15 Minute Cities and the Nightmares of the Paranoid Right

Welcome to the Twilight Zone, our new series looking at the wonderful world of conspiracy, the (almost always) far-right world of populist paranoia. First up, the backlash against the 15 minute city.

The 20 Minute City – the idea that you should have access to most of the things you need within a short walk – was one of the (possible) benefits to come out of the whole lockdown experience. We looked at it back in 2020 (when it was the 15 Minute City) after a report by Dr Douglas Finch & Prof. Paul Palmer from the School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh – showed dramatic reductions in the emissions of Nitrogen Dioxide due the reduction of traffic in the lockdown. 

We noticed that over in Paris the mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has made phasing out vehicles and creating a “15-minute city” a key pillar of her offering at the launch of her re-election campaign. What would that look like?

In a world where we work less and travel less and pollute less, it would mean that we have most of our basic needs for work, education, leisure, sport, entertainment localised.

The inspiration behind the 15-minute city idea is the Professor Carlos Moreno, from la Sorbonne who believes the “core of human activity” in cities must move away from oil-era priorities of roads and car ownership. To do this he argues: “We need to reinvent the idea of urban proximity. We know it is better for people to work near to where they live, and if they can go shopping nearby and have the leisure and services they need around them too, it allows them to have a more tranquil existence.”

The ideas have been embraced by Hidalgo who wants to encourage more self-sufficient communities within each arrondissement of the French capital, with grocery shops, parks, cafes, sports facilities, health centres, schools and even workplaces just a walk or bike ride away.

Called the “ville du quart d’heure” – the quarter-hour city – the aim is to offer the people of Paris what they need on or near their doorstep to ensure an “ecological transformation” of the capital into a collection of neighbourhoods. This, Hidalgo argues, would reduce pollution and stress, creating socially and economically mixed districts to improve overall quality of life for residents and visitors.

The Ville Du Quart D’Heure concept is based on Moreno’s idea of “chrono-urbanism,” or having leisure, work, and shopping close to home. This means “changing our relationship with time, essentially time relating to mobility,” says Moreno.

So far so good?

Fast-forward to today and all hell is breaking loose as the spiralling conspiracism of the far-right meets the paranoid fever dream of the anti-vaxx movement.

Last week in Westminster the Conservative MP for the Don Valley, Nick Fletcher, launched a tirade against the concept: “Will the leader of the house please set aside time for a debate on the international socialist concept of so-called 15-minute cities and 20-minute neighbourhoods?” he asked, “Sheffield is already on this journey, and I do not want Doncaster, which also has a Labour-run socialist council, to do the same.”


GB News got in on the action, with one of their presenters, Mark Dolan exclaiming: “Creepy local authority bureaucrats would like to see your entire existence boiled down to the duration of a quarter of an hour.” The 15-minute city, he suggested, was a “dystopian plan”, heralding “a surveillance culture that would make Pyongyang envious”. Here he is in full flight:


‘unBritish’. LOLs.

All the usual suspects are present and correct: Neil Oliver is right in the thick of it. It’s a plan to take “total control of the people” and impose a “one-world government.” Again! All the ghouls are there: James Delingpole, Jordan Peterson, Laurence Fox, and Right Said Fred. I know. Of course Spiked! are in on it too. James Woudhuysen spouted forth arguing: “As usual, it is ordinary people who will suffer the costs of the 15-minute city. Particularly, urban car-owners and families who regularly travel across town to visit relatives or friends, or to go to work. And we shouldn’t forget the needs of older citizens, those with disabilities and children.” 

[I mean he’s kind of missed the entire point but …]

“What is posed as a revival of Britain’s green and pleasant land is in fact a coercive drive to put motorists on a leash” he thunders. This is I think at the heart of the whine, the idea that cars are liberation and that the (elusive) ‘war on the motorist’ is just around the corner. What’s really funny is that the surveillance state exists now. The conspiracists seem oblivious to actual police repression, to actual #SpyCops scandals and actual state violence. Instead in obscure internet channels they are researching some bizarre idea about 5G and the Rothschild’s.

There’s a real disconnect between what’s being proposed and the reactionary, er, reaction. As Oliver Wainwright has put it: “There’s an international socialist conspiracy afoot, and it wants to make it easier to walk to the shops.”

“Welcome to the prison planet of the future”  …

It’s easy to mock these people, and we will, but there are problems with the 15 minute city. It could easily exacerbate social division. Like in lockdown the experience is drastically different depending on what your neighbourhood looks and feels like. But that could also be – and in most cases of the 15 minute city thinking is – an opportunity to democratise the city.

How did this state of fear and fear of the state arrive?

In Politics and Paranoia (2008) Robin Ramsay, who knows a thing or two about conspiracy theory as long-time editor of Lobster  – offers a precise moment when conspiracy theory went from a preoccupation mainly of the left to one mainly of the right. Ramsay pinpoints Holly Sklar’s Trilateral Commission published in 1980. Prior to that the American conspiracy movement that emerged out of the 1960s and 1970s had been largely of the left, trying to uncover the clandestine operations of the secret state and its networks.The JFK assassination in 1963, followed by Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy followed by the murder of much of the leadership of the Black Panthers and Watergate shaped “conspiracists” to be of and from the left.

But by the 1990s Sklar’s book started to be bought in drives by the right, by what Ramsay terms “New World Order” theorists. Sklar’s sub-title: “The Trilateral Commission and Elite Planning for World Management” was like a trigger to the new right. The standoff at Waco Texas gave birth to the militia movement in the US and the explosion of UFO-mania as the internet was born spawned the X-Files. “Conspiracy” was badged and re-processed as mainstream consumer culture (see Spooks later in the UK). We now live in a world immersed with Deep Fakes, False Flags and bad faith. This slide from left to right can also be seen as a dramatic failure of mainstream politics and social democracy to address fundamental social problems over this period, the endless triangulation and capitulation has led to mass skepticism, disinterest and abandonment.

Conspiracy lands in a world of capitalist realism and hyper-normalisation where despair is mainstream. The alt-right has no doubt manipulated this toxic environment – much of the discourse is laced with extreme misogyny and anti-semitism – but it is a world already full of a sense of profound failure, melancholy and paranoia. Nor are we short of examples of true-life ‘conspiracy’ revealed to us after the fact … from the Kincora Boys’ Home; to the Shoot to Kill Policy; from the dodgy-dossier to the Iran-Contra scandal; to the secret development of Taser technology and the emergence of the surveillance state (and on and on) it’s difficult to defend a liberal view of the world.

Who can blame us for being a bit paranoid?

It’s a long way from Mulder and Scully to 4Chan and Milo Yiannopolous, but the descent can be traced through popular culture from Close Encounters to Twin Peaks from Lost to Rick and Morty.  Before you know it Solange is Beyoncé’s daughter, Klaatu was really the Beatles and the Illuminati are holed-up in the the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in North Dakota. But AREA51 is long-since a Simpson’s meme, and we are a world away from bad Bigfoot and Alien autopsy video footage or crop circles splashed on red-top front-page scoops. Now ‘Child-actors’ and ‘QAnon’ and ingesting Ivermectin are a dystopian step-up from the conspiracy theory of the 80s and 90s. It’s not so funny anymore.

It’s not all just a laugh though. The need to shift very rapidly away from car culture, the fossil fuel economy and radically decarbonise cities is obvious, and part of this madness is just an inability for people to take on board that change is happening, whether you like it or not. It’s no surprise then that much of the convergence of the right wing libertarianism is centred around climate denialism in various forms, and the threat of a Green State.

Comments (62)

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  1. J Galt says:

    It would be helpful to have a list of approved conspiracies so I can know whether I am a right wing nutter or not.

    1. The New World Order will issue these shortly

    2. Socialistsavante says:

      At least one person on here understands government is just the laziest people desiring power to control the rest of us. Who is J Galt? Thank you Ayn R

      1. J Galt says:

        Yet again I have to explain that that is my name. The J stands for James.

        I did once try to plough my way through “Atlas Shrugged” – unsuccessfully I might add – not my cup of tea.

  2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Of course, historically, towns and cities were 15/20 minute neighbourhoods. Indeed, many parts of Glasgow, for example – Maryhill, Partick, Dowanhill, Dennistoun, Kelvinbridge, Shawlands, Victoria Road, etc – still are such neighbourhoods.

    It is really only since c 1970/80 that, especially in towns, but in the peripheral housing schemes, that localities lost a lot of their amenities, like secondary schools, shops, dental surgeries, etc. There were three main causes – growth of car ownership and motorway building which fragmented cities; housing policies, particularly housing estates, including ‘gated communities’; closure of local workplaces, either due to deindustrialisation or moving to peripheral industrial estates.

    The 15/20 minute area is a boon for small businesses. With the demise of city centres and following lockdown, many local centres have seen a growth in local shops. A good example is Great Western Road in Glasgow between St George’s Cross and the Botanic Gardens.

  3. Politically Homeless says:

    Lobster is an institution but even someone as clever as Robin Ramsay is a good example of clinging to the comfortable conceit that the demarcation between “left” and “right” (which also serve as markers for “responsible skepticism” vs “paranoia”) is a lot clearer than it is these days. Lately he’s been writing about how a lab leak was probable. Elsewhere on the “left” this will still be dismissed.

    The fear of the 15 minute city stuff goes back to lockdowns and the notion of being segregated into neighbourhood-level units ala the system in China. Lockdowns were in fact, draconian, because when you look at what actually transpired in places like Sweden, the net effect was marginal. A lot of the global technocrats-save-the-planet story is more aptly treated on GB News than it is in the creulous Guardian – ie., with cynicism.

    Most Socialist and Marxist aligned movements refuse to follow any critique that takes them into this territory, which is sadly deepening their irrelevance and letting stodgy Thatcherites/Reaganites like Jordan Peterson or Tucker Carlson have a global audience of the disillusioned.

    1. Hi Politically Homeless – I used to write for Lobster, so I know Robin. I dont believe that the demarcation between left and right is redundant. Why? Because I live under a far right regime we didnt elect/ As I said there are plenty of ‘real world’ threats and covert operations to be concerned about

    2. Alec Lomax says:

      Comedy gold.

  4. Ann Rayner says:

    Big backlash against this currently in Oxford as people are being forced to use the Ring Road to get from one part of the city to another, or even to the main rail station, and the Ring Road gets jammed with the extra traffic!

    1. Alasdair Angus Macdonald says:

      This is an urban myth created by the car lobby and retailed, unexamined, by the media, which wants a stooshie. Birmingham requires motorists travelling from one sector of the city to another to go via the peripheral road.

      A recent study of low traffic neighbourhoods in London indicates that traffic movements on the periphery of these neighbourhoods has barely changed, but traffic movements within the neighbourhoods have been reduced to less than half.

      A couple of years ago the city of Chester had a proposal to reduce traffic in the city. An almighty rammy broke out and the ferocity caused local councillors to panic. The rammy was almost entirely on-line and when it was examined, it was entirely the work of two people and some bots. I suspect the Oxford one is a creation of our right wing media.

  5. John Wood says:

    Well, I’m sorry, feel free to call me a ‘far right conspiracy theorist’ or any other ludicrous name that bears no relation at all to reality, but a desire for basic humanity, freedom, human rights and such things is not ‘right wing libertarianism’. Anyone who opposes the totalitarianism of the international oligarchs is now mocked and derided in this way. I assume that is because it is the only argument the advocates of all this horror can manage. There is never any actual evidence presented to disprove the doubters. It all says more about those throwing the insults than those receiving them.

    Sadly, the paranoia has a good basis in fact. I was initially a supporter of the idea that people might get what they need within a 15 or 20 minute walk or cycle. It all seems so obviously sensible and planet friendly, although of course it is completely impossible to implement where I live in Wester Ross. It just assumes we will all live in cities in future – no doubt be fed by automated, industrial agriculture, all owned and run by the super-rich because ‘You’ll own nothing, and you’ll be happy’. Wester Ross meanwhile gets to be ‘re-wilded’, depopulated, turned into a ‘wilderness playground’ (VisitScotland’s words), an exclusive, trophy hunting paradise for the super-rich. We have been there before. No more clearances.

    The problem is that the 15 or 20 minute cities are part of the horrific ‘smart city’ concept that aims to control everything you do, say or think. You think this is so far-fetched it can’t be true? It doesn’t actually take much research to see what is there in plain sight, hidden only by your cognitive dissonance. What about this, forwarded to me by Michael Mansfield KC. https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/04/17/smart-cities-surveillance-privacy-digital-threats-internet-of-things-5g/

    I could easily go on for pages and pages about all this. But please do take it seriously. I humbly suggest that running away and hiding, trying to mock dissidents, heretics, censoring all information that doesn’t follow the ‘approved’ line, is likely to be counterproductive to a viable future for us all.

    We need to talk, and listen to each other, and come up with constructive solutions to the crisis we all face. Just ranting against people whose ideas differ from yours is not helpful.

    Believe me, the way 15 minute cities are being implemented at present makes me very happy that I live in a so-called ‘remote, rural area. And here I intend to stay, thanks.

    1. I’m not sure where anything I wrote rejected ‘ basic humanity, freedom, human rights’?

      1. John Wood says:

        I just prefer to use these words in place of ‘paranoid right’. They have a better ring to them somehow.

    2. Lauren says:

      Thank you for being a voice of reason. It is insane to hear all of these soothsayers that just want belonging and to go along with the approved narrative. They have no idea, have clearly never picked up one history book. All they do is cut anyone down who asks question essential questions with thoughtful, legitimate positions. They mock us for the sake of their mere ego and I feel certain they would love to force “re-educate” us.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    Quite. The idea of objective measures of social health upsets neoliberals, and any alternative to war being the health of the state upsets fascists.

  7. Niemand says:

    The ‘Paris’ link in the article just goes to the Guardian Paris section with nothing obvious about 15-minute cities.

    I mention it because it would be interesting to see if there has been any progress there – Hidalgo’s talk is easy but my impression of Paris is as one of the more car congested places.

    I see little wrong with this idea in principle and much merit in it, and as someone above says, it is how we used to live, routinely. But I would also ask about towns and more rural places? Why the focus on cities? It is still much easier to both travel, work and get what you need in a city than it is in smaller places which have been eviscerated of virtually all services in recent years, meaning you have zero choice but to go to the city or drive miles simply to get basic foodstuffs (or get it delivered by a poorly paid worker in a gas-guzzling van)

    1. The focus is on cities because that is where the vast majority of people live. The need to create sustainable cities in line with our carbon targets is stark. The need for sustainable rural solutions is not undermined by this -t. both are urgent. I’ll try and correct the link

      1. Niemand says:

        I take the point but there are very many large towns with significant sprawl and major populations that this could easily apply to. And many of those have suffered more than cities proper. I guess the question therefore is what is a ‘city’ in this context?

        1. Niemand says:

          Thanks. That first Guardian article is interesting as along with the positives, it does lay out some of the negatives quite well and some of those are from the left (https://slate.com/business/2020/12/cities-neighborhoods-pandemic-2020.html). All good food for thought.

          I am in broad agreement with you that we need a radical re-think. And also that it seems inevitable that some curtailing of car use might have to be enforced. That does not make it a conspiracy but it does mean it needs very careful handling, and above all, real alternatives that folk, especially the less well-off, can use such that they won’t actually need the car. The problem there is that it is much easier to do the former than the latter plus the timing is crucial.

          1. Yes some of this ia about the complete breakdown of the social contract and the idea that the state can be trusted in any way, which obviously as its basis in lived experience

      2. John Wood says:

        Ah, I think this hits the nail on the head. The problem is the urbanised mindset that we have all grown up with. The majority now live in ‘cities’ (actually many of them really live isolated lives in soulless dormitory suburbs, without any sense of community or mutual support at all – the result of the ideology of individualism). The corner shop, the high street, the world of Dad’s Army are just memories. ’15 minute neighbourhoods’ are not going to bring them back. Even the out of town supermarkets and the rest of the car-based culture is out of date. Because we now have the Internet, and especially the Internet of Things (and the Internet of Bodies too). The ‘reset’ of the world’s economy is essentially about driving all activity online. You’ll access the things you need within 15 minutes simply because you’ll stay at home and order everything online, probably to be delivered by drone without human intervention. Because of automation you will find it harder and harder to find a job, making you completely dependent on the government or private ‘philanthropy’ to survive. Amazon, the banks, are cleaning up, taking over the market itself, and driving the real, local shops out of business. If you require, say, a haircut, you’ll still pay Amazon who will exploit – as they do – both customer and supplier. Jeff Bezos now has enough money (they say) to buy up all four major UK banks and still have change. So really this is about controlling and exploiting everyone for private profit. The whole idea of ethics, of actually caring about anyone else, seem to be dead. ‘You’ll own nothing’ even applies to your freedom, your very body and mind. You’ll find your freedom of movement restricted more and more. The Oxford ring road becomes so congested that access to that becomes restricted. You’ll find that you are unable to leave the city at all unless authorised. You won’t be able to buy anything in the cashless economy, or access any news or information, unless it’s ‘approved’. If you want to get out of – or even across – the city you are likely to find you need a ‘vaccine passport’ or other such ‘authorisation’. Because your transactions will simply be refused. Without permission, you won’t have access to private (or public, unless authorised) transport. you’ll find that the only way to get out of the city will be to walk. And even that will prove impossible unless the authorities allow it, because you will be caught on facial recognition CCTV, and find yourself tagged and brought back. Under the UK Government’s new legislation that allows them to arrest people and tag them to prevent you ‘protesting’. Look, it is totalitarianism , however much you like to pretend otherwise. It is completely Orwellian. Still, am I ‘paranoid? Not at all,. Because this nonsense is completely unsustainable. It relies on vast inputs of energy and the pollution of people and planet by disastrous radio frequency radiation. And of course, the internet actually makes the whole idea of a ‘city’ obsolete. Commuting, and concrete jungles, are so 20th c.
        Cities are an expression of an ideology that exploits the surrounding rural area and draws in power and wealth into the hands of a few. They are in reality dependent on everything and everywhere that is not a city for their survival. The wealthy, then the middle classes escaped to the suburbs as soon as transport made it possible. But now, with the internet, we can live and work anywhere. In the rural areas, we have the added advantage of freedom, the ability to grow food and so on, even trade, build circular economies and communities that look out for each other, without centralised control. Even when the power goes off. As I said, this is about power with, mutual aid, decentralisation, empowerment of communities – the opposiute of everything a ‘city’ stands for. If most of us live in cities, I suggest it’s time we helped people move out and repopulate rural areas where they can be productive and creative. And above all, independent of globalist techno-totalitarianism .

  8. Derek says:

    I think that the gist of it is trying to row back on decades’-worth of car-based development. I’ve seen it described as “doughnut theory”; it’s where you have large supermarkets with car parks occupying former factory sites (and former football grounds (Falkirk, Perth, Paisley)) and edge of town shopping centres (Straiton, Gyle, Parkead Forge, Braehead etc). Generally, you have to drive to these places so if you’re out there to buy a bike, you may as well do your big shop and go to the DIY shop too. The centre of the town ends up empty. Have you seen Princes St. recently?

    The supermarkets have been squealing a bit recently due to their loss of market share to large online retailers which is a shade ironic since that’s what the supermarkets did to the small shops – and continue to do so with the Tesco metro and Sainsbury local small shops, which get supermarket prices into the villages that make up towns and cities and squeeze the small shops even more.

    I think that we’re maybe past the point of 15 or 29 minute neighbourhoods for now – until car use has been reined in, but you can’t have that until the need to use a car is reduced. The one that I’ve noticed recently is an absence of ironmongers (I was looking for hammer wedges). The refillery’s a good idea, though, and the farm markets continue to provide good local food. Neither of these are affordable on a tight budget, though. Should we be chasing councils to create more allotments/urban market gardens as well?

    (drives or droves (Sklar book)?)

    1. “Should we be chasing councils to create more allotments/urban market gardens as well?” 100% – we need to re imagine the whole city and food system

    2. Derek says:

      Oh, and Julie Burchill can away and shite. That spiked article ends with – basically – “I’m happy, so screw the rest of you and those to come”.

      How dare Wales go against her desires?

  9. Brian McGrail says:

    Isn’t another name for a 15 minute city a ‘village’? So the Alt Right are freaking about us living in villages – conservatism certainly has changed?

    The usual provisos apply – if the villagers want to live in the village then that’s different from them being forced (by economic necessity) to do so (because it becomes a ghetto). Hence in Edinburgh we have the villages of Colinton, Davidson Mains, Portobello and Stockbridge, but the ghettos of Wester Hailes and Pilton. People do need to leave the ghettos out of necessity (lack of services); those in the villages may decide to go up town for fashion but stay local to buy their Humous. But ghetto kids stay local (state primary) whilst village kids need a bus / rail pass to get to a distant private (charity) school.

    All makes sense now – keep the lower classes contained and return travel to a golden era of the 1950s (accessible only by those who have good reason to be spreading ‘best practice’).

    1. I think the idea is to transform and democratise cities – as I said this looks very different depending on what services/amenties you have – but that doesnt have to be a static thing?

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Editor, there is of course the possibility that some opponents of the 15-minute-city are aghast by the prospect of bumping into their neighbours when they pick up sex workers. Perhaps that’s what they think cities are for.

  10. Axel P Kulit says:

    I read that some councils are trying to impose a limit on the number of car journeys a driver makes per year, enforced by fines. How this can be enforced I am not sure, but statements like that do fuel the conspiracy theories.

    ON the surface the idea that everything you need ( and who defines need?) is within 15 minutes walk is a good idea but what about the commuter, the delivery driver etc? If the aim is to reduce the amount of car journeys made the best way is surely to increase the cost of using a car and reduce the price of other forms of transport. But what measures will be taken to prevent the use of a car being a perquisite of wealth or high salary ( company car paid for by the employer)?

  11. Michael Slater says:

    I believe the concept of “garden cities” came from social health concerns in London and Frankfurt in the 1830-40s. Human waste was becoming a big concern and one of the solutions promulgated was to create satellite cities within a 30 minute travel radius of the parent city, I currently live in one such community in Queens, NY, 25 minutes from the center of Manhattan, and it has been a joy over the past two years because Forest Hills provides almost everything that we ever require. We have a village entirely unto itself.

    1. John Wood says:

      My grandfather was one of the pioneers of Letchworth garden city in the UK, in the early 20th c. I think the human waste issues in London were helped considerably by the pumped sewerage system installed a few decades earlier. However there was a problem of overcrowded slums in the poorer areas, and terrible atmospheric pollution. My grandmother died of TB which this no doubt contributed to. The garden cities of that time were about the idea of creating ‘rus in urbis’ i.e., the countryside in the town. Letchworth was intended to be self-sufficient and not require people to commute into London. And he grew vegetables and kept chickens in his garden ( he also had a sail powered bicycle and I have a wonderful photo of him sailing along Norton Way – fortunately there was little traffic and he could tack across the wide road against the wind).
      I was a child at school in London in the early 1960s and I can remember the last ‘pea-soupers’, the smog that London was famous for in the days when coal was the fuel. Thick, yellow-green, choking fog. We moved out of London to a village close to Harlow New Town. The New Towns were the postwar version of the garden city. Harlow had a wonderful network of cycle tracks which I and my friends used to spend happy hours exploring without any concerns for our safety. My aunt was an architect with Stevenage Development Corporation. These new towns included the local neighbourhood principle the prefigured the 15 minute city.
      Times change. The heyday of the car culture was surely the 1970s and 1980s, when motorways were driven through the middle of cities and high rise blocks started to create ‘machines for living in’ separated by ‘parkland’ that was as bleak as real parkland is lovely. It was a top-down, planned environment and humanity, community were destroyed leaving ‘sink estates’ and concrete jungles.
      What has changed since then really has been the arrival of the internet. And of course now Covid-19. Who really wants to live in a concrete jungle, or for that matter a soul-less suburb, anymore? Especially if it’s one divided into effective ghettoes to keep poor people out of middle class areas, where everyone is subject to endless, constant surveillance and the risk of infection from whatever the next pandemic throws at us? The whole idea of commuting to the workplace is becoming obsolete. Automation is removing all the jobs and emptying all the offices. Mass production is about to give way to localised 3D printing. Entertainment and education formerly only available in the city, can now be had online. Zoning of different activities – industry, offices, retail etc generates unnecessary journeys and the pea soupers thank goodness have gone (to be replaced by other forms of hidden pollution, but let’s leave that there). I suggest that after around 3000 years technology is finally turning the tide against the ‘city’ concept. Instead of ‘rus in urbis’, I suggest we turn this whole thing inside out. Let’s create a network of smaller, relatively self-contained villages and small towns, with small shops and services run by real people, not AI, which build community, a sense of purpose, and a creative future. The smart city, full of locked down, unemployed people going mad with loneliness and boredom – nah, not so much.

      1. Derek says:

        I’d go for that.

  12. John Monro says:

    Mike, thanks for your article

    Well, let’s also discuss the “human predicament”, as this issue your write about should be considered a metaphor for this wider philosophical debate. There’s an Australian biologist who tells us he’s solved it, he has a Geordie radio host on his side to promote him.. I haven’t explored that further but perhaps I should.

    The 15 minute city is quite an old idea, stemming from Mesopotamia about 10,000 years ago, recreated in all ancient civilisations, mediaeval and Renaissance and up to early Victorian. The Victorians started the rot in a small way with their railways, but the destroyer of 10,000 years of sustainable and efficient and humane form of society was and remains the private motor car. You should also mention the Danish town planner, Jan Gehl. His idea was the same, I think he called it the 5 mph city. He visited Wellington here in NZ about 25 years ago, he ca paid working visit on the invitation of the council, and he did quite a bit of work on how the city might improve the liveability of the city and restrict traffic, noise pollution, improve public transport, and increase pedestrianism etc. New maps were drawn and published, with restricted speed limits and many roads pedestrianised, artist’s renditions of reformed ugly urban highways into beautiful boulevards, and tramways in near traffic empty street One councillor was heard to say “We could have a city as beautiful as Paris” although knowing this councillor and his enthusiasm for modern high rises, I imagine he might have been thinking more of Bangkok. I think I can confidently state very little has happened, though a few very expensive bike lanes have been constructed which sort of lead nowhere. But the trolly buses are now diesel, the roads are much busier, the pedestrianised area is a bit less, the motorways extended, the privatised bus network flounders and our architecture is stuck in the 1960s. The private motor car as an inalienable mobile fiefdom of the individual is a long standing attitude dating back to the 1950s. Here succeeding ministers of transport know full well that “The New Zealander is attached to his car at the hip” and it’s a brave minister who’d ever consider doing surgery. So for the right wing to take on this creed for themselves isn’t only something that matches their own attitudes, but is also incredibly politically effective.

    The descent to right wing paranoia actually starts from Thatcher, Reagan etc. Thatcher’s “from now on gentlemen, that’s what we believe”, tossing down Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty” or was it “The Road to Serfdom”, I forget. This was the beginning of the dismemberment of society from collective responsibility to a form of economic and social Darwinism. A certain Austrian gentleman born 10 years earlier caused much death and destruction, but this other Austrian gentleman might yet achieve even more spectacular results as his economic and political ideologies are the direct and indirect cause of social disruption, poor health, global warming, environmental destruction and the most extreme inequalities, of wealth, power and opportunity. Perhaps he’d deny his responsibility if he were still alive, but to me the matter’s simple, one thing leads to another.

    What is Thatcherism, Hayek, the Austrian or Chicago schools but this idée fixe “Government bad, Private good”. The idea that competing individualism and greed, which is really what it is, is going to magically transform our societies to something humane, sustainable and happy. I think Hayek was mad, and we are mad to accept any of his most dismal ideologies. The paranoia you write about, Mike, surely is the predictable result of this way of thinking, permeating and poisoning our common humanity over the last forty plus years?

    1. Socialistsavante says:

      Name one modern experiment where communism ever produced efficient or rational use of finite resources, equally, and created happiness or brought more people out of dismal poverty than capitalism? So which cities get luxury services, which get organic groceries, which get shoe repair and how do distribute high value goods bought very rarely like furniture stores? You are a dystopian, authoritarian tyrant loving idiot. Is this Trudeau penning this little love letter to the all mighty government, your lord and Ubermench, lord Charles Shwab?

      1. John Monro says:

        Hello, If you wrote more coherently, I’d perhaps be inclined to provide a thoughtful reply. I don’t know what you’re trying to say. and what the heck has Trudeau got to do with any of this? It seems to me, slagging me off with a number of clichéed insults and political put-downs is not the sign of someone engaging in useful argument or serious dialogue. If I were to take anything substantive from your reply is that you are defending the status quo. How any humane and caring and supposedly intelligent person can defend the status quo, or the political and economic means by which we support it, is beyond me.

  13. Robert Hill says:

    I myself cannot see what all the fuss is about. In the 1950’s my aunt in Guildford walked

    1. Robert Hill says:

      Let me continue. My aunt walked down to the High Street regularly to do her shopping while my uncle drove to the station each morning to catch the train to his work in London. It is still true that most towns would be able to support this mode of life. The fashion of driving everywhere is of comparatively recent origin and just feeds into our modern sense of urgency which is often not borne out by the facts. In the 1960’s I could drive from Glasgow to Aberdeen without hurrying in 3 hours. It still takes about the same time today.

  14. SleepingDog says:

    Where is the Mistress of Line when we need someone to draw a diagram of the beyond-15-minute-city favoured by these baying ultra critics (where nices turn to vices, I expect)?

  15. Socialistsavante says:

    This is a propagandist website full of radical liberal ideas and absolutely no idea of real world economics. Read in jest becuase I’ve never read such ignorant rubbish. Third world countries are the deciding factor on co2 emissions… even if you shut down all of America it would be 2-3% global c02 emissions. Developing countries are where it will happen and they will chose to eat not starve before boycotting development

    1. Derek says:

      Aye, an’ you’re an army minion fu’ ae shite.

      “they will chose”

      Choose, even…

  16. wonky says:

    As others have said it wasn’t that long ago Glasgow had its own continental arrondissements/quarters in a tight densely packed coherent urban landscape, such as the old Gorbals, Springburn, Townhead, Anderston, Woodside, Calton, all of course demolished in the comprehensive ‘redevelopments’ of the 60s-70s. All these densely populated areas adjacent to the city core had all the amenities people needed, from local shops, transport, pubs, parks, libraries etc- even the likes of Springburn had Department stores and the fate of Parliamentary Road, more or less the high street for Townhead, completely vanished from existence, including thousands displaced and hundreds of viable small businesses destroyed. Glasgow in 1900s had around 800000 people living in 30 square miles and in the 1940s had a larger population than Birmingham living in 45 square miles- all these people living adjacent to the city core and served by one of the largest Tram systems in the world, a subway and the most extensive suburban train network outside London- that was a true 15 minute city.
    Make no mistake about it the car destroyed half the city. Glasgow, a city that largely survived the Wars and the German Luftwaffe unscathed, was torn to pieces and fragmented by the building of the M8 and other expressways that tore through the likes of Springburn, Anderston and Townhead and not only destroyed whole communities but also marooned swathes of the East End and most significantly the Northern parts of the city, like Royston or Springburn and Possil to marooned island status.
    Not only did the car destroy communities and disconnect others as well as fragment the entire city it also led to the loss of the Buchanan Train station and the St Enoch train station and even the Duke Street good yard for freight- how much would the reinstatement of such infrastructure cost now? What indeed the cost of the new Metro style tram system devised by the Connectivity Commission by more or less reinstating much of the old Tram network?
    We are going back to go forward because we have forgotten so much of what we have learned. Those of us who reject the value of the past are doomed to cultural amnesia.
    As for the rise of the far right conspiracy theories it seems to me, whether its my sister or friends, workmates or the taxi driver, but they all share the same predictable views about everything, from vaccinations, covid, immigration, gender politics, climate denial etc- its as though they are all part of a giant brain that controls their thoughts. Why do they all use the same terminology such as Woke, ‘communists’ and Americanisms like ‘snowflakes’ and use ‘Liberals’ as a pejorative term? It is quite disturbing how mainstream fake news and paranoid conspiracy theory culture has become in such a short space of time. And with the impotent rage all these conspiracy types exhibit also comes a mass apathy a peculiar disengagement from the world and a hysterical skepticism for all forms of news and media sources outside specific social media platforms…but anyway many cities have banned the car, probably most famously and positively, in Ponteverda, a policy that had completely transformed the destiny of the town- what would Scottish look like if similar schemes were introduced here?
    I travel around Scotland and often wonder how beautiful our towns and cities would look without the clutter of cars and how much more pleasant these places would be without their pollution and the dangers they pose to simply walking around the streets- nevertheless the culture for this sort of transformation is a long way off in Scotland and the UK in general, not only due to the car as a status symbol and freedom, but also because of the poor public transport alternatives available to people in general- why jump a bus that takes 3 or 4 times the time and drive there faster and cheaper in a car? There are little or no barriers to car travel and so many barriers to public transport stuck in traffic by private car owners and traffic light systems. And another weird symbolic factor I’ve noticed in the UK and in particular working class areas is how the car is viewed as a macho symbol or an extension of masculinity- I am 6 foot and weigh 18 and a half stone who was brought up in a few very tough sink estates and yet when I say I don’t drive people have made allusions to my masculinity or have gasped in incredulity as to how anyone doesn’t own a driving licence and even questioned my competency as a human being…I stay in Glasgow and can be in the city in ten minutes and I don’t have the hassle of parking an expensive status symbol I hardly use and instead use the money for other things and yet I’m somehow framed as a weird dysfunctional oddity for not owning one.
    I really doubt a post Thatcher Neo-liberal hyper individualised private car dependent culture like the UK can really ever adapt to become like a Spanish urban culture where you have the likes of Bilbao with 22k living in 1sq-mi never mind Barcelona where you have upward of 40k residents in each sq mile- do we have the skillet as citizens to live in such high density environments with our neighbours or are we as Thatchers bastard children too selfish?

    1. Socialistsavante says:

      You need to mind your own business and be happy with your choices. Others choose to drive. No one cares at all about your masculinity or lack there of, they want you to stay the heck out of their business and determine for yourself what selfishness is and they can determine it on their own terms. If you can believe that an adult can decide for a child whose brain hasn’t developed until 26 yo, and youre down with those politics, certainly you can understand others want to decide for themselves whether or not to drive. You neo liberals are so hypocritical and tone deaf you don’t know you’re human too.

      1. Wul says:

        “…determine for yourself what selfishness is…”

        Brilliant! I hope you live far,far away from other people.

    2. Socialistsavante says:

      You need to mind your own business and be happy with your choices. Others choose to drive. No one cares at all about your masculinity or lack there of, they want you to stay the heck out of their business and determine for yourself what selfishness is and they can determine it on their own terms. If you can believe that an adult can decide for a child whose brain hasn’t developed until 26 yo, and youre down with those politics, certainly you can understand others want to decide for themselves whether or not to drive. You neo liberals are so hypocritical and tone deaf you don’t know you’re also human until you break a leg and need a car.

    3. Time, the Deer says:

      I’m glad I took the time to read this comment. You, Sir, are correct

  17. The “grassroots” backlash to a traffic reduction scheme in Oxfordshire is being boosted by an international network of established climate and Covid science deniers and amplified by right-wing media, DeSmog can report.

    The group ‘Not Our Future’ made headlines last month by putting leaflets through Oxfordshire residents’ letterboxes calling them “guinea pigs” in the UK’s first “climate lockdown”. This was a reference to a conspiracy theory about a government plan to curb people’s freedoms.

    False claims about the Oxfordshire County Council scheme to cut traffic and pollution went viral online, with one tweet by climate sceptic author Jordan Peterson being viewed 7.5 million times. The claims, which have seen local councillors receive death threats, have been fact-checked and debunked as misleading, and the council has described them as “harmful to public debate”.

    Not Our Future’s director David Fleming, an anti-Covid lockdown and vaccine activist, presents his campaign as a people-powered movement opposed to a coming “authoritarian future” imposed by what he calls “The Blob”.

    However, DeSmog can report that the group was conceived by Fleming years before the pandemic or the Oxfordshire scheme, and is backed by a network of high-profile climate deniers and conspiracy theorists based in the UK, Canada, the United States and Australia.

    from De Smog here: https://www.desmog.com/2023/02/16/revealed-the-science-denial-network-behind-oxfords-climate-lockdown-backlash/

    1. John Wood says:

      Who or what is a ‘conspiracy theorist’ except someone who disagrees with you? Who fails to follow the official line? A ‘heretic’, a ‘witch’, a ‘red under the bed’? The only people who actually have anything to fear from ‘conspiracy theorists are conspirators. It’s just too easy to mock and shut down anyone by saying that their claims are mad bad and dangerous. But instead of simply saying that a conspiracy theory is fantasy, on the basis of some supposed ‘authority’ telling us it is, the only way to tackle this is to look at any supposed ‘misinformation’ and ask the question ‘who benefits?’ And also of course, how does the idea get traction? For centuries those in power have identified groups to target and victimise. The Jews were always an easy one because they were easily identified and also because the kings , lords, merchants were indebted to them and so feared them. So now those who are to be ‘othered’ are called ‘conspiracy theorists’. Because the very last thing that could ever be tolerated by those in power is the possibility that there might be things they would prefer not to reveal about themselves. So let’s take an example: 5G. I will wear my tinfoil hat with pride because when the coercive roll-out started I started asking questions about the possibility of damage to biodiversity, especially pollinating insects. I as ignored, and mocked as a ‘conspiracy theorist’ My Facebook posts and petitions were simply removed. My attempts to contact the relevant authorities and the UK government to ask about environmental assessment were summarily dismissed. There was no evidence at all, I was told, of any possible environmental harm. And every government agency contacted denied it was within their remit. I put in Freedom of Information requests to find out how and why they were all so sure of the safety of this technology, and why the question of public as well as environmental safety could not be raised at all. Meanwhile I started to discover that in fact there was and is a significant amount of credible scientific evidence of actual and potential harm that needed investigation. I am talking here only about biological harm. The harm caused by this mass surveillance to privacy, human rights, and so on, is another matter. At every step I was mocked as a ‘conspiracy theorist’. No evidence of safety has ever been presented, and none of the evidence I have presented, or the concerns of experts in this field, has been examined at all. There is indeed a conspiracy of silence. And always the answer if I raise this is that there are no concerns at all. The whole subject is simply taboo.
      This has been going on for several years now. But I can now say that I have raised the subject of human and environmental health with just about every relevant body at Scotland and UK level, and none of them is able to engage or even acknowledge any evidence at all – let alone answer concerns, because none of them will even admit to looking into them. When a local mast was to be upgraded I objected to the planning application, citing well-founded and well-sourced evidence. The Highland Council responded that they were not allowed to take such matters into account in deciding the case. I responded that they had an overriding duty, like any public authority, to public safety, including a responsibility to the environment on which we all depend as our life support system. They denied this, so I then took a formal complaint to the SPSO. Who checked with the Planning Inspectorate. Who said that health and safety as regards to this technology was not a planning matter. I have taken this up now with Nature Scot, NHS Scotland, the Scottish and UK governments directly, the UKHSA, OfCom, the Environment Agency, SEPA, and various other local planning authorities around the UK. In every case I have simply presented evidence and asked for comment. The industry ‘fact checking website contains the false statement that the technology is safe. I have reported them to the ASA. I do not get any response at all except a boiler plate standard one which denies the existence even of evidence presented to them for comment. Because nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of this technology, however destructive it clearly is to people and planet alike.
      Well, this is now with the Royal Courts of Justice. But the UK government have been completely unable to answer the charge that they have recklessly failed to act in the interests of people and planet. Well, it’s par for the course. In the case of 5G there are real reasons for serious concern. And refusing to engage with science while saying that ‘fact checking websites’ say otherwise is no answer. Fact checking websites may be the biggest purveyors of misinformation of all. It is all psychological warfare. In fact UK Government ministers having set up the Behavioural Psychology Unit’, managed to privatise it and sell its services all around the world for profit.

      Woody Guthrie ‘s song about Pretty Boy Floyd says of him ‘every crime in Oklahoma was added to his name’. And so it has always been. Christians and Jews were accused of murdering, even eating children. Witches were supposed to have mysterious evil powers that made them a threat. Black people were supposedly violent and dangerous, ‘Illegal immigrants’ would take your job and destroy ‘British values’. The SNP were portrayed as extreme right wing nationalists. And so on. The most dangerous of all, are ‘conspiracy theorists’. But the very use of the term as one of abuse demonstrates how worthless the concept is.

      1. Onlooker says:

        > ” how worthless the concept is.”

        Not at all, sir. It shows how effective and useful it has been and is to its inventors (the CIA) and practitioners….

  18. Lauren says:

    Build an electric train instead. That delivers food. Start transporting goods in late vessels and have people buy their own stainless steel permanent containers… Save in other ways.

  19. Sandy Watson says:

    Living in the rural countryside where the biggest immediate threats to health are probably what farmers spray on the fields and what water providers put in the drinking water to counter the effects of what farmers put on fields, I wonder what effect 15/20 minute cities will have here. Will we get good quality y, reliable, adaptable, affordable public transport?
    Or will countryside-dwellers be excused boots and allowed to continue with cars?
    Maybe we’ll all be expected to flit from the countryside into those amazing 15/20 minute cities.

  20. John Monro says:

    The Independent headline “A local council’s plan to cut traffic became a global conspiracy theory”


    Confirms your thoughts quite well, Mike.

      1. John Wood says:

        See my previous comments on ‘conspiracy theories’ . Does anyone take the Independent seriously given its ownership?

      2. John Wood says:

        “baseless claims of climate change lockdowns in a post-pandemic ‘Great Reset’ era, orchestrated by the World Economic Forum.” So these claims are ‘baseless’ because the Independent says so? It doesn’t take much investigative journalism to see that these claims are far from ‘baseless’. I’m surprised that otherwise intelligent people fall for this stuff.

      3. John Wood says:

        “baseless claims of climate change lockdowns in a post-pandemic ‘Great Reset’ era, orchestrated by the World Economic Forum.” So these claims are ‘baseless’ because the Independent says so? It doesn’t take much investigative journalism, in fact just a few checks on the World Economic Forum’s own websites, to see that these claims are far from ‘baseless’. The World Economic Forum is an exclusive club of the super-rich, with the stated aim to ‘make the world a better place’ – for themselves, at our expense. No doubt the Independent’s owners, Russian oligarch and former KGB Officer Alexander Lebedev, the Saudi prince and banker Sultan Muhammad Abuljadayel and others are themselves members of it.

        Really I’m surprised that otherwise intelligent people fall for this stuff.

  21. Jacob72 says:

    A hugely popular article on which to comment.

    Conspiracy theory has been with us forever, but seems to have accelerated and grown more powerful as a result of alienation between the government and the governed. The last 50y has seen capital accrue more power than labour and so government and the economy appears to many as things which are done to them and in which they have no stake or power to change.

    On the face of it the 15-min city seems an attractive concept – localism (Dave Cameron’s Big Society) but even as it is presented here and in the articles referenced it comes with the tone that the people are wrong and their ways need to change.

    The people who are alienated will kick back against that.

    Ultimately it will only change if the jobs and the housing are within 15min. That requires a massive rebalanced of Labour and Capital.

    My nearest co-op is 15min walk away, the schools 20min, but my doctor is 25min, dentist, optician, butcher, baker, hardware shop are 40min away.

    1. Axel P Kulit says:

      You mention essentials but what about the things that make life worthwhile: Libraries. Schools, Sports facilities – not just football, gyms etc?

      Will government order people to set up business in these areas regardless of profitability? How would that be enforced?

    2. John Wood says:

      Agreed. While the idea of local convenience makes sense, reducing the need to travel, the current proposals are all about exercising ‘power over’ people. Oppression and violence can only ever be counterproductive. The future has to be built on mutual aid, working together with each other and the planet we are part of to build consensus. One person has told me that removal of people’s freedom to travel is ‘non-negotiable’. Well, if that is so, then it just ain’t gonna happen at all.

    3. John Wood says:

      Just to add to my previous comments that here in Wester Ross the whole idea of the ‘smart’ 15 minute city is completely irrelevant and alien to our lives. The nearest supermarket to me is an hour’s drive, which can be impassable in winter. The nearest NHS dentist is an hour and a half in another direction. Our schools are all being mothballed and closed because of a lack of affordable housing for young families. It also means that since young people have to leave th area there is a serious difficulty filling job vacancies. I am lucky in that I do have access to a bus service, once a day, which goes a different way each day. But it only serves a few places. The nearest railway station (Achnasheen) is a 45 minute drive and has four trains a day with no connecting services. But who cares? After all ‘most people’ live in citis, and this is just a numbers game. Most people live in England after all so why invest in Scotland at all?

      We need to get rid of the concept of the ‘city’ altogether. People and planet cannot be separated out. And the city is in reality completely dependent on rural areas for its food, water, everything. Even the disposal of its vast mountains of waste.

      Personal transport is not the issue. The need for it is declining fast now we have the internet. And cheap, possibly locally, 3d printed vehicles, powered by hemp batteries and decentralised renewable electricity could provide all the personal mobility anyone might need. Energy needs could be vastly reduced if we got rid of the oppressive, totalitarian Internet of Things. Human scale development would require far less climate destroying concrete. Building a network of more circular local economies and getting rid of the exploitative global supply chains would do far more for the climate than locking people into smart cities and depopulating the rural areas to make them “wild” exclusive trophy hunting preserves.

      Well, that’s enough from me now. You can call me a conspiracy theorist, a member of the ‘paranoid right’ with nightmares, or any other silly nonsense, but sitting here, calmly looking out on the spring emerging in my garden, my flowers fruit and vegetables, the flocks of birds, even my bees are starting to emerge… but I won’t be moving to a ‘smart’ 15 minute city anytime soon! I see nothing to attract me at all.

  22. Mark Palmer says:

    I’d not heard of 15 minute cities, but sounds great to me. ♥
    Not really a new idea. One of my (few) heroes is Sir Ebenezer Howard, the Esperanto-speaking utopian fruitcake who founded the Letchworth and Welwyn Garden Cities. This is VERY much in line with the Garden City ethos: self-contained towns with industry, leisure space and agriculture all close at hand. He didn’t coin the term “food miles” but he certainly recognised the concept – taking the consumer to the farmer rather than transporting the produce. A man ahead of his time. ♥

    1. John Wood says:

      See my comment elsewhere on this thread about this. There was no coercion or oppression about the garden cities or the postwar New Towns.

  23. Gazzy G says:

    Conspiracy theories, like Covid originated in a lab? Oh right that turned out to be true.

    So the city of Oxford is going to restrict how often one can drive into the city. But it’s a conspiracy theory to say that the govt is going to restrict your right to move in and out of the city. Makes sense.

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