I have yet to read an article proclaiming the benefits of 15-minute cities that deeply considers the impacts on children, people with disabilities, pregnant women, seniors, or any other cohort with limited or reduced mobilities. I find similar silence in the literature when it comes to accounting for the carriage of goods and people’s belongings. Likewise, any evidence of real consideration of how outdoor climates and exposures might be properly accounted for. It’s easy to design space for young, healthy, and childfree adults, but it’s much more difficult and expensive to design for universal access and inclusion, which are increasingly becoming foundational urban design standards, not add-ons.
A final point – this one raised often by the dystopians – is the concern city authorities will confine residents to their 15-minute neighbourhood, using surveillance technology to minimise the number of times they can leave, and fining them for breaches. Obviously, restricting movement in such a way would be a gross violation of human rights and extends way beyond the brief of a city council. For a 15-minute city project to have hope of success, its primary goal must be to realise the promise, so people genuinely won’t need to leave often. Compliance can only ever be voluntary. Councils should pay close attention to communicating this promise at every opportunity if they are to secure wide public support.
In my view, the success of any 15-minute city project will depend on it happening in right setting, based on extensive consultation with all residents, stakeholders, and user groups, and ultimately backed by clear and transparent governance. It’s a tall order.
My overarching view on 15-minute cities in one sentence: Planning history is filled with two dimensional dreams materialising into three dimensional nightmares, and based on the evidence, I see low potential for 15-minute cities to be any different.