move to the metropolis

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Several of you questioned the realism, or otherwise, of my blog t’other week where I posited the idea that we didn’t merely need more electric vehicles to get us out of the seemingly inevitable climate catastrophe, but less vehicles of all type, fossil fuel as well as electric. As mentioned during the post this was only going to be possible with a massively radical change within society and perhaps could begin with our adoption of the increasingly fashionable urban theory of the ’15-minute city’.

The term ’15-minute city’ was coined by Professor Carlos Moreno in 2016 and simply refers to a city, town or centre which have all their inhabitants’ needs – work, food, healthcare, education, leisure – within a 15-minute walk, or more likely a cycle-ride, from their homes. Based upon the earlier 20th century ‘garden cities’ idea of Ebenezer Howard it seeks to return to the older patterns of urban development with walkable neighbourhoods comprising mixed housing, shops and offices where people work, interact and socialize.

Seeking to cut pollution, minimize excessive land-use and improve their quality of daily-life, the natural progression leads to roads being closed to cars, a prioritisation of pedestrians and cyclists, parking spaces being removed, integrated public transport and exclusively green spaces being created and preserved. Furthermore, by capitalising on the supposed IT benefits of the recent ‘fourth industrial/digital revolution’, individuals no longer need to undertake the long-commutes of old and can use the additional leisure time for socially-beneficial hobbies and activities.

Largely idealistic, the 15-minute city sadly ignores the basic economics of how centres work and why exactly businesses locate where they do. High-skilled service sector jobs tend to cluster in city-centres and manufacturing jobs where more affordable space is located, usually either in the suburbs or out in the sticks. These areas are not often 15 minutes from residential neighbourhoods and neither are schools, colleges or educational establishments. However, some cities have attempted to move towards Moreno’s ideas: Singapore now envisages itself as a 45-minute city surrounded by 20-minute towns which encompass all service amenities and are completely networked and integrated by a 45-minute mass transit and commute system.

This is the realistic manner to achieve a commercial reality from an abstract construct. In the UK the immediate priority, after years of austerity, should be to support our high streets and invest in the provision of local social services and, if this were to happen, 15-minute cities may spring-up organically and somewhat naturally.