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  • Writer's pictureMary Finnegan

Urban Planning Reaches Mainstream Social Media – A Review of The 15-Minute City

The rise of social media has sparked a profound shift in how we interact, establish connections, and distribute information. In recent times, urban planners have embraced a variety of social media platforms, including TikTok, Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter, as avenues to advocate for and engage in dialogues pertaining to important urban planning principles. At its best, social media facilitates avenues for originality and education spanning a wide array of subjects, all while reaching a diverse audience. Nevertheless, it's crucial to recognize that social media can occasionally inadvertently warp the original message.

Take, for instance, the "15-Minute City," a term and concept within urban planning introduced by Professor Carlos Moreno in 2016. This notion garnered momentum through social media channels, but it also faced opposition in the shape of improbable conspiracy theories. This urban planning strategy centers on changing lifestyles by strategically situating essential amenities within a 15-minute walking or cycling radius from our homes.

The 15-Minute City

Moreno’s work has been inspired by the ideas of urban activists Jane Jacobs and Nikos Salingaros, and in his 2020 TED Talk, he coined the term “The 15-Minute City”. Moreno says, “Cities should be designed or redesigned so that within the distance of a 15-minute walk or bike ride, people should be able to live the essence of what constitutes the urban experience: to access work, housing, food, health, education, culture, and leisure”. By prioritizing walkability, accessibility, and community, the 15-Minute City can improve urban residents’ quality of life while reducing negative impacts on the environment. The goal is to enhance the livability and connectivity of urban areas, reducing reliance on private cars. This would result in fresher air, more verdant streets, and reduced emissions contributing to global warming. Roughly 20% of the planet's human-induced, heat-trapping emissions originate from transportation, of which passenger vehicles constitute over 40%.

This promising urban plan is already working successfully in cities worldwide including Barcelona, Spain, and Shanghai, China. Barcelona has implemented a "superblocks" model in which nine-block sections of the city are pedestrianized and transformed into community spaces. This design has promoted physical activity and social interaction, as people are more likely to walk, bike, or use public transportation to get around.

In Shanghai, the implementation of 15-Minute communities has been deemed successful in improving the quality of life for residents, reducing traffic congestion, and promoting sustainable development. The city has focused on creating dense, mixed-use neighborhoods that are connected to each other through a network of public transportation, bike lanes, and pedestrian paths. This has led to the development of new neighborhoods with a variety of amenities, such as the Anting New Town in Jiading District, which includes schools, hospitals, shopping centers, and green spaces within a 15-minute walk.

Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, France, has made phasing out cars a key point of her platform and was re-elected in 2020 using the 15-Minute City as the centerpiece of her campaign. Since she was elected, Paris has introduced a plan to create 100% cycling-friendly routes throughout the city. Paris has introduced no-car zones in various parts of the city, making it safer and more enjoyable for people to walk and cycle. This initiative has created vibrant public spaces and reduced traffic congestion. The city has also strategically placed essential services like grocery stores, pharmacies, and medical facilities within neighborhoods. This proximity has encouraged residents to walk or bike for their daily needs.

Urban Planning Principles on TikTok and Social Media

Urban planning principles are being introduced in unique ways to a new generation through social media. Like with any idea presented on social media, there may be some skepticism or criticism from certain groups or individuals. Although social media can be an interesting way to express opinions on varying topics, urban planning has recently found itself on the “wrong side” of social media. Recent posts describing urban planning principles on social media have been filled with attacks by conspiracy theorists of the 15-Minute City.

Conspiracy theorists have used social media to charge that the practical and emission-controlling urban plan of a 15-Minute City is really a nefarious government plan to submit citizens into a "climate lockdown". These posts use images of government and military control and a future bleak dystopian world as arguments against urban planning. Even more dark and imaginative charges are being made on these various social media posts that this plan based on walkability and mobility for residents without required transportation emissions is really a “well-documented plan for 15-Minute Cities to become open-air prisons enforced by a police state, where citizens will be prevented from leaving their enclosed zone.” (Vice, 2023)

Students, professionals, and subject matter experts are pushing back on these conspiracy theorists’ ideas. Associated Press debunks the theorists’ charges by explaining that the 15-Minute City is shorthand for the goal of making transit, jobs, healthcare, parks, and amenities of city life accessible to all residents within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. Carlos Moreno stated “Of course, all citizens are free to go where they want. There are no constraints.” Dan Lusher, the founder of the 15-Minute City Project, echoed that statement, “It’s about enabling people to get their needs met within their own neighborhood, not to confine them. It’s about mobility, not lockdown.”

Paul Krugman, an opinion writer for the New York Times, states, “Unfortunately, urban planning – for cities are always planned, one way or another – is yet another casualty of the politics of grievance and paranoia. Making walkable cities possible requires locations to allow more multifamily and multistory buildings, while restricting car traffic in certain areas [to promote safe pedestrian and bike travel].” Krugman encourages and emphasizes the need for thoughtful dialogue to bridge these gaps and foster more inclusive urban environments.

What Can You Do?

Here’s a challenge for our readers: take a moment to think about what kind of amenities you (and your community) would benefit from having within a 15-minute walking or biking radius of your home. Urban planners should champion their ideas in a positive and inclusive manner, fostering a sense of community and shared purpose. Embracing open dialogue and constructive debates with those who offer alternate perspectives can lead to well-rounded solutions. However, it's important to exercise discernment and avoid engaging with fringe ideas that lack credibility, as doing so might detract from the meaningful discussions that drive progress. Maybe even take your ideas to TikTok or other social media platforms to encourage good urban planning principles to future generations of planners!

TSG recognizes and monitors different forms of social media to stay current with worldwide urban planning trends, looking toward the future. Our team has years of experience in the fundamental principles of urban planning and offers informed plans to reflect future and progressive urban planning principles.

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