Conspiracy Theorists Are Coming for the 15-Minute City
Carla Francome campaigns for better cycle routes in Haringey, north London, where she moved a few years ago in search of a community – “an area where I could find friends who would take me to the park on a Saturday,” says she. “And where cafes are nearby and everything is within walking distance.”
Her activism, which includes supporting traffic calming measures, has drawn the occasional scowl from fellow residents on the street. But nothing has compared to the stream of vitriol she’s been receiving on Twitter since February 12 posted a thread on the benefits of 15-minute neighborhoods – a concept in urban planning that suggests that services should be distributed across cities and that no one should be more than fifteen minutes from parks, shops and schools.
“This is not freedom, this is a socialist prison,” said a reply to her thread from an account with the username @pauldup80977540. Another account, @BusinessLioness, whose feed is peppered with anti-vaccination messages and retweets from far-right commentators, sent Francome a picture of the Warsaw ghetto with a message: “During the Nazi occupation, Poland already had 15-minute cities… 1941 led the Nazis introduced the death penalty for going out.”
The aggression of the news has shaken Francome. “How can I let someone endanger us who just said we’d like to go to the local pub?” she says.
Francome had unwittingly fallen into the midst of an evolving conspiracy theory that has bundled benign ideas of urban development, from traffic calming and air pollution control to bike lanes, into a sort of meta-narrative – a meeting point for anti-lockdown activists, anti-vaccinationists, QAnon supporters, anti-Semites, Climate deniers and the extreme right. With the help of right-wing figures in the US and UK, including author Jordan Peterson, the 15-minute city concept became entangled in a much larger universe of conspiracies based on the idea of a “Great Reset” involving people being locked up in their homes by climate-obsessed autocracies.
“There’s no reason that a city planning initiative … should have anything to do with the idea that Bill Gates wants you to eat bugs, but this Great Reset idea is the meta-conspiracy framework that all these people are actively participating in.” .” says Ernie Piper, an analyst at Logically, a fact-checking and disinformation analysis firm. “It’s a bit like an alternate reality game where everyone can contribute their own interpretation of events.”
The 15 Minute City conspiracy theory has taken root on the political fringes of the UK and is featured in interviews on GB News, a free-to-air TV channel that regularly spreads conspiracy theories. On February 9, Nick Fletcher, an MP for the ruling Conservative Party, referred to the conspiracy when asking a question on 15-minute cities in the House of Commons, calling it an “international socialist concept” that would “take away our personal liberties.” .”
Fletcher’s question was met with laughter in the House of Commons.
The conspiracy is completely unfounded. WIRED spoke to Areeq Chowdhury, a Labor Party councilor for Canning Town in east London’s Newham borough, who has incorporated some 15-minute neighborhood ideas into his own planning. Chowdhury’s main job is researching data and digital technologies, and he recently led a campaign against police use of facial recognition cameras in his district. The 15-minute neighborhood has absolutely nothing to do with surveillance or control, he says. “It’s all about creating a sense of community and encouraging active travel,” says Areeq. “I think people often overestimate the authority of the authorities to handle such cases [conspiracies].”
https://www.wired.com/story/15-minute-cities-conspiracy-climate-denier/ Conspiracy Theorists Are Coming for the 15-Minute City