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The concept of ‘15-minute’ cities is straightforward – amenities such as parks and grocery stores must be accessible through a 15-minute walk or bicycle ride from a person's home. But much like COVID-19 vaccines and 5G, the concept has become the victim of unfounded conspiracy theories

If you’ve had a look at social media over the past few days, you might have seen some up in arms over ‘15-minute cities’.

Some even claim that governments will be given the power to shunt those living on polluted land to smart cities under a plan from the World Economic Forum and United Nations.

Let’s take a look at this row:

What is it?

The concept of ‘15-minute’ cities is straightforward – all amenities such as parks and grocery stores must be accessible through a 15-minute walk or bicycle ride from a person’s home.

This is meant to improve the standard of living for residents, make things easier for pedestrians and cyclists, and reduce the use of cars thus cutting down on emissions.

“This idea takes inspiration from many urbanists, starting from Jane Jacobs, who in the last decades have been advocating for compact, lively, and therefore more walkable urban environments,” Alessia Calafiore, lecturer in Urban Data Science and Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh, told CNN.

Carlos Moreno, a scientific director and professor specialising in complex systems and innovation at University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, told BBC things have changed irrevocably since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has caused us to think about how to move differently, to consume differently, to live differently,” he says. “We are discovering that by working differently we have more spare time, to have more time to be with our families or friends. We are discovering and appreciating our neighbourhoods much more. This will make us all more engaged inhabitants.”

Some say it’s actually not even a new concept.

“We used to have 15-minute cities as the norm. They were called good neighbourhoods — where you didn’t have to get into a car for everything,” urbanist and Vancouver’s former chief planner Brent Toderian told ABC News.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea has gained currency with cities such as Paris, Melbourne and Copenhagen seeking to make neighbourhoods more liveable and cut car use to curb climate change.

“There are so many public interest reasons to want to do this. It’s kind of a no-brainer,” Toderian added.

“Your carbon footprint is a lot lower, so it’s a powerful climate change mitigation tool … It promotes urban health and thus promotes the actual reduction of public health costs … It promotes individual affordability and household affordability because you don’t need to own the second car or maybe even the third car.”

So, what’s the issue?

Among moderate critics of the concept, Toronto-based urban planning lecturer and author Jay Pitter has argued it cannot be transposed from European to North American cities and could worsen inequality by spurring gentrification.

But much like COVID-19 vaccines and 5G, the concept of ‘15-minute’ cities has been the victim of unfounded conspiracy theories.

Some on social media are claiming, without evidence, that UN plan will give governments the power to uproot people and force them to live in specific cities.

Jordan Peterson in December attacked ’15-minute cities’ on Twitter: “The idea that neighbourhoods should be walkable is lovely. The idea that idiot tyrannical bureaucrats can decide by fiat where you’re ‘allowed’ to drive is perhaps the worst imaginable perversion of that idea.”

“The sickos at the UN/WEF plan to confiscate all polluted land and force the people into smart cities,” one recent tweet reads. “Resist. Make people aware. Wake up!! #Agenda2030.”

Other posts blamed only the World Economic Forum — a Geneva-based organization known for its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland that brings together public and private leaders to address global, regional and industry issues — but appeared to be referencing the same document.

“The 2030 World Economic Forum agenda states that the government is forcibly allowed to remove residents if the land and the water are too polluted to live on,” a woman states in an Instagram video.

“The government will force these residents to live in smart cities. The residents do not have a choice to opt out of living in a smart city or they do not get to stay on the polluted land. Is this starting to make more sense now?”

Still others are baselessly tying this supposed scheme to the recent burning of toxic chemicals at the site of a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

In Paris, top results in a search for “15 minute city” on TikTok contain mostly scornful videos, including claims that the schemes will restrict residents’ movement and fine them for leaving their home districts.

A search on Twitter brings up the hashtag #15minuteprisons in third place after #15minutecities and #15minutecity.

AFP has in recent weeks debunked claims targetting the English city of Oxford and Edmonton, Canada.

“You can’t leave a 15-minute city whenever you please … The city walls or restrictions or zones or whatever you want to call them won’t be used to keep others out, they’ll be used to lock everyone in,” says one man in a video viewed more than 59,000 times on Facebook, commenting on the Edmonton plan.

In Oxford, councillors reported receiving abuse over plans to limit private vehicles on bus routes at peak hours.

Social media users shared an article that falsely claimed residents would be “confined to their local neighbourhood and have to ask permission to leave it, all to ‘save the planet’.”

A council spokesperson told AFP residents would not be locked down in their homes. Opposition Conservative county councillor Liam Walker, who himself opposed the traffic filters trial, tweeted that the lockdown claims were “completely untrue”.

Supporters of 15-minute cities include the worldwide C40 cities alliance plus the United Nations and the World Economic Forum -– targets of numerous false claims that are subject to frequent fact-checks.

One TikTok video about Edmonton blamed the reforms on Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and “his World Economic Forum intentions” – despite it being a city scheme, not a federal one.

What do experts say?

Many are flabbergasted.

UK politician Duncan Enright told CNN he’d received death threats over his plan to reduce gridlock

“I haven’t really had anything like that before in my many years in local government.”

“I’ve been doing [urban planning] for a long time, but I’ve never seen something like this,” Toderian told ABC.

Moreno himself told AFP he had received numerous personal insults over the idea.

“Never have there been proposals for restrictions — on the contrary, this is a new opportunity: more choice, more services, more desire to thrive in one’s neighbourhood,” he said.

“Since the start of 2023, the concept of the 15-minute city has been subject to conspiracy theories, produced and shared by people already well known for spreading disinformation about Covid, the climate, vaccines and politics,” he said.

“The only arguments they have are lies, manipulation and insults.”

MIT professor Carlo Ratti told CNN many have ‘misinterpreted’ the idea.

It “gives people the freedom to live locally, but does not force them to do so,” Ratti added.

“During times of economic uncertainty, downturn, crisis, conspiracy theories thrive. Because often it’s not true that everyone is in it together,” Tim Squirrell of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which works to tackle rising polarisation, extremism and disinformation, told The Guardian. “That means people not only see their own fortunes getting worse with no real prospect of them getting better but they also see other people aren’t suffering the same fate.”

“Obviously, saying the economy is rigged in favour of a small number of people making a large amount of money is not a conspiracy theory; it’s an assertion. But it makes it easier to leap and say there is an elite plot to ensure it happens.”

Sandeep Agrawal, director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Alberta, said there were no grounds “whatsoever” for claiming the plan would implement such restrictions.

“The 15-minute plan intends to provide better connectivity to the rest of the city” by improving public transport links, he told AFP.

“District planning is an ongoing process which involves consultation with the public at various points of its development.”

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Quelle/Source: Firstpost, 27.02.2023

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