Carla Franco’s company to improve cycling routes in Haringey, North London, where she moved a few years ago in search of a community – “an area where I could find friends to go to the park with me on a Saturday”, she says. “And there are cafes nearby, and everything is within walking distance.”
Her activism, which has included support for traffic-reduction measures, has led to occasional dirty looks from fellow residents on the street. But nothing compares to the stream of vitriol she received on Twitter after February 12th posted the topic on the benefits of 15-minute neighborhoods, an urban planning concept that suggests that services should be spread across cities and that no one should be more than a quarter of an hour away from parks, shops and schools.
“This is not freedom, this is a socialist prison,” read one reply in her thread from an account with the username @pauldup80977540. Another account, @BusinessLioness, whose feed is filled with anti-vaccine messages and retweets of far-right commentators, sent Francome an image of the Warsaw Ghetto with the message: “During the Nazi occupation, Poland already had 15-minute towns… In 1941, the Nazis introduced the death penalty for going outside.”
The aggressiveness of the messages shook Francom. “How can I put us at risk for just saying we’d like to go for a walk to the local pub?” – she says.
Francom unwittingly blundered into the middle of a burgeoning conspiracy theory that conflated innocuous ideas in urban development, from traffic calming measures and air pollution to bike lanes, into a kind of meta-narrative — a meeting place for anti-correction activists, anti-vaxxers, QAnon followers, anti-Semites, climate deniers and the far right. With the help of right-wing figures in the US and UK, including author Jordan Peterson, the concept of the 15-minute city has been woven into a much larger universe of conspiracies based on the idea of a “Great Reset” that will see people locked in their homes obsessed with a climate of autocracy.
“There’s no reason that the urban planning initiative … should have anything to do with the idea that Bill Gates wants you to eat bugs, but this idea of the Great Reset is the meta-conspiracy framework that all these people are actively involved in,” says Ernie Piper , an analyst at Logically, a fact-checking and disinformation company. “It’s a bit like playing in an alternate reality where everyone can bring their own interpretation of events.”
The 15-Minute Urban conspiracy theory has taken hold in the UK political landscape, with it being referenced in an interview on GB News, a free-to-air television channel that periodically promotes conspiracy theories. On February 9, Nick Fletcher, a member of parliament for the ruling Conservative Party, invoked the conspiracy when questioning 15-minute cities in the House of Commons, calling it an “international socialist concept” that would “take away our personal rights”. freedom”.
Fletcher’s question was met with laughter in the House of Commons.
The conspiracy is absolutely baseless. WIRED spoke to Arik Choudhury, Labor member for Canning Town in the East London borough of Newham, who has adopted some of the 15-minute quarter ideas into his own planning. Chowdhury’s day job is a data and digital researcher, and he recently led a campaign against the police’s use of facial recognition cameras in his area. The 15-minute neighborhood has absolutely nothing to do with surveillance or control, he says. “It’s just about creating a sense of community and promoting active travel,” says Areek. “I think that people often overestimate the authority of the authorities to carry out such actions [conspiracies].”