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FACTCHECK

FactCheck: The ‘15-minute city’ concept does not involve detaining or punishing people

Conspiracy theorists falsely claim 15-minute cities prohibit eating meat or traveling.

MULTIPLE POSTS ONLINE have falsely implied that the concept of the 15-minute city is being implemented by restricting people’s free movement or punishing them for over-consumption.

The examples cited appear not to have any connection to the idea of a 15-minute city, an urban design concept which aims for every resident in a city to access the daily amenities they might need – work, housing, health, education, and culture and leisure – within a 15-minute walking or cycling distance.

The concept does not prescribe punishing or detaining people.

One video, said to be taken at a Walmart in Ontario, Canada, shows what appear to be video cameras arrayed behind dairy fridges and a meat aisle.

“Welcome to the 15 minute city”, a description of the video, spread by an Irish Facebook account, reads.

“If you have exceeded your limit of meat, dairy and eggs then the digital entrance gates won’t open for you.”

However, the Walmart Canada website includes images of these cameras on their website, explaining that they take images of the shelves opposite them in order to alert employees when stock of an item is running low. 

Regardless of why the cameras were in that Walmart, the video does not show any connection to the idea of the 15-minute city, which has recently become the target of misinformation and conspiracy theorists.

Advocates hope the 15-minute city could enable people to live more sustainably, reducing the need for private vehicles and a wider reliance on fossil fuels, as well as an improvement in local areas and citizens’ quality of life.

“This is really about enhancing people’s quality of life,” explains Niamh Moore-Cherry, a Professor of Urban Governance and Development at the School of Geography in UCD.

“If you think about how small towns in Ireland would have evolved: people might have lived over a shop; they would have had their business there; they might have walked to school; they’d have the local library, the post office and the bank. Everything was pretty accessible.

“But the nature of planning has changed. We have these more sprawling cities with developments on the edge, so people are in their cars, traveling longer distances, just to access basic things. And the centres in our towns are dying.

“This is something that the idea of the 15-minute city could really help to tackle, by kind of encouraging the redevelopment of our town centres rather than building more new things that are further and further away.”

The concept of the 15-minute city is attributed to the Colombian urbanist Carlos Moreno, who is said to have developed the idea in 2015 and then coined the term ’15-minute city’ the following year.

The idea became particularly fashionable during the Covid-19 pandemic, when remote working became more commonplace and people couldn’t travel long distances.

A number of cities across the world, including Paris, London, Melbourne, Buenos Aires and Milan, have since introduced policies based on the ’15-minute’ concept, while others have signaled their intention to do so.

In Dublin, the idea has been adopted as part of the city council’s latest Development Plan, which runs until 2028, with the hope that doing so will “strengthen the connection between people and the places they live by building on local character”.

Social media users have repeatedly shared a presentation to Dublin City Council last year outlining how the 15-minute city concept would work in the capital.

“It means that if you don’t want to have long commutes away from your family or where you live to do things you need, you can do it in your local area,” Green Party councillor Michael Pidgeon says.

However conspiracy theorists who believe that Covid-19 restrictions were a precursor to future lockdowns related to climate change claim governments will prohibit people from using cars, eating meat, or traveling a certain distance outside their area.

“I’ve heard this referred to as climate lockdown, but this is not about locking people down,” UCD’s Professor Niamh Moore-Cherry said.

“It’s not about restricting movement. It’s actually the complete reverse. It’s about people making people’s lives easier and better and giving them more time to do the things they want to do themselves.”

Verdict

Claims have been made online that people will be detained or punished for buying too much meat or dairy have under the 15-minute city concept.

However, restrictions like these are nothing to do with the idea of the 15-minute city, which is actually an urban planning concept that aims to ensure people don’t have to travel as far to access vital amenities if they don’t want to. 

One claim included a video which was shared with the suggestion that 15-minute cities would restrict people; however, it actually showed that cameras at a Walmart were advertised to be monitoring product stock levels on shelves.

As such, the claim that the 15-minute city idea is being implemented to restrict people’s free movement is FALSE. As per our verdict guide, this means: “The claim is inaccurate.”

- Contains reporting by Stephen McDermott.

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