In a post from earlier this year, The Domestication of City Dwellers, Heather Heying expresses many of my doubts about the crazy new "15-minute cities" concept, along with some I hadn't thought of.
Fifteen minute cities are intended to reduce sprawl and traffic, facilitate social interactions with your neighbors, and give you your time back. If it took fifteen minutes or less to get to all the places that you need and want to go, imagine how much more possibility there could be in life.
You might well wonder how such remarkable results will be achieved. The answer is: through restricting automobile travel between neighborhoods, fining people who break the new travel restrictions, and keeping a tech-eye wide open, with surveillance cameras everywhere.
Apparently, say the promoters of fifteen minute cities, we need to promote access over mobility. In their world, the definitions are these: “Mobility is how far you can go in a given amount of time. Accessibility is how much you can get to in that time.” The same post further argues that “Mobility - speed - is merely a means to an end. The purpose of mobility is to get somewhere, to points B, C, D, and E, wherever they may be. It’s the 'getting somewhere' — the access to services and jobs — that matters.”
This is not just confusing, it’s a bait-and-switch. Speed is not the same thing as mobility. Being able to “get somewhere” is mobility. Mobility means freedom to move. This freedom has been undermined for the last three years, in many countries, under the guise of protecting public health.
Fifteen-minute cities would further restrict your freedom to move. Your ability to get anywhere will be restricted under the pretense of making it easier and faster to get everywhere that you really need or want to go.
Dr. Heying goes on to explain several of the problems with this reasoning, and the whole article is worth reading. Including the footnotes. But few of her points were the ones that immediately jumped out at me.
First of all, who decides what exactly it is that comprises "everywhere that I really need or want to go"? One dentist is just as good as any another, right? Once upon a time, one church (Catholic) was all that any town needed; who really needs churches of different Christian denominations, not to mention mosques and Hindu temples?
If there's a public school within 15 minutes of my house, certainly I don't need to send my kids to a private school that may be located outside my neighborhood? In fact, this 15-minute city idea has a strong odor of our American public school system—in which children must attend the nearest school, and parental choice in education is strongly opposed—writ large.
And how will these convenient services for "everything we need and want" be set up? Who gets to open a grocery store in which neighborhood? What if no one wants to open a store there? Will some neighborhoods have only government-run facilities? Will we have mega-stores with every variety of foodstuffs instead of family-run ethnic markets? Or maybe no stores at all, just Amazon Prime? Do we really want thousands of tiny libraries, art museums, and concert venues, each offering a tiny fraction of what is now available? Or will we be told that we should get all our culture and information online?
And worst of all: Granted, it would be wonderful if all our loved ones lived within 15 minutes of our homes. Imagine having all our friends so close, and grandchildren just down the street! But how will that be accomplished? Our friends and family are spread all over the globe. Of course I'd like them to be closer—but not at the cost of imprisoning them! Even if they were all forced to move into the same 15-minute neighborhood, how long could such a situation be sustainable? Population control on a massive and tyrannical scale?
Besides, anyone who has grown up in a small town knows not only how wonderful they are, but also how insular, parochial, and restrictive they can be. If our COVID lockdowns produced a massive increase in suicide and other mental health problems, just wait till we've lived in 15-minute cities for a generation.
And if in that one generation people have come to believe that living under such tyranny is normal and good—the only word for that is tragedy.
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