On the 19th of February, 2,000 people took to the streets of Oxford to protest traffic filters. In this protest, the phrase 15 minute cities was brought up often. A number of people on the protest and elsewhere, objected to the idea, saying it will limit freedom. It has even been described as many as a new conspiracy theory. But what are the traffic filters aiming to do? What exactly is a 15 minute city? And why is it so controversial?

Firstly, a 15 minute city is, simply put, an urban planning concept, where most daily necessities, such as schools, medical services, food shops, workplaces, and leisure activities, can be accessed easily through a 15 minute or less walk, or bicycle ride. This aims to reduce dependency on cars, while creating well designed public spaces, and ultimately, to improve the quality of life for residents.

Although Oxford traffic filter plans have frequently been linked to 15 minute cities (which are a proposal in the city councils local plan) this is incorrect. The traffic filters aim to reduce congestion- a common problem in Oxford. The traffic filters will mean people will have to use a different route at times (e.g. the ring road) - however they will still be able to drive to different parts of the city, meaning people will not be confined to their local area. There will also be no physical barriers. Instead, there will simply be cameras that can read number plates. Residents in Oxford will be able to apply for a permit to drive through the filters up to 100 days a year.

So why is there so much controversy over these plans- and over 15 minute cities? An MP even went so far as to say the idea was an ‘international socialist concept’ that will ‘limit our personal freedom.’ However, this is not the case. The idea of 15 minute cities, seeks to help, not to limit. It aims to provide resources, not dictate where people are allowed to go. In a plan for a 15 minute city public transport networks will be made better and more available; people will be able to move easily. Car movement will be more limited; but train, bus, bike, or walking will not be, and will be encouraged. People are allowed to move out of their zones; as stated, there will be no physical barriers of any sort. For Oxford, these plans will help the city hugely. Traffic congestions hurt the environment, and worsening the bus network. Oxford is a beautiful city; it’s much more beautiful when there aren’t clusters of cars everywhere you look. Furthermore; there is little need for cars in a place like Oxford. There are buses constantly running, and most places you can easily walk to. Cycling of course, is a popular mode of transport, as well as it being cost effective and relatively efficient, there are bicycle lanes on many streets. In fact, 30% of Oxford households do not own a car.

But this design choice isn’t just good for Oxford; 15 minute cities and traffic filters have the ability to help people all over the world. Pollution ruins cities. It has been known to cause many health issues, such as asthma. In serious cases, such as certain cities in India, a thick smog hangs permanently above buildings; people have to wear face masks to avoid it. In the USA, vehicles cause 75% of pollution- worldwide, vehicles produce 27% of all greenhouse emissions. 15 minute cities will reduce the amount of pollution and emissions from vehicles drastically. It will also simply make things easier for people. Not everyone has a car and not everyone can access things that are far away easily. By having accessible and close services, it means people, especially groups such as the elderly, disabled, or even just those with busy schedules, will benefit hugely, while also building a sense of community. 15 minute cities may very well be the future; and from the sounds of it, that’s not a bad thing.