15 Minute City Tyranny on the Way
Oxford's Local Plan 2040 ‘places a strong emphasis upon the concept of the 15-minute city’. Foremost in its ‘vision and strategy’ is not residents, but the environment. Oxford, we learn, ‘is a human-scale city’. ‘[It] has the potential to enable residents to live in a healthy and sustainable way, for example because of the possibility of travelling by active modes, such as by bike and on foot, which is why it is such a sustainable location for development, including jobs and housing… The environment will be central to everything we do.’ Clearly, Oxford City Council sees the 15-minute-district concept as the key to the city’s flourishing, not just to lowering emissions of CO2 and particulates.
The concept of the 15-minute city was born with ‘C40’. Chaired today by London mayor Sadiq Khan, C40 calls itself a ‘network of mayors of nearly 100 world-leading cities collaborating to deliver the urgent action needed right now to confront the climate crisis’. Central to the birth of the project was another former London mayor, Ken Livingstone. Livingstone was often explicit in his anti-car ideology. In 1999, shortly before becoming mayor, Livingstone famously remarked: ‘I hate cars. If I ever get any powers again, I’d ban the lot.’
The C40 mayors would later be invited to the United Nations’ COP21 climate confab in Paris in 2015. The mayors basked in the green limelight, staking their claim as ‘crucial voices’ in shaping and advocating a strong summit agreement. Significantly, it was at COP21 that Carlos Moreno, a professor at the Sorbonne University, Paris, presented the idea of the 15-minute city. For Moreno, the concept is very simple: ‘Why does a noisy and polluted street need to be a noisy and polluted street?’ Moreno even sounds humanistic when he proclaims that cities must adapt to humans, not the other way round. Yet there is little pro-human about the concept. And the fact that it took the Covid lockdowns to really give the idea a boost is telling in this regard.
The big moment for the 15-minute city came in 2020, when the Socialist Party candidate for mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, won re-election. Much of her campaign was based around the 15-minute concept. As Politico noted earlier this year, Hidalgo’s ‘pitch to turn the French capital into a “city of proximity” – where children walk to school and residents know their local baker – struck a chord at a time when Covid-19 lockdowns meant people were suddenly spending a lot more time in their own neighbourhoods. Enthusiasm for the idea sparked similar campaigns in Dublin, Barcelona, Milan and Lisbon.’
Just last month, C40 announced a partnership with United Nations Habitat, Carlos Moreno and the Danish property investor NREP, which manages seven million square metres of real estate across Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Poland. The project aims to fund a ‘new Green and Thriving Neighbourhoods programme, deliver proof of concept for “15-minute city” policies and empower cities around the globe to implement ambitious Net Zero and people-centred neighbourhoods’.
As usual, it is ordinary people who will suffer the costs of the 15-minute city. Particularly, urban car-owners and families who regularly travel across town to visit relatives or friends, or to go to work.
What is posed as a revival of Britain’s green and pleasant land is in fact a coercive drive to put motorists on a leash. Those homes with a car will have to count how many times they use it to cross town. There will be permits, penalties and almost certainly more ubiquitous surveillance. All of this, just so that Oxford officialdom, which has declared a ‘climate emergency’, can claim to be achieving the council’s ‘Net Zero carbon Oxford’ vision by 2040.
Even worse is the precedent set by such apparently petty measures. Once the principle is established that the State, or any one of its local subsidiaries, has the right to dictate curbs on our right to travel on account of the bogus 'climate crisis', then all other human freedoms and activities are also in the frame. Give these people an inch and they will indeed take not just a mile, but the entire planet. It's us or them!
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