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Thoughts on The 15-Minute City (the book and the concept)

I really enjoyed The 15 Minute City by Natalie Whittle.

It presents the idea of modern cities in which residents can reach everything they need – shopping, work, school, green space, transport, exercise, culture etc – within 15 minutes on foot or by bike.

This idea is already working (or making good progress) in cities like Amsterdam and Paris.

And during periods of restriction during the Covid-19 pandemic it’s a way of life that people around the world have been forced to try.

There are numerous potential benefits of the idea – for example for physical and mental health, the environment, gaining more family and social time from less commuting, boosting neighbourhood economies through shopping local and so on.

On the other hand the 15-minute idea arguably favours the middle-class over the working-class, leads to diminished interpersonal skills, and ignores the important role of cities (such as London) in performing a wider, globally-connected role.

I enjoyed the thoughtful exploration of what are the important factors that give somewhere a sense of place. And I loved the chapter on Glasgow – Natalie’s home of the last 3 years and mine for much longer. It considers how past planning decisions in relation to new towns and the M8 motorway have become problematic for the city. It also looks at exciting modern projects such as the bridge to better connect the Sighthill estate on the outskirts to the city centre, and initiatives to revitalise the Clyde riverside.

Since reading this book I’m noticing more and more these matters being “in the air”. Just recently The Guardian’s Big Idea feature asked Should cars be banned from cities? If that gave one perspective on traffic in cities, I recently spoke to a taxi driver who offered another. Taxi drivers are being made to change their cars to hybrid models soon, but feel that the combination of increased outlays and lack of necessary technology and infrastructure make the move prohibitive. It was a reminder that we have to consider the potential effects on lots of different people when planning change.

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