Misunderstandings about 15-minute cities hold Edmonton back

Conspiracy theories opposing 15-minute cities threaten Edmonton’s ability to grow sustainability and ensure accessible goods and services. 

Tired of having to drive everywhere? What if you could walk to your local cafe, grocery store, and health clinic instead? In the last week of May, Edmonton’s city council hosted three days of public hearings on its District Policy and Plans. And on June 25, council passed the first part of the program. These plans include initiatives to convert Edmonton into a 15-minute city, where residents can find groceries, health care, and green spaces within a 15-minute walk, bike ride, or transit trip. No longer would we have to drive 20 minutes to reach these basic services. The daily lives of Edmontonians could become more affordable and environmentally sustainable. 

Unfortunately, plans to convert Edmonton into a 15-minute city have been under fire because of fears surrounding restricted mobility. While city council could be more transparent about the impacts of its plans, we cannot allow fears of change to impede Edmonton’s progress. 

And these plans are not new. Edmonton realized the importance of becoming a 15-minute city back in 2020 when city council first approved Edmonton’s City Plan. Other cities worldwide have also begun proposing and implementing 15-minute cities. Despite this popularity, conspiracy theories surrounding 15-minute cities and perceived “climate tyranny” began circulating in earnest in 2020.

Specifically, people are concerned about “climate lockdowns.” That is, some groups claim that the government wants to control where people go in the name of reducing carbon emissions. These conspiracies have no basis. Fifteen-minute cities cut down on car pollution by offering alternatives, not restricting individual choice. These conspiracies only gained traction because the city of Oxford in the United Kingdom suggested issuing permits for access to traffic-heavy roads. However, these plans were mostly separate from their proposal to create a 15-minute community. 

And, city council has neither proposed nor mentioned anything of the sort. In fact, on June 25 council clarified that there is no intention to restrict movement. Even if the city tried to restrict people’s movement, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects mobility rights. Sandeep Agrawal, a professor in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Alberta, has pointed out that “no level of the government can restrict people — where to go, where to live, where to work, and where to play.” So, there’s little reason to worry about city council restricting mobility in Edmonton. 

Of course, these worries must come from somewhere. Councillor for ward Nakota Isga, Andrew Knack, thinks that anxieties surrounding the plans stem from differences between the district plans and the City Plan, resulting in uncertainty and suspicion. Speakers from the recent hearings voiced concerns about transparency as well. Edmonton resident Patricia Lineker said that Edmonton can’t afford to renovate so quickly, referencing the expected realization of the City Plan in the next 50 years. Others are worried about which areas they can develop. More information on the financial impacts of this plan could subdue many of these concerns, especially for business owners.

But make no mistake, 15-minute communities have worked in the past to Edmonton’s benefit. The neighbourhood of Ritchie has become a bustling hub for local businesses as one of Edmonton’s more walkable neighbourhoods. With the Ritchie Market, walking trails, and a community league, Ritchie’s residents can get coffee and play tennis within walking distance of their home. Clearly, residents enjoy this convenience without being trapped within their neighbourhood.

These plans also address Edmonton’s increasing carbon emissions. Currently, urban centres account for roughly 60 per cent of global greenhouse gases with cars being major contributors. By reducing the need to travel, 15-minute cities drastically reduce these emissions. In turn, Edmonton takes another step towards addressing rising global temperatures and erratic weather patterns.

Implementing a 15-minute city is crucial to the welfare of Edmontonians, especially in the face of our growing population and urban pollution. With an ever-expanding city, this concept guides city planning towards providing environmentally friendly access to essential services. Every Edmonton resident can enjoy the ease of these communities through the recent plans and initiatives. The only question left is whether we can tackle our fears and allow it to happen.

Nitasha Baig

Nitasha Baig is the 2024-25 Summer Deputy Opinion Editor at The Gateway. She is in her third year studying English in the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) program. Right now, she's probably curled up on a couch with the newest celebrity memoir and a cup of chai.

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