The Pitfalls of the 15-Minute City

The concept, touted as "hyper-local," can fail to take into account local conditions and historical inequities in American cities.

March 8, 2021, 11:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


olrat / Shutterstock

The concept of the "15-minute city" has been adopted as an aspirational buzzword by city leaders across the United States, but "there are dangers of applying a model conceived in Europe to many North American cities," writes Feargus O'Sullivan for Bloomberg CityLab. Urban designer Jay Pitter calls transplanting the idea potentially "presumptive and colonial," arguing that "it doesn't take into account the histories of urban inequity, intentionally imposed by technocratic and colonial planning approaches, such as segregated neighborhoods, deep amenity inequity and discriminatory policing of our public spaces" that are deeply embedded in American cities.

European cities, designed before mass car ownership, are more well-suited to the notion of the 15-minute city, writes O'Sullivan. The lofty goal of creating small neighborhoods where all amenities are within easy reach is "unlikely to reach all neighborhoods in many cities without drastic interventions and investments," and "simply injecting design changes such as bike lanes and parklets into a neighborhood will not reverse segregation that has been embedded into city planning."

The proposals neglect "a century of planning interventions that have actually concretized deep social divisions between people," says Pitter.  He calls the concept "top-down, technocratic urban planning" rather than a "systematic and holistic approach" that would more carefully consider social relationships and historic inequities. While it claims to be hyper-local, Pitter argues that implementing the approach without consideration to local conditions has the opposite effect.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021 in Bloomberg CityLab

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