The 15-minute city is a concept that has gained significant attention in recent years as a way to create more sustainable, livable, and equitable cities. The idea is simple: design cities so that all essential services and amenities are within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from a person's home.
The term 15-minute city was first coined by Carlos Moreno, a French-Columbian urban planner in 2016. Moreno argued that the traditional model of cities, where people live in suburbs and commute long distances to work or to access services, is unsustainable and contributes to numerous social and environmental problem, such as traffic congestion, air pollution and social isolation. Instead, Moreno proposed designing cities so that people could access all their essential needs, such as grocery stores, healthcare, schools and parks, within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their home.
The 15-minute city concept has several potential benefits from environmental to our physical and mental wellbeing.
Firstly, it can reduce traffic by removing the need to travel frequently through the city for common services. This would ultimately reduce congestion as well as the amount of CO2 released into the air. The reduction in air pollution would have a significant impact on the environment. The reduction in traffic also would allow for more options of public transportation without congestion.
Improving urban areas with better bike paths, walking paths and parks would also promote physical activity. Encouraging walking, biking or other methods of personal transportation can improve the overall physical and mental health of the public.
It would also be expected that the communities would also develop stronger social connections, as you would have more opportunities to interact with your neighbors and community. Stronger community bonds could also assist in the creation of small businesses. These new communities would drive the need for new restaurants, shops and services such as hair salons, tradesmen and more.
Along with these benefits there would also be better access to healthcare by opening more doctor's clinics and hospitals, as well as more affordable housing throughout the city, leading more equality and opportunity for all.
The concept of a 15-miute city is not as new as the term. In fact, the idea of city planning that incorporates all the necessities of society has been around for centuries. Even Walt Disney, himself, designed a city that was meant to be fully self-sustained. This city was to supply everything its citizens needed, from their work and commerce, to their food and leisure. This city, Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, or better known as EPCOT, wasn't the only fully engineered plan for such a city. Jacque Fresco also envisioned a city that was so technologically advanced that it removed the need for the monetary system all together.
More recently, the United Nations have committed to helping the world transition towards more sustainable city planning, including the 15-minute city. This initiative is just part of a larger agenda known as Agenda 2030. Paris is just one city that has publicly announced their intention to become a 15-minute city under the Agenda 2030 plan.
In Canada, Michal Strong has been under public scrutiny over his plan to implement the 15-minute city concept in Edmonton Alberta. Strong plans to create districts within the city in an aim to restructure the city and address inequality. His plan would see the opening of new schools, shops, healthcare access, bike lanes, parks and walkways throughout the city. It would also include providing more affordable housing and access to other essential services.
The criticism is fear that the government plans on using these 15-minute cities for the purpose of restricting the freedom of movement. Despite these accusations, government officials have stated publicly that there is and never will be any plan to restrict or prevent movement between districts or out of the city.
Online there are websites and social media pages dedicated to conspiracy theories that make similar claims that the World Economic Forum claims they plan to use these cities as a way to control carbon through carbon credits and travel permits. After reading all the articles on the WEF website that refer to the 15-minute city, as well as the documentation on the United Nations website on Agenda 2030, there were no mentions of restriction of travel within districts or out of the city.
While the 15 minute city model has some compelling advantages, there are also potential downsides to consider. Here are a few key concerns that critics have raised:
Limited job opportunities: The 15 minute city model is heavily focused on residential areas, but it doesn't necessarily provide easy access to job centers. This could limit employment opportunities for residents who may need to travel outside of their local area for work. It may still encourage disconnecting from larger companies and the formation of more small businesses within communities.
Reduced urban diversity: By emphasizing self-contained neighborhoods, the 15 minute city could lead to a reduction in the diversity of urban communities. Residents may be less likely to interact with people from different backgrounds or income levels, which could lead to naturally forming areas that lack diversity and limit social cohesion and understanding.
Increased real estate prices: The desirability of living in a 15 minute city could drive up property values in these areas, making it more difficult for low-income residents to afford housing. This could exacerbate issues of gentrification and displacement. In order to combat this, cities would have to ensure that there is enough neighborhoods with adequate affordable housing.
Urban sprawl: While the 15 minute city model aims to reduce car usage and create walkable communities, it could also lead to urban sprawl if implemented in a way that doesn't prioritize density. If neighborhoods are spread out too much, it could become difficult to provide public transportation options that connect them.
Limited access to specialized services: The 15 minute city model is best suited to providing access to basic goods and services, but it may not work as well for more specialized needs. Residents with specific health or educational needs, for example, may still need to travel outside of their neighborhood to access the appropriate resources.
It's important to weigh these potential downsides against the benefits of the 15 minute city model to determine whether it's the right approach for a particular community.
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