- Published: 16 February 2023
Cities are ruled by the “imperative to save time,” states Paris-based urbanist Carlos Moreno. Yet, city drivers frequently travel painfully slowly in their supposed freedom machines because when there are millions of these freedom machines, they can but only impede each other. Driving to reach distant urban amenities is a needless time sink, posits the Panthéon-Sorbonne professor. Motorists, he observes, travel in a “bubble of illusory acceleration.”
Instead of being perfected for cars, cities “should be designed so that within the distance of a 15-minute walk or bike ride, people should be able to access work, housing, food, health, education, culture, and leisure.”
Who wouldn’t want to live within easy walking distance of shops, cafes, schools, theatres, and swimming pools? Those, it seems, who claim that Moreno’s 15-minute-city concept is a Stalinist climate lockdown plot to confine people to ghettos and thus easier for global cabals to control.
Bonkers, yes, but surprisingly popular. Late last year, a conspiracy theory website went viral after claiming that “power mad politicians” in Oxfordshire, England, had voted to “lock residents into one of six zones to ‘save the planet’ from global warming ... confining residents to their own neighborhoods.”
This was “Communism,” stated the climate-change-denying website. (The website—which I won’t link to—also claims that vaccines kill, Brexit is still a great idea, and that Trump and Putin are geniuses worth listening to.)
In reality, there is no lockdown. Instead, Oxford proposed to install six traffic filters as part of a health-promoting plan to encourage people to use their cars less.
This 15-minute-city focus on creating lively, people-friendly neighborhoods was a “perversion,” claimed Canadian psychologist turned hard-right culture warrior Jordan Peterson in a tweet that garnered 7.5 million views. “Idiot tyrannical bureaucrats,” he declared, would henceforth “decide by fiat where you’re ‘allowed’ to drive,” as if city traffic departments have not done this very thing for at least the last hundred years.
Moreno’s 15-minute-city concept—coined in 2015 at the Paris COP21 conference—is now regularly decried by conspiracy theorists, with wild claims that elites are about to mandate the everyday use of bicycles for all. 15 minute city
What does Moreno think about the wilful twisting of his ville du quart d’heure concept?
“It does not affect me,” he stated in an email.
“I remain in high spirits; I am very proud to see the ideas of a researcher from the Sorbonne going around the world.”
Born in Colombia in 1959, the child of illiterate farmers, Moreno benefitted from an urban education, but only after his family had been ripped from their rural land and forced against their will into the nearest city.
His 15-minute-city concept is a distillation of many years of urban-focused research in his adopted France. A mathematician by training, Moreno initially specialized in robotics and artificial intelligence, helping to develop digital control systems for France’s nuclear reactors. He later moved into the design of “smart cities.”
He modeled that no amount of tweaking would enable cars to be part of a truly “smart” city.
Instead, he worked on the concept of a “Human Smart City,” a liveable, car-lite city where proximity was to the fore.
He now travels the world advising cities and governments on his ideas, accepting prestigious prizes along the way, including the third Obel Award, a $107,000 international prize for architectural achievement.
But with his growing profile—and the swift acceptance of his simple-to-grasp defining concept—he has become the target of hate. He is often on the receiving end of personal abuse on social media.
“They insult me, call me human trash, Neo-fascist or a rotten Latino,” he told me, adding that he has never been physically attacked. He has critics from the left and the right, but in an all too typical Venn diagram of tinfoilhattedness they share climate denial, downplay of Covid harms, and anti-vaxxer beliefs.
“Their lies are enormous,” he exclaims.
“You will be locked in your neighborhood; cameras will signal who can go out; if your mother lives in another neighborhood, you will have to ask for permission to see her and so on.”
He adds, in disgust, they “sometimes post pictures of concentration camps.”
“The conspiracists see a big global agreement,” he says.
“As the UN-Habitat, the World Economic Forum, the C40 Global Cities Climate Network, and the Federation of United Local Governments, among others, have supported the [15-minute-city] concept, it feeds their fantasies that I am involved in the ‘invisible leadership’ of the world.”
Some have latched on to his radical roots in his native Colombia, where, as a student in 1975, he was a member of a left-wing guerrilla group opposed to the country’s right-wing government.
“I joined a nascent urban guerrilla group, M-19,” he agreed.
When Colombia’s military came looking for him in 1979, “I had to go into exile.” France took him in.
Right-leaning conspiracy theorists thus see a left-wing plot.
“My political refugee status is said to be proof of my submission to the fierce West somehow,” he said, puzzled.
Any global plot has been well hidden. “We have never had a press officer, a communications team, or a marketing team,” said Moreno.
“The [15-minute-city] concept has spread worldwide because of its relevance.”
Right idea, right time
Disincentizing car ownership, freeing up urban space, and reducing fossil fuel use are critical goals for many cities.
“The 15-minute city is the right project at the right moment,” U.S. landscape architect Martha Schwartz said in 2021.
In a Ted talk that same year, Moreno argued that post-pandemic cities were now far more receptive to the idea of “human-sized space.”
“For too long,” he said, “those of us who live in cities big and small have accepted the unacceptable. We accepted that in cities, our sense of time is warped.”
But it no longer has to be like that.
“Why does a noisy and polluted street need to be a noisy and polluted street?” Moreno asked.
“Why can’t it be a garden street lined with trees, where people can actually meet and walk to the baker and kids can walk to school?”
The “dysfunctions” and “indignities” of modern cities can be designed out, he said.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he stressed.
“I’m not angling for cities to become rural hamlets; cities are places of economic dynamism and innovation. But we must make urban life more pleasant, agile, healthy, and flexible.”
Achieving those goals will require reining back the car.
“The rhythm of the city should follow humans, not cars,” said Moreno.
“Each square meter should serve many different purposes,” he added.
And neighborhoods should be “designed so that we can live, work and thrive in them without having to constantly commute elsewhere.”
Autor(en)/Author(s): Carlton Reid
Quelle/Source: Forbes, 08.02.2023