Mobility 2050/The Future of the 15-Minute City

The 15-minute city is an urban design concept in which everyday destinations (such as home, shops, work, education, healthcare, and recreation) can be reached within 15 minutes by foot, bike, or public transport, from any point in a city[1]. The concept emphasizes accessibility, sustainability, health & safety, and overall quality of life for city residents. Notable examples of realized 15-minute cities include Paris, France and Utrecht, the Netherlands.

The 15-minute city aims to reduce car travel within cities, which in turn will reduce carbon emissions and increase equity and access for residents. One problem with car-based cities now is that their infrastructure limits easy transportation to those who have a private car. This restricts the mobility of several demographics and socio-economic groups; for example: children too young to have a driver's license, elderly people who can no longer drive themselves, people whose judgement was poor and driver's license was revoked, people who cannot afford or otherwise do not have a car, and individuals under the influence, among others.

With movement toward 15-minute cities, emergency services such as hospitals and fire stations can be more available. The 15-minute city effectively eliminates food deserts by having grocery stores nearby all residents. The 15-minute city would also help increase education rates, with schools being within a close radius of the home.

Case Studies edit

Paris, France edit

Paris is a fascinating case study, because similar to the United States, it once had a well-defined, car-centric infrastructure that resulted in congestion and pollution[2]. This changed when Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo was re-elected in 2020, with the promise to make Paris a 15-minute city[3]. She worked alongside urbanist Carlos Moreno, who coined the term "15-minute city" in 2015.[3] Hidalgo's success comes from changing the structure of Paris to prioritize bikers and pedestrians over drivers. Some measures she took to achieve this were: phasing out private diesel cars in the city, opening parks along old highways, increasing parking meter prices, and adding bus and bike lanes.[4]

Portland, Oregon edit

Portland has already began to develop their version of a 15-minute city, as they created their plan for a 20-minute neighborhood in 2010[5]. Their objectives to meet by 2035 include raising high school graduation rates and increasing access to post-secondary degree and certificate programs[6]. They also hope to have healthy neighborhoods, by promoting physical activity, healthier eating and affordable public transportation. They want to increase opportunities for individuals to take care of their wellness, which include services for their physical, mental, emotional and sexual health.

Limiting Factors edit

Urban sprawl edit

Urban sprawl is a result of spread-out development of infrastructure. It puts long distances between residential areas, offices, and stores,[7] which leads people to become reliant on cars to access their basic necessities and services. This can make it challenging to establish such compact, walkable urban areas that are favorable for 15-minute cities. Car reliance also causes traffic congestion, which wastes fuel, contributes to air pollution, and often leads localities to expand roads, which eventually results in more traffic and sprawl.[7]

In the US, urban sprawl is also a result of zoning regulations that prioritize single-use developments (such as residential suburbs), which limit space for public areas like parks and schools. Some concepts which can be implemented to mitigate urban sprawl include mixed-use development and transit-oriented development. Mixed-use development in particular can introduce opportunities for affordable housing, as well as promote community and socialization in affected areas. However, the long-established, well-defined land use ordinances and strict zoning laws typical of most US cities basically preclude the transition toward mixed-use development and 15-minute cities. These concerns will be addressed by new policymakers who will change urban planning and reform policies, namely by relaxing zoning. It will also be a result of communities coming together with complaints regarding crowded schools, increased traffic congestion, and higher taxes.

Conspiracy theories edit

Some opponents of 15-minute cities claim that it is a ploy by the government to take all cars away and intrude on an individual's personal freedom. They even go as far to say that it will turn the U.S. into a "government-run, open-air prison"[8]. They argue that without cars, and by having to resort to walking or biking, the government will have more control and digital surveillance over citizens' lives. Other claims are that neighborhoods will turn into "concentration camps"[1] and life will be like "the Hunger Games"[1]. They protest that having no cars will divide cities and make it unable for people to leave their "factions".

Note that eliminating cars is not actually a goal of the 15-minute city. Rather, the concept emphasizes that cars should not be necessary for safe, simple transportation around the city. With infrastructure that is conducive to walking, cycling, and public transit, the 15-minute city aims to offer a freedom of mobility that car-dependent cities make almost impossible. In a 2021 interview for Slate, Paris Deputy Mayor David Belliard summarized his experience with the burden which car-centric cities place on their residents: "When I was in Vesoul, I was obliged to have a car, the car was not an object of emancipation but of servitude. I could do nothing without my car."[4]

The propaganda mindset is a result of misinformation. Once 15-minute cities become more accessible, many people will realize that they are able to keep their cars and can still drive everywhere if that is what they desire; they just no longer have to be dependent on their cars to be their only mode of transportation.

CityAccessMap edit

CityAccessMap provides a look at how many 15-minute cities there are across the globe. 15-minute cities are abundant in areas like the UK, India, and Japan. Thus, we know it's possible for 15-minute cities to become the norm in some countries. However, in the United States, they are sparse and only seen in larger cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In 2050, after the raise in gas prices and shift in policymakers, zoning laws will change which will allow most big cities in the United States to convert to 15-minute cities, and several small cities such as Charlottesville to follow suit.

Predictions edit

The 15-minute city is very feasible and already exists outside the US[9]. It is already well established in places like New York City and Los Angeles, but giving up cars seems to be undesirable at the moment, due to the convenience and cost-effectiveness of the car. Outside of the US, public transport is seen as an essential utility, but in many cities in the US, it is seen as social welfare[10]. Local politicians simply see transit as government aid for those that don't have cars, which is a narrative that must be changed for the 15-minute city to become prominent.

Reduction in reliance on private cars edit

In order for the 15-minute city to become more feasible, some obstacle must hinder the desirability of private cars, which we believe could be gas prices rising again in the coming years. This would mean fewer people want to pay for gas and would motivate them to turn to less expensive alternative modes of transport. There will also be regulations which reduce the production and sales of gas-powered cars with internal combustion engines (ICEs), much like California's current requirement that all sales of new light-duty passenger vehicles be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) by 2035.[11] ZEVs include battery-electric and fuel cell electric vehicles, so electric vehicles will likely make up a significant portion of the auto market by 2050.[11] However, considering potential sustainability limitations on the current methods of mineral extraction and production of EV batteries, it is likely that electric cars could still be too expensive for the average consumer to purchase, which would bring down the general use of cars.

Pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly urban spaces edit

Given the increased public interest in alternative mobility, more bike lanes could be created or select roads could be transformed into pedestrian plazas which do not allow cars. These modifications might start out as temporary, low-cost projects (as some bike lanes in Paris initially were), such that local governments can experiment with the adjustments and seek feedback from residents before committing to a permanent longer-term project. This will encourage local planning commissions to take action, as they will take on less immediate risk, face fewer delays from red tape, and better serve the community in their urban design decisions.

Educating younger generations edit

We believe that the shift towards a walk/bike or public transportation initiative begins with children, and encouraging them from a young age that walking and biking will be healthier for them and will be necessary to fight climate change. While many adults are already rooted in notions of convenience and the car-dependent status quo, younger generations can be taught early on to take their mobility into their own hands.

  1. a b c "15-Minute City". 15-Minute City. 2023-02-15. Retrieved 2023-12-04.
  2. Gongadze, Salome; Maassen, Anne (January 25, 2023). "Paris' Vision for a '15-Minute City' Sparks a Global Movement". World Resources Institute.
  3. a b Jacobs, Frank (March 11, 2023). "The 15-minute city is already here. It's called Paris". bigthink.
  4. a b Grabar, Henry (2021-09-15). "The Liberation of Paris From Cars Is Working" (in en-US). Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. 
  5. "Exploring the 15-Minute City Concept and Its Potential for Communities of All Sizes". National League of Cities. 2023-06-13. Retrieved 2023-12-04.
  6. "The Portland Plan |". 2020-04-10. Retrieved 2023-12-04.
  7. a b "Urban Sprawl". Everything Connects. November 20, 2013.
  8. Baker, Nick; Weedon, Alan (2023-02-26). "What is the '15-minute city' conspiracy theory?" (in en-AU). ABC News. 
  9. "CityAccessMap". Retrieved 2023-12-04.
  10. "Why Doesn't the U.S. Have Better Public Transportation?". Retrieved 2023-12-04.
  11. a b "Alternative Fuels Data Center: Electricity Laws and Incentives in California". Retrieved 2023-12-08.