more compact and sustainable urban areas that prioritise accessibility, convenience, and liveability.
In a 15-minute city, residents would have easy access to essential services such as grocery stores, schools, healthcare facilities, parks, and public transportation.
The overriding goal is to reduce reliance on cars and promote active travel such as walking and cycling. Subsequently, public health is improved and a sustainable urban environment is created by reducing air pollution and enhancing social connections.
The 15-minute city concept has gained traction in recent years as a response to traffic congestion, environmental degradation, and social inequality.
What are the Pros and Cons of the 15-Minute City?
Pros of the 15-Minute City
“Active travel” is a term used by urban planners and epidemiologists to refer to action-orientated means of getting around such as walking, cycling and skating.
From a personal point of view, active travel is a great way to get regular exercise, which can help improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
It also improves mental health by reducing stress and helping to fight anxiety and depression. There are also cost-saving benefits given there is no need to pay for fuel or public transport.
Active travel is also more sustainable for the environment because less CO2 is being released into the atmosphere. With less traffic on the roads, commuting will be faster and more efficient for people travelling longer distances.
Reduced Reliance on Cars
By providing access to essential services and amenities within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from people’s homes, the new urban planning model aims to reduce reliance on cars.
As mentioned above, reducing traffic congestion and air pollution creates a sustainable environment that is better for the health and well-being of its inhabitants.
The 15-minute city model emphasises mixed-use zoning, where residential, commercial, and public spaces are integrated into the same neighbourhood. This allows people to easily walk or bike to essential services such as grocery stores, schools, and healthcare facilities, rather than having to drive to them.
It will be like the good old days when villages had greengrocers and butchers. These days, villages will have mini supermarkets. That’s already happened in most places, so we’re already seeing the convenience benefits of a 15-minute city.
The 15-minute city model also promotes public transportation as a way to connect different neighbourhoods within a city. By providing frequent, reliable, and accessible public transportation options such as buses, trams, and subways, the 15-minute city model can make it easier for people to get around without needing a car.
Because the 15-minute city model emphasises active travel, pedestrian-friendly designs such as wide green spaces and dedicated cycle paths will feature more prominently.
Pedestrian-friendly designs make walking a safe and pleasant option for getting around and also help make local neighbourhoods more aesthetically attractive.
Increased Social Connections
By creating more compact and walkable neighbourhoods, the 15-minute city model can help foster social connections and nurture a closer sense of community in neighbouring villages.
Residents are more likely to interact with each other and participate in community events. Wider social connections and interactions between communities create stronger resilience in towns and cities.
Social connections have been linked to better physical health outcomes by helping people to feel connected to others. A sense of belonging can help individuals cope with difficult situations, reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, and improve self-esteem.
Access to emotional support also reduces stress and improves overall mental and physical health. Consequently, individuals have a stronger immune system and are better equipped to fight chronic disease and prolong life expectancy.
Improved Economic Vitality
By providing easy access to essential services and amenities, the 15-minute city model encourages residents to shop at local stores and eat at local restaurants. This subsequently, supports local businesses, creates jobs and promotes economic vitality.
When local businesses thrive, they are more likely to hire local workers which further contributes to the local economy which in turn increases tax revenue for local governments to fund more essential services such as schools and healthcare facilities.
Thriving local businesses are also more likely to invest in the local community. This can include supporting local charities, sponsoring community events and participating in community development initiatives. When the overall liveability of a community is enhanced, residents in general enjoy a better quality of life.
Empowers Young Children
A study out of the University of Westminster in the UK shows that walking through their home neighbourhood gives children a greater sense of control and autonomy, and helps them to maintain a healthy weight.
Familiarity promotes healthy brain development in infant children. The more someone is exposed to information from their environment, synapses in the brain are strengthened and memories are easier to retrieve.
Walking in nature, in particular, has been shown to boost creativity and improve problem-solving skills. Health experts recommend encouraging children to play in natural surroundings rather than staying indoors playing computer games and scrolling through social media — which is having a negative impact on our children’s ability to retain focus and attention and increases the risk of anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-harm and suicide.
You can also encourage your kids to go outside by making nature walks fun and engaging. See our article, How to make nature walks for kids Exciting for some great ideas.
Cons of the 15-Minute City
Despite all the advantages, the concept of the 15-minute city has received some criticism — most of which is said to be conspiracy theories. But are they actually conspiracy theories or warning shots for future potentials?
It’s worth bearing in mind that the purpose of 15-minute cities is to benefit the health and financial vitality of the local community.
Increased Public Transport Costs
With fewer people using public transport, the likelihood is the fares will be increased. This is particularly the case for public transport systems that are run by private companies.
The potential criticism, however, could be avoided if the local economy is improved. The advantage of a 15-minute city will see an increase in local taxes local councils can use to improve the community.
Some of these taxes should go on public transport subsidences to ensure that fares are affordable to everyone — otherwise, people that are less financially flexible will be stuck to their home roots.
Increased housing costs
Properties in 15-minute neighbourhoods are likely to see a significant increase due to easy access to essential services and amenities. This could have several consequences for the majority of people.
First of all, modern neighbourhoods will be unaffordable for low-income earners, and even average earners will be stretched to pay the mortgage on high-value homes. Subsequently, the quality of life will be diminished for a large percentage of the population.
Rental units for businesses will also be significantly higher. This could pose a problem for local businesses that do not have the purchasing power of restaurant chains and cafes that are owned by corporations.
Subsequently, local residents won’t have the diversity of choices to eat and drink as they would maybe like. Furthermore, unlike the good old days of greengrocers and butchers, mini supermarkets owned by established supermarket chains will be the only available option to purchase food.
The majority of processed food sold in supermarkets is filled with sugar and other toxic ingredients that contribute to life-threatening diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and even cancer.
Environmental and scientific research groups Global Feedback and Action on Sugar lambasted supermarkets for helping the food industry to increase the amount of sugar consumed by the public and actively mislead people about how they are actually tackling obesity.
Potential for Gentrification
Increase property prices could lead to gentrification. With low-income families being displaced into areas where access to services and amenities is less convenient, there is more potential for homelessness and slums to pop up.
Ethnic minorities and lower working-class families are the most likely to be affected by gentrification, further marginalising the attitudes of other people towards them. This could create further class divides, resentment and civil unrest.
Gentrification also leads to the loss of cultural diversity as businesses cater to the preferences of a more affluent and homogeneous population. This can result in the displacement of local businesses and cultural institutions that served the needs of the previous residents.
The development of the 15-minute city model requires significant investment in infrastructure, including public transportation, bike lanes, and pedestrian infrastructure.
These costs could be a significant barrier to implementation, particularly in areas with limited resources. However, if governments push the agenda for 15-minute cities, infrastructure will be paid for through an increase in council tax.
An increase in taxes will further stretch the budget of families that are already struggling to cope with the uptick in living costs. As a result, some of the issues mentioned above, namely corporate takeovers and gentrification become more likely.
More Government Control
Some people believe that the 15-minute city model plays into the hands of governments that intend to exert more control over the population. With people’s mobility restricted, more people are confined to smaller areas where they can be monitored more easily.
This conspiracy theory seems to be fuelled by concerns that government surveillance and data collection are designed to strip away their rights. Governments, on the other hand, can argue they will be able to provide better policing and prevent crime.
But does a 15-minute city really improve the authorities’ potential for preventing crime? Probably not. Burglars are unlikely to steal from homes in their local community. They don’t do that now, so they won’t change their strategy just because they have easier access to more shops.
The other key conspiracy theory is that 15-minute cities favour corporate interests. As we showed above, an increase in property prices does have the potential to force local businesses out for corporate chains to move in. Corporations are also more geared towards data collection to “improve personalised marketing”.
It’s important to note that these negative impacts are not inevitable and can be mitigated through correct government policies that prioritise affordability and equity that benefits local communities — and not corporate interests.
It will be the responsibility of locals to protect their own communities. Strategies such as inclusionary zoning, rent control, and affordable housing development schemes can help ensure the benefits of the 15-minute city model are accessible to all members of the community, regardless of their income level.