Campaigns of Carla Frank for the best cycling routes in Haringey, North London, where she moved a few years ago in search of a community — “a place where I could make friends who would go to the park with me on Saturdays,” she says. “And where there is a cafe nearby, and everything is within walking distance.”
Her activism, which included supporting measures to reduce traffic, has at times resulted in disgruntled looks on the street from other residents. But nothing compares to the flow of vitriol she got on Twitter since February 12th published a topic about the benefits of 15-minute blocks, an urban planning concept that suggests that services should be distributed across cities and that no one should be more than a quarter of an hour from parks, shops and schools.
“This is not freedom, this is a socialist prison,” says one of the replies in her thread from an account with the username @pauldup80977540. Another account, @BusinessLioness, whose feed is littered with anti-vaccine posts and retweets from far-right commentators, sent Frank an image of the Warsaw Ghetto with the message: “During the Nazi occupation, there were already 15-minute towns in Poland… In 1941, the Nazis introduced the death penalty for going outside “.
The aggressiveness of the messages shocked Frank. “How can I put us at risk because someone just said that we would like to walk to the local pub?” she says.
Francome has unwittingly stumbled upon the center of a burgeoning conspiracy theory that has merged innocuous urban development ideas, from traffic reduction measures and air pollution measures to bike lanes, into a kind of metanarrative—a meeting place for anti-quarantine activists. , anti-vaxxers, QAnons, 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 become intertwined with a much larger universe of conspiracies based on the idea of a “Great Reset” that will lock people up. in their homes by climate-obsessed autocracies.
“There is no reason why an 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 a meta-conspiracy structure in which all these people are actively involved,” says Ernie Piper, an analyst at Logistics, a fact-checking and disinformation analysis company. “It’s a bit like an alternate reality game where everyone can contribute to the interpretation of events.”
The 15-minute urban conspiracy theory has taken root in UK political circles, as mentioned in an interview with free-to-air TV channel GB News, which periodically promotes conspiracy theories. On February 9, Nick Fletcher, MP for the ruling Conservative Party, referred to the conspiracy when asking the 15 Minute Cities question in the House of Commons, calling it “an international socialist concept” that would “take away our personal freedoms.”
Fletcher’s question was met with laughter in the House of Commons.
The conspiracy is completely baseless. WIRED spoke to Aric Chowdhury, Labor Councilor for Canning Town in the East London Borough of Newham, who has adopted some 15-minute neighborhood ideas into his own planning. Chowdhury’s main job is a data and digital researcher, and he recently led a campaign against police use of facial recognition cameras in his area. According to him, the 15-minute area has absolutely nothing to do with surveillance or control. “It’s just about creating a sense of community and encouraging active travel,” says Arik. “I think that often people overestimate the competence of the authorities to carry out such [conspiracies]”.