There is Nothing Illiberal About Walkability

Despite recent claims to the contrary, the concept of the 15-minute city promotes freedom of mobility and universal access to a city’s resources and amenities.

2 minute read

March 2, 2023, 10:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Crosswalk with pedestrians in front of four-story red brick buildings in New Haven, Connecticut

A walkable neighborhood in New Haven, Connecticut, where residents retain all of their personal freedoms. | James Andrews1 / New Haven, Connecticut

Proving the old adage that when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail, conspiracy theorists have descended on the 15-minute city concept as the latest target of alt-right paranoia. Having discovered the concept earlier this year, some conspiracists are claiming that 15-minute city policies will implement mandatory restrictions on movement and take away personal freedoms.

They won’t.

Writing in The Washington Post, Lara Williams describes how the theories took hold, starting with an uproar over an innocuous plan to improve pedestrian facilities and reduce the need for car trips proposed in Oxford, England.

Mix high levels of distrust in governments and institutions with pandemic lockdowns, an underlying conspiracy theory about a “new world order” and an urban planning concept backed by an international network of mayors, and garnish with a toxic car culture. Marinate on the internet, and voila! You now have a lot of people primed to believe that local councils are going to imprison them in 15-minute zones.

Sander van der Linden, author of Foolproof: Why We Fall for Misinformation and How to Build Immunity, suggests that the best way to prevent the spread of these theories is to preempt misinterpretations and train people to recognize manipulation techniques employed by promoters of conspiracy theories. To recap: the 15-minute city is a guiding principle toward reducing the need for car trips and improving public health and public spaces. “It’s really quite wholesome, rooted in making humans and the planet happier.”

Monday, February 27, 2023 in The Washington Post

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