In defence of the 15-minute city

At the end of last year, the subject of the ‘15-minute city’ began to creep into neighbourhood WhatsApp groups, interrupting the usual discussion of lost cats, car crime and blocked drains. Oxfordshire County Council had proposed a traffic-zoning scheme to reduce car usage in the city – and suggested that to address unnecessary journeys, every resident should have ‘all the essentials (shops, healthcare, parks) within a 15-minute walk of their home’. But critics up and down the country hit on the proposals as an example of the ‘international conspiracy’ and ‘tyranny’ of the 15-minute city – which, they warned, is probably coming to a neighbourhood near you soon.  Although the

Why I admire Saudi Arabia’s monstrous new city

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wants me to know that it is building a new city. Its adverts follow me around the internet. ‘Imagine a traditional city and consolidating its footprint, designing to protect and enhance nature.’ I’m imagining. Their city ‘will be home to nine million residents, and will be built with a footprint of just 34 square kilometres. And we are designing it to provide a healthier, more sustainable quality of life’. According to its website, this new town ‘is a civilisational resource that puts humans first’. Which all sounds vaguely nice, if also nicely vague (although as I happen to be a human myself, I do appreciate

Covid has changed London for the better

For some it was the taped-off park benches, or the sight of police officers handing out fixed penalty notices to sunbathers. For others it was the sheer numbers of deaths being reported in inner boroughs. London in the spring of 2020 was definitely not the place to be. As with other world cities, it faced what seemed an existential crisis. The streets quickly drained of people, and those who could fled to second homes in the country. The voracity with which Covid-19 spread sparked a fear of living at high densities. Pundits in Britain and America quickly proclaimed the death of cities. The belief was that remote-working had freed people

The political baggage of moving house

We are currently house-hunting — please let me know if you have one going spare. We are looking for a home in the north-east of England in any constituency which was once solidly Labour and is now in the talons of a brutally right-wing Conservative MP — this is my wife’s stipulation and I find it fair enough. However, we do not want to live too near the poor people. In truth we had been casually looking across a vast swath of Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire for a good half-dozen or more years, but until now there had been little urgency to the business. We marvelled at the property

Skyscraper squats and a lesson from India: the future of British architecture

Not long ago, if you asked discreetly in the right Hackney pub, you would be put in touch with a character called Syd the Squatbroker. For as little as £150, he would gain access to the roof of an abandoned council tower block with a set of fireman’s keys. Then Syd (nom de guerre of a carpenter from Harlow) would abseil down to a window, gain entry and open an empty flat. Sometimes he would cut through heavy steel squat guards using oxyacetylene cutting gear. Latter-day squatbrokers aren’t yet abseiling down the Shard or Canary Wharf’s glass and steel phalluses to liberate underused office spaces and thereby help solve London’s