Is Heaton Moor Park 15 minutes away?

May 19, 2023 | Thoughts about the park

The 15-minute city is an area where a person can meet basic needs within a 15 minute walk or bike ride, with no need to resort to a car.

Access to nature seems a pretty basic need, so a park would be within 15 minutes. Hopefully, anyone within in a 15 minute walk of Heaton Moor Park takes advantage of the park without having to drive.

The 15-minute city is an idea with supporters but also so opposition that views the idea proposed by dangerous radical agitators. Read on to learn more about this idea, how it’s become controversial, and yes, a bit about driving in ancient Rome.

To see how UK cities are faring with citizens being within 15 minutes of useful amenities:

And some organisations (perhaps allowing for slower walkers/cyclists?) have information about 20 mintue cities:

The 15-minute City concept has been popularised by Carlos Moreno, a Franco-Colombian urban planner and Sorbonne University professor.  This concept has been around fora while and has been relatively uncontroversial.  

Carlos Moreno began developing this idea in 2016, citing the influence of Jane Jacobs, from the US.   In French, it’s called “La Ville du quart d’Heure”, and the  most famous example of it is in Paris, France, through the work of Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris.

The 15-minute city comprises polycentric neighbourhoods and cities where a person can meet their daily needs via a short walk or non-polluting bike ride, or a short ride on public transport. There is easy access to goods and services, particularly groceries, fresh food and health care. Residents are able to breathe clean air and there are green spaces, parks, parklets, planned with equality of access as an important concept. 

The concept aims to disrupt the perennial use of the ubiquitous car.  As Anne Hidalgo said,

“My project is about proximity, participation, collaboration and ecology. In Paris we all feel we have no time; we are always rushing to one place or another, always trying to gain time. That is why I am convinced we need to transform the city so Parisians can learn, do sports, have healthcare, shop, within 15 minutes of their home.”

The mayor has created miles of bike lanes and closed sections of the riverside to cars.  This has reduced carbon emissions and made the city generally healthier.   The city opened school playgrounds after hours and at weekends, to provide residents’ children with safe recreational public spaces.   Many cities worldwide are experimenting with these ideas – Berlin, Bogota, Seattle, Copenhagen.

The situation in England is more complicated.  On 18th February 2023, there was a demonstration in Oxford against the proposed introduction of six new traffic filters intended to limit car use through residential parts of the city at peak hours.  Five people were arrested. 

On 9th February the Conservative MP Nick Fletcher claimed that the 15 minute city idea was a vast conspiracy.   He told MPs that 15-minute cities were an “international socialist concept” and that they will “cost our personal freedom”……

Will the Leader of the House please set aside time in this House for a debate on the international socialist concept of so-called 15-minute cities and 20-minute neighbourhoods? Ultra low emission zones in their present form do untold economic damage to any city. The second step, after such zones, will take away personal freedoms as well. Sheffield is already on this journey, and I do not want Doncaster, which also has a Labour-run socialist council, to do the same. Low emission zones cost the taxpayer money—simple as. However, 15-minute cities will cost us our personal freedom, and that cannot be right.

‘These deeply illiberal, unBritish 15-minute cities are beyond the pale. They’re hurting communities, hurting small businesses and they’ve got to go. And it didn’t take me 15 minutes to work that out.’ (Hansard 9/2/2023)

GB news then also weighed in a few days later.

Proponents of the concept were very surprised at these reactions; they are largely a group of concerned citizens and planners trying to improve the quality of local life in walkable neighbourhoods.  To be characterised as oppressive conspirators aiming to rob others of their personal freedoms seemed rather exaggerated.  At no point do they suggest confining people behind physical barriers.  

Mr Moreno himself faced email and online abuse, and even death threats.

These outbursts seem to be conflating the idea of the 15 minute city with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, or LTNS.  LTNs restrict vehicular access to residential streets. Their purpose is to lower the number of cars and increase walking and cycling.   As such, they are a form of attack on car use, after years of advertising by the automobile industry representing the good life as the freedom to drive.  Oxford’s plan went further in planning to trial a traffic filter scheme on six roads in the city, requiring cars to obtain permits in order to travel along these routes.  Number plates would be scanned by cameras and fines could be issued.   Oxford councillors began to receive multitudes of complaints and some abuse.

This was odd, as it is not a new idea; in ancient Rome there were rules about where carts could go.

The Embattled Driver in Ancient Rome.

 It is perhaps possible that the Covid lockdown played a part in engendering fear; the lockdown was often described as a communist plot to control people.

The thought that one might have to apply for a permit to leave one’s “zone” has never been suggested by proponents of the 15minute city.    There is no group of dangerous agitators plotting to use the climate crisis as a way to curtail individual liberties, set up prison camps or build walls.  

There were further fiery objections to LTNs in Rochdale in March 2023, where floral planters were set alight and ruined shortly after their installation.

These episodes point to the power of social media in dispersing ideas, and how small inaccuracies in reporting can have astonishing consequences.    Interestingly, both sides see themselves as “freedom fighters”.    But this is not a war on the car: it is an endeavour to improve quality of life, and improve inclusion in public spaces. 

Should the freedom to drive be sacrosanct?   And is opposing this an assault on democracy? 

Image;   This 1947 comic book produced by the Catholic Catechetical Guild Educational Society was part of a “Red Scare” in the U.S. that raised fears about the horrors of a communist takeover.  Reprinted in Rare Historical Photos.