What it’s really useful for
But I do not deny the 15 minute city’s utility. The London Plan has long established a mature network of town centres of varying scale and catchment. Within this polycentric framework, ‘15 minute thinking’ can - and should - be used as a diagnostic tool to help our town centres meet the needs of local people. Furthermore, it can only strengthen towns beyond London that have lost talent and investment to UK’s few big cities.
Behind it are some laudable ambitions, and the hope is that it catalyses sustainable transport initiatives, social infrastructure and local civic engagement where these are currently lacking. Mapping of food deserts and lack of public open green space are part of the same audit that is the first step in levelling up within our cities.
London is a global city par excellence, and it would be madness to deny the path we’ve taken to build it.
We can have a thriving and healthy city with great public transport, business culture and social amenities on a global scale, but none of this is guaranteed by constraining our personal geographies.
This is no trade-off between economy and environment, or of individual choice and community. We need to remember that pre-Covid and post-Covid we are city dwellers at different scales. We should aspire to increase access to everything the city has to offer for all, not set an artificial standard for urban life so high that it can only really be reached by those urbanites living at densities that naturally support a dense infrastructure of services.
Yes, let’s reduce commutes, promote cycling and walking, rediscover local assets, promote bottom-up participation, and invest in neighbourhoods. But let’s also continue to think big: invest in mass public transport, reinforce Central London’s gravitational pull, encourage town centre specialisation.. Let’s plan a city that continues to offer its inhabitants the choice to enjoy it at all scales from mews to metropolis. I celebrate the city.