🎧 Why Did a Vision for a Modern City Turn into a Conspiracy Theory? (Season 5, Episode 3)
Being able to reach key facilities, like schools and shops, within 15 minutes, would make city life really comfortable, right? Not if you ask conspiracy theories, mobilizing around the world to blend opposition to the idea of 15-minute cities with anti-vaccination and far-right sentiment. They think that 15-minute cities are all about population control.
In this episode we explore how the protests, online abuse against proponents of the 15-minute city idea, and an explosion of climate deniers’ hashtags illustrate how conspiracies keep reincarnating.
Older episode with Eszter Szenes: https://www.theinoculation.com/are-antivaxxers-more-likely-to-be-pro-putin/
The Great Reset conspiracy: https://www.isdglobal.org/digital_dispatches/the-great-reset-conspiracy-in-australia/
Take-up of the 15 minute city conspiracy in the UK: https://edition.cnn.com/2023/02/26/world/15-minute-cities-conspiracy-theory-climate-intl/index.html
Far-right presence: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/feb/24/far-right-trying-to-infiltrate-low-traffic-protests-campaigners-warn
Unknown Speaker 0:00
It became very clear during especially the COVID-19 pandemic, what unites these far right and white supremacist movements around the globe. So, they weaponize the pandemic, in order to recycle both conspiracy theories, such as, for example, the New World Order, global Zionism and then the great replacement.
Eva Schaper 0:39
Hello, and welcome to the inoculation. My name is Eva von Schaper,
Daiva Repeckaite 0:44
and I am Daiva Repeckaite.
Eva Schaper 0:46
high Daiva. What what are we going to talk about today?
Daiva Repeckaite 0:49
Today we're discussing conspiracies about 15 minutes cities.
Eva Schaper 0:53
And why is this? Why is this even part of a conspiracy theory? I know this was your idea. And you sent it to me last week, and at first I was a bit confused, because it seems like such a wacko topic. A couple of crazies, you know, going out on the street for I don't even know what so why are we looking at this Stiva
Daiva Repeckaite 1:14
15 minutes cities seems like a very nice and cosy idea. And I live in a neighbourhood in Florence, which is kind of very close to that ideal. So you can find pretty much all you need a clinic, some doctors, different shops, local and larger chain stores. You can find even yoga studio, different sporting facilities, you can find a river and go jogging and so on.
Eva Schaper 1:43
So basically you're saying the idea of a 15 minute city is cities in which you can find everything that you need, within a 15 minute walk, I guess or is it a 15 minute car ride?
Daiva Repeckaite 1:57
Yes, the idea is that you should reach it within a 15 minute walk or bike ride. So you don't have to own any larger vehicle than that.
Eva Schaper 2:07
Okay, so actually, that seems like actually something that's quite nice, quite modern.
Daiva Repeckaite 2:12
Interestingly, I kind of grew up in its Soviet neighbourhood like that, which had kindergartens and schools and there was never a question of, you know, parents taking us to school by car because we could just walk there, meet our friends,
Eva Schaper 2:30
David, this is so interesting, in my imagination of Soviet neighbourhood is like 20, high rise blocks. Basically nothing else. But that's not what you're, that's not how you grew up?
Daiva Repeckaite 2:45
No. So yes, there were high rise blocks, but they were also kind of interspersed with green spaces. So we used to go there and play and especially in winter, cross country skiing, and so on, and the schools were nearby. And, but obviously, this, this was a kind of residential neighbourhood. So there were very few enterprises, or there were no factories, so the adults or the parents would still need to commute somewhere to work. But then all the facilities for the family were within reach, and definitely within the walking distance.
Eva Schaper 3:26
So actually, this is also something that is very far away from something that's like the American ideal of a suburb where people just go and go to sleep you have, you know, maybe 100 200, like tract houses that look the same. Where you actually need a car to go shopping. Or you need the kids need to take a school bus, or they can't go to school by Vitalik.
Daiva Repeckaite 3:55
Exactly. And also, this is the opposite of what cities like Los Angeles look like with this strict zoning regulations where you can only have industry in one area of the city, only residential buildings in another area and so on.
Eva Schaper 4:09
Okay, so basically, what also how I live right now, I could, I could walk and go shopping, and there's a lot of smaller shops where I live, my kids can walk to school, so actually more of a European concept than an American. That's right. The interesting thing is, I think, and I just found this while I was doing some research for the show is that a lot of big cities are going back and adopting this idea like I think Paris or Portland, Portland, Oregon, try to establish neighbourhoods or cities based on the on the 15 Minute tea rule. So why are we coming back to this now do we know is it's a question of being, you know, being more ecological having fewer Cars in cities or what is what is the long term goal? Is it just quality?
Daiva Repeckaite 5:04
So yes, exactly the 15 Minute city idea is adopted around the world and by different political ideologies. So the Social Democratic mayor of Paris, and he they'll go was famous for proposing this idea, but also the very neoliberal mayor of Venus. This idea was gaining traction around in different cities. And then suddenly this year, it became a target of conspiracy theories. And I found out about it when an acquaintance in Malta invited me to a closed Facebook group, which was about opposing 15 minutes cities. Okay. And I was curious, why would you not like 15 minutes cities, Malta, Malta is such a small island. But it's just so badly planned that you actually need the car to go to so many places from most parts of the island. So I was very curious to know why people have problems with that idea.
Eva Schaper 6:11
Why are we also looking at something that seems like so a protest against something that seems like such a small, niche problem? So you could just why is this not just a couple of crazy people having a crazy idea? And meeting in Facebook groups? Why is this important for what we're doing? Why is this important for for looking at how the far right and the far left, how they radicalise and how they use conspiracy theories,
Daiva Repeckaite 6:43
it is important because it plugs into all the different kinds of conspiracies. And we began this episode with a quote from Esther Senate who researches conspiracy theories focusing on the far right. And when we talk to her, she mentioned this idea that conspiracy movements and earth is very old, New World Order conspiracies, and just plug in whatever comes along. So whatever policy comes along any policy issue, especially after COVID, when people sort of plugged into this networks can be taken up and embedded in this conspiracy, that everything every change is being done for the sake of population control.
Eva Schaper 7:27
And I think this is something that we've also heard again and again, and that I've read about again, and again, is that it is actually the character of conspiracy theories, and is that they're always there are no really new conspiracy theories that they're always being remixed. And it's always like one is always being added to the other. And this is just an the COVID COVID deniers, this is just one of the newer conspiracy theories that's now being remixed with older conspiracy.
Daiva Repeckaite 7:58
Exactly. So that group that this acquaintance in Malta showed me, it's still about 1/3, about vaccination. It's not only about cities. So they do mix conspiracy theories, they insert a bit of the familiar for the people a bit of the new, a bit of the global a bit of the local, and this is how they spread their conspiracies. So one
Eva Schaper 8:20
of the reasons we're looking at this is because it's going to show us how conspiracy theories basically are made, how they're, how they're created, and how they're spread. And this is something I think we saw with the rice burger, who, you know, we're made up of several different German groups, who in the end, we're trying to overthrow overthrow the government. And I think it's I think it's very easy to laugh about these people and call them delusional. But this is this is a danger to our democracy and to democracies around the world. Do you agree?
Daiva Repeckaite 9:03
Totally. And it's not only online that these people are organising. The most known case that was all over the media recently, was that this conspiracy found it's offline, very physically present based in Oxford in the UK, various activists protested the idea of the city council to introduce traffic limitations. So somehow, they decided that this is linked to the walkable cities initiative, although it wasn't explicitly linked. And they said that this is being used to confine people to strictly fenced neighbourhoods and some were drawing on these images from China that there are strict lockdowns and people cannot go where they please. They were saying that, essentially, bureaucrats want to control where and how you can move with your car or banned cars altogether. Some people got really agitated And ended up being arrested at this Oxford protest. So
Eva Schaper 10:04
really what this anti 15 minute city protest in Oxford was about was there was a was there seriously a question that people believe that there was going to be a lockdown in cities, the
Daiva Repeckaite 10:16
idea was the traffic would be limited in some areas of the city, this has had nothing to do with lock downs.
Eva Schaper 10:22
Okay, but this was then taken by a number of groups, including the anti bike movement, queueing on to mean that the local government was planning to keep people in their houses, as we've seen in China, maybe in the news over the past one or two years. So this is actually actually surprising.
Daiva Repeckaite 10:47
So it's interesting that this spread in an academic city in the UK and and academic cities like Oxford and Cambridge are known for the so called the gown versus the town conflict. So many people are annoyed by more affluent residents coming to study at these elite institutions. And there is a kind of anti libertarian streak embedded in these tensions locally. But then, as we've seen in the news, this very local issue in Oxford, was picked up by known personalities around the world,
Eva Schaper 11:29
a lot of people within the fossil fuel industry have been trying to whip up anger against climate action by calling it climate tyranny. But this is this hasn't gained any traction. And then this myth, the idea that there I guess there was a series of articles that claim that rebuilding a post COVID world should be focused on cutting pollution. And so this all moved into a narrative saying that governments wanted to limit freedom in the name of climate action. And then I think the third element was the World Economic Forum's great reset initiative. So the great reset actually is an economic recovery plan that was drawn up by the World Economic Forum. As a response to the COVID 19 pandemic. The aim is to just rebuild from the pandemic in a way in a way that is sustainable, and that prioritises sustainable development,
Daiva Repeckaite 12:36
because there was a lot of criticism that the COVID 19 pandemic made governments slow down their commitments to climate action, and that there was a return of single use plastic, and a lot of bands were rolled back. So reacting to this pressure, I guess, or to the ideas, common at the time, the World Economic Forum, proposed this, this idea that we can rebuild the economy in a better shape. And this is also reflected in the US in the European Union's recovery and resilience facility that the idea is to rebuild, to regain the lost economic development, but also add the green elements into it and rebuild in a more sustainable way.
Eva Schaper 13:25
Exactly. And, and this was a term of a climate lockdown started appearing. And, you know, this was used by right wing think tanks and climate sceptics. And from there, you know, it just moved down the food chain to more extreme conspiracy communities, including Q and on affiliated groups, anti vaxxers, but also
Daiva Repeckaite 13:50
it got pretty mainstream in the UK, when a conservative politician raised this point in in the British Parliament calling the 15 Minute cities idea, and I quote, an international socialist concept.
Eva Schaper 14:04
Okay. And of course, we also had Jordan Peterson, who's you know, psychologist climate sceptic, he tweeted that the idea that neighbourhoods should be walkable is lovely. The idea that idiot tyrannical bureaucrats can decide by fear where you're allowed to drive is perhaps the worst imaginable perversion of that idea. This has been picked up. And then it comes down to a point that is something that's happening online, then spills into the real world, which happened in Oxford.
Daiva Repeckaite 14:40
And there have also been reports that proponents of the 15 Minute city idea have received death threats online.
Eva Schaper 14:46
Is there legitimate criticism of the 15 Minute city?
Daiva Repeckaite 14:51
I think, yes, there can be legitimate criticism, and there are many technicalities that can go wrong and impose inconveniences to people. especially who are maybe living outside of livable and walkable city centres because they can't afford otherwise. And they still need to move and come to this to these central places and park their cars because there's no convenient public transport. Otherwise, a lot of the upper middle class can afford to live in the city centre and cycle or use their E scooters. But then traffic from the outskirts of the city is much more complicated. And it becomes a class issue that way, and the infrastructure that we that we were talking about. So, you know, clinics, shops, and especially entertainment centres will not appear overnight. So people will need to come to the centre, it might happen that the least earning residents will be priced out by these measures.
Eva Schaper 15:54
So there is legitimate criticism, but in no way are there plans for people to be locked into these 15 minute cities or the government to control their movement.
Daiva Repeckaite 16:06
Exactly. It takes a bit of rich imagination to make this link from the idea that you can find kindergarten and school and all kinds of facilities in your neighbourhood to being forced to only stay in this neighbourhood.
Eva Schaper 16:22
Okay, so basically, to wrap it up, the 15 Minute theory is a conspiracy theory that was born out of a number of factually incorrect ideas and conspiracy is swirling around online. And then it erupted in protests in Oxford. The important thing is to see that this is an example of how conspiracy theories are created online, and how then they move into the real world. So the question is not really we don't want to be, we don't want to laugh at these people. We don't want to, you know, make fun of make fun of them and say, Oh, look at how deluded they are. But really, look, this is how these things happen. And this could if this happens on a much larger scale. This is definitely something that looks like that is that can destabilise democracies and governments.
Daiva Repeckaite 17:17
Yes. And so things that start on Tik Tok or from Twitter hashtags, then turn into death threats against proponents of this idea and eventually turn into electoral issues. Electoral matters locally.
Eva Schaper 17:39
Thank you for listening this week, and we'll be back in two weeks with a new episode.
Daiva Repeckaite 17:44
In the meantime, you can follow us on social media. We're on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you can also find us individually on Mastodon and please do visit our website, www dot the inoculation.com where you will find transcripts, all the past episodes, more information about our reporting. That's it this week and bye for now.
Eva Schaper 18:06
Thank you and bye for now.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai