Can 15 Minute Cities Really Solve the Issue of Climate Change?

Oxford’s attempts to create a “15 Minute City” were met with protests this weekend, not so much because of the concept of having everything within easy reach of your home, but more because of the restrictions on driving and ‘traffic free zones’ that residents expect to accompany any improved access to local amenities.  Many residents believe this will be the first step in removing private ownership of vehicles in the city – and it seems the protests are not going anywhere soon.  So what are 15 Minute cities, and how helpful is the concept likely to be in reducing climate change?

The concept of “15-minute cities” has gained traction in recent years as a way to promote sustainable living and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The idea is to design cities so that residents can access all the goods, services, and amenities they need within a 15-minute walk, bike ride, or public transit ride from their home. This approach can reduce the need for private cars, which are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

While 15-minute cities are a promising approach to creating more sustainable, livable cities, they are unlikely to be a panacea for the problem of climate change. Here are some reasons why:

Firstly, 15-minute cities can only work if they are designed and implemented correctly. This means that cities need to have good public transportation networks, walkable streets, and mixed-use development that provides a variety of services and amenities within a short distance of residential areas. Creating these types of cities requires significant planning, investment, and political will, and not all cities may have the resources or the political support to make it happen.

Secondly, 15-minute cities may not be sufficient to address all the sources of greenhouse gas emissions. While reducing the need for private cars can have a significant impact on emissions, there are still other sources of emissions, such as industrial processes, agriculture, and air travel, that will need to be addressed through other means. Creating sustainable, low-carbon transportation is an essential part of reducing emissions, but it is only one piece of the puzzle.

Thirdly, the concept of 15-minute cities may not work for everyone. For example, people who live in rural areas or in suburbs may not have access to the same level of services and amenities within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. Those with mobility issues could become housebound by car free zones.  In these cases, other solutions may need to be explored, such as electric cars or carpooling.

Finally, 15-minute cities may not be sufficient to address the root causes of climate change. While reducing emissions is essential, it is also necessary to address the underlying economic, social, and political systems that have led to climate change. This requires systemic change at a global scale and cannot be achieved through local solutions alone.  Last weekends’ protests are a key indicator of why residents are likely to see imposed changes as a threat to their freedom, and they are unlikely to accept the changes unless they see leaders setting an example.

15-minute cities are unlikely to be feasible in all areas or meet the needs of all residents even in those areas where they are feasible. They require significant planning, investment, and political support, and may not be feasible or desirable for all communities.

In conclusion, while 15-minute cities are a promising approach to creating more sustainable, livable cities, they are unlikely to be a complete solution to the problem of climate change and where feasible reduced car use should be adopted via encouragement and improved amenities, not imposed on residents via rules and restrictions.

However, as part of a broader set of solutions, 15-minute cities, adopted as a positive system to improve access and build and re-connect communities can help reduce emissions and promote more sustainable urban living.