Tag Archives: what if

What if we had 15 minute cities?

The idea of the 15 minute city appeared last year, in part I think as a response to lockdown.  It’s a simple principle – that if you live in a city, most of the things you need should be within 15 minutes walk of where you live. Work and schools, health care, food, leisure, green space and so forth.

Most of us can walk for 15 minutes, and those of us who can’t, would benefit from fewer cars on the roads. Many people would benefit from being more active. Reduced travel in our daily lives would cut carbon use, and give us more time back. So many people sacrifice so many hours of their lives to commuting, which is a joyless and literally toxic thing. We’d have better air quality for not doing that.

In a 15 minute city people would get to know their neighbours. There would be more social connectedness. We’d only travel for fun and to do unusual things that aren’t on our doorsteps. While it might be hard to organise towns and villages in the same way, the principle of having access to essential things with as little need to drive as possible, backed up by decent public transport, would make a lot of odds.

If most of us could walk or cycle to do most of our everyday things, we would need far fewer car parking spaces. As it is, the average car is only used for an hour or two every day. The rest of the time it sits somewhere, taking up space and requiring tarmac. What could we do with all that urban space? Imagine if we halved the number of car parking spaces and replaced the tarmac with plants. Imagine green and shady streets, fruit trees, and play areas woven into our urban spaces. Imagine benches, and sheltered spaces for sitting out in inclement weather. Imagine social spaces that don’t depend on paying to access them. Outdoor gym equipment, street pianos, safe places for children.

Children would benefit greatly from fifteen minute cities. With school close enough to walk to, children could exercise and socialise going to and from school. That’s much better than being trapped in a car each time, with no scope to let off steam. Children would be healthier and less stressed if they had a short trip to school in a green and playful environment. Take out some of the car parking and every child could have a safe play area really close to where they live. Every child could cycle and walk safely without the fear of traffic. With more people present in the streets, children would be safer from stranger danger, from bullying and generally less vulnerable.

Take out car parking spaces and put in green spaces, and we’d bring more wildlife back to our towns and cities. More trees and other plants means more insects, supporting more birds. It means biodiversity, and more space for wild things. We wouldn’t have to travel to encounter nature – instead nature would be something we’d encounter every day and that would be living and thriving around us.


What if we celebrated more festivals?

Your typical mediaeval peasant got more time off than your average modern worker does. Mostly this was due to the number of holy days and festivals in the calendar. What would happen if we celebrated more holy days and festivals?

At the moment in the UK we get time off for Christmas, Easter and New Year, and we get a few secular bank holidays. Imagine having an extra day off every month and how much good that would do!

Imagine a shared calendar that acknowledged festivals from a range of faiths, not just Christianity. Most of us don’t celebrate Christmas and Easter as Christian sacred days – they tend to be about food and family get-togethers. Having more holy day holidays would not require anyone to show up for festivals outside their faith. (I can almost hear the wilfully angry frothing at the mouth as they announce that they are being forced to celebrate… )

It seems massively unfair to me that we only celebrate festivals from one faith group. It would be much more fun to have more of them. It would no doubt be lovely for people from other faiths to have one of their own festivals off work each year.

It might bring other benefits. It might encourage people to find out a little bit more about other cultures and religions. This would be a good antidote to racism, fear and prejudice. Getting a day off on the basis of someone else’s festival might encourage people to feel a bit more positive about other religions – who doesn’t like a holiday? Those who are determined to froth at the mouth would no doubt keep doing that, but you know they’d take the day off and roast an animal.

As a Pagan living within a Christian calendar, I’d rather enjoy having more diversity. It would also be feasible to have a Pagan festival in that mix. I suspect it would be Beltain because that already has a bank holiday associated with it in terms of timing.

At time of writing it is hard to imagine the UK changing in this way. However, change comes from people imagining it, and there’s a lot to be said for imagining unlikely things.

This blog post owes a lot to my son James, who did most of the speculating for me and was happy to have that made off with.


What if we worked less?

The idea of four day working weeks is something many people have considered, and some businesses have even tried. How different would our lives be if we could afford to only work four days a week? What would change for us? How would we be impacted by other people working less?

Larger businesses can undoubtedly afford to pay workers the same money for four day weeks, and take on more workers to fill the gap. This would improve employment rates. In any sizeable business, there are management people and shareholders making a profit out of the work being done. A bit less money for them and a bit more investment in the people doing the work would make this possible. What evidence there is from people trying four day weeks is that you get a more motivated, healthier and more productive workforce, so it’s not really much of a sacrifice for the would-be profit makers.

I’m self employed so there’s no company that could treat me better than it does. But, if more people had more time off, I would benefit. More books would be read and more people would have energy to invest in leisure, which would probably improve my situation in turn.

More time off means having the scope to do more than just rest, recover and sort out your domestic stuff. More time off means more opportunity to enrich your life. What would you do with that extra day? You might study, or volunteer. You might invest more time in your physical health, or develop hobbies and skills that enrich your life. You’d have more time to meditate, contemplate, get outside, maybe grow your own food. Perhaps some of the less sustainable things you have to do out of time poverty could be changed.

How much of your life is currently organised around being time poor and tired from work? How much time do you even get to think about how you are living day to day? What would change if the people around you had more spare time? What would become available, emotionally and socially that isn’t possible at the moment? Who would you spend more time with?

What would it do to the economy if there was far more employment available, and people also had far more time to enjoy themselves? How would our spending choices change? What would happen to our towns, our communal spaces, and our green spaces if we had more time to use and appreciate them?

Poverty is stressful. Open up more working options, and many people would be in a far better state psychologically. Overwork has long been identified as a source of mental health problems. Stress and exhaustion make us sick, and exacerbate any illnesses we have. How much more well would we all be with a four day working week?

How would education change if a four day week was normal? How much more flexible could we make it, how many more options might people of all ages have around opportunities to learn and develop?

Asking what if we worked less also means considering some fundamental questions about what our lives are for and who they should benefit. Having more time for ourselves would make our lives much more about our own happiness and wellbeing, and that would be a truly radical shift.


What If?

What if we planted trees

Our urban spaces aren’t places for people

We get sick and sad, we go mad

Sucking in polluted air from grey streets

We need to leave the cars, make room for leaves

Turn our urban jungle from grim to green

Make it live, make it breathe, be serene.

What if we planted trees?

Scientists in studies the world over

Show us with numbers we need to hear

We’re better people with trees.

We hurt less, suffer less, do less harm

We’re calmer, kinder, cooler in the shade

No need for the air conditioning

That ironically helps us heat the planet.

Safer in the shade, cut down the cancer

Grow more trees. Forest our minds

Towards better mental health.

We need nature to feel whole and well

But what we do to ourselves

Is build hell, deny what gives us life

We make our strife, unhappiness is rife

Pouring tarmac over everything, we wonder why

Our souls are hungry

For a softer way, a gentle route through our days

Walk slowly to your job, enjoy the view

Live a few minutes distance from everything

That makes a daily life for you

Amble there sweetly, saunter beneath trees.

What if we stopped telling stories

About the gadgets we hope will save us

Rescued ourselves from our mistakes

With orchards where car parks used to be

And playground groves for children

Cities where people can live peacefully.

What if we plant more trees?

(Rob Hopkins has been asking ‘What If?’ which led me to write this. More on his website https://www.robhopkins.net/ )