Growing hostility towards ‘15-minute cities’ is one of 2023’s more startling turn of events.
If you’re reading this, chances are you know something about it. Framed in the context of making places more connected, active, healthy and less reliant on cars, it’s easy to see why it’s caught on amongst policy-makers.
But have supporters missed a step in taking people with them? And have they clearly explained what 15-minute cities are, or aren’t?
Either way, those promoting a seemingly uncontroversial urban planning concept face a backlash.
Volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous. These words formed an acronym – VUCA – a few years ago summarising how modern life feels for many organisations.
Uncertainty shaped the narrative for much of 2022. Then September’s awful fiscal event brought other elements of the VUCA matrix more clearly into view.
It’s an interesting time to set up a new business, with inflation and cost-of-living concerns nudging the economy towards recession. Amidst the haze, predicting what to expect from 2023 seems like a mug’s game.
We can see this year will be challenging, for sure. We shouldn’t limit our ambition, but nor should we be too hard on ourselves if things don’t go to plan. Getting through it in decent shape, with a happy team that’s proud of its work would be a good outcome for 2023. And there will be opportunities and memorable moments too.
People living in small towns and villages don’t need telling that life is harder without a car. Disconnected, underfunded and unreliable, public transport doesn’t serve rural areas well in my experience.
My home county of Pembrokeshire typifies this picture, although there are efforts to address this. Welsh researchers found this year that some areas don’t even get one bus an hour! Bus stops (reduced by 3%), routes (15% less) and opportunities catch a bus (down 22%) all contracted during the pandemic across Wales.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any stranger…
Friday’s heavily trailed fiscal event contained few surprises for anyone following the news. But it was no less mind-bending for that.
Here was a ‘small-state’ government setting out its most statist programme for borrowing and spending yet. Their supporters would ridicule Labour opponents for suggesting an intervention this big.
At the same time, they unveiled the largest tax cutting programme in 50 years – bigger than Nigel Lawson’s 1988 budget that many still speak about.
The £60bn measures to fix energy prices for homes and businesses had to happen, it’s true.
Other details in the government’s Growth Plan – tax cuts making up £45bn of a £234bn debt financing requirement – sharpen one’s focus on the cost. That’s if you can stop your eyes watering at the size of the numbers.
Meanwhile, markets watched askance as the pound fell to $1.08 against the dollar.
Many commentators pointed to the regressive nature of the tax cuts, which unquestionably favour wealthy people. Others have made this point already, and I’ll touch on it later in this post.
Having followed many statements on growth and helped to promote them when working for a government body, I’m struck by the ‘throw everything at it’ spirit of this one. The pace of change it sets is extraordinary.
The Resolution Foundation’s Torsten Bell explained how unusual this approach is yesterday.
As always, there is much to debate, and people will pour over the detail. Having read the plan, here are five points I thought would interest those striving for better businesses and places.
I’ve been fortunate to see devolution take shape in cities across England over the last 20 years.
That experience leads me to believe that local people, not Westminster, should have the tools to lead this change. Although Marvin Rees last year received a mandate to serve as mayor until 2024, Bristol has further to go before seeing the full benefits of devolution.
Context matters here. Although I’ve clocked hundreds of posts across Twitter and news feeds, this isn’t easy to see amidst claim and counterclaim.
I don’t have a vote in the referendum, but I am interested in its outcome as someone who works here and employs people living in the city. My thoughts come from that perspective, as someone who’s worked with the council and the offices of both elected mayors since 2010.
From the perspective of a communicator and director of a small business based outside London, the statement felt like a pitch from a man in control of the narrative. This is a prized asset for government set pieces. And it’s why officials trail key measures – around Net Zero, infrastructure, transport and skills – so heavily in advance.
These measures coalesce under a plan for growth, building on the Prime Minister’s claims that the country must move towards a model of higher wages and productivity. With growth anticipated to reach 6.5% next year, there is cause for optimism from this most spendthrift and statist of small-state Conservative chancellors.
Even if there were few surprises, there remains plenty to make sense of. How many of the commitments are new money? How can we access the funding? Do we know yet what ‘levelling up’ looks like? The third question is a touch optimistic, I know. People will make up their own minds on that one.
For those interested in place-making and development, here are some of the snippets of interest we took from the announcement.