Urbanist Carlos Moreno responds to the “shocking” conspiracy theories surrounding his 15-minute city concept in this exclusive interview.
In the past month Moreno‘s 15-minute-city concept, which proposes creating communities where people can access key amenities by travelling no more than 15 minutes on foot or by bike, has become the basis of viral conspiracy theories.
Reaction is “shocking”
The public interest and panic about the concept has taken Moreno by surprise.
“Yes, I was surprised,” he told Dezeen. “It’s shocking – for me, it is the first time in my life when I was totally targeted by the conspiracy world – communists, Stalinists, neo-facists.”
Originally unveiled in 2015, the concept aims to encourage the development of polycentric cities where workspaces, shops, restaurants and entertainment are all placed locally, reducing the need to drive.
It attracted more attention after Moreno won the Obel Award in 2021, with the jury saying the concept “addresses the need for us to rethink how our cities can be reimagined, redesigned, and regenerated for the primary benefit of people and the environment”.
However, some people have claimed that 15-minute cities are part of a plan to restrict people’s movement. This was echoed by UK member of parliament Nick Fletcher, who said that the measures “will take away personal freedoms”.
An estimated 2,000 anti-15-minute city demonstrators took to the streets of Oxford in February in a protest over the council’s plans to introduce six new car-traffic filters in the city.
“They say from their home we have a radius of 15 minutes, a circle and they will be blocked inside this area,” explained Moreno. “And this is the new Berlin Wall, or concentration camps – because they published the pictures with the concentration camps – or it will be an open jail.”
“They say Moreno proposed an open jail, a neofascist with the concentration camp or communist that he wanted to reduce our freedom,” he continued.
“But in reality, when this is embraced, we develop a polycentric city with a lot of new bike lanes, new pedestrian areas and to propose a lot of different services in our city.”
Number 15 not an important part of concept
Asked if people would ever be restricted from leaving an area within a 15-minute city, Moreno replied “no”.
He believes that the conspiracy theory has grown around the 15-minute city as the concept has an attention-grabbing name. However, he explained that 15 minutes was not important to the concept.
“In this conspiracy theory the only point that is relevant is the number 15,” he said.
“In our concept, the most important point is not to 15 or 30,” he continued. “We could have 10, or 18, or 25, or 39. The question is not the time. The real question is a new model for urbanism.”
He believes that his concept has been misinterpreted by those that are opposed to reducing reliance on cars along with those opposed to Covid-19 lockdowns.
“The conspiracy movement needs storytelling,” said Moreno. “The 15-minute city is an opportunity for building a story.”
“In the conspiracy they have this idea that Covid-19 and the vaccine were measures for controlling people and that climate change doesn’t exist,” he continued.
“This is the dynamic, and I think that in the insane mind of the madness of these conspiracy people to reduce the role of cars was a crime.”
“My fight is how could we improve the quality of life”
The 15-minute city concept involves making walking and cycling more attractive compared to driving, so in practice involves local authorities introducing policies to disincentivise car use – such as fines for driving down some residential streets.
While one of the core aims of the 15-minute-city concept is to reduce car usage, Moreno insists that he is not waging a war on car owners.
“My fight is not against the car,” he said.
“My fight is how could we improve the quality of life – and to improve the quality of life we need a city without zonification with a lot of local services, with more natural ecology for reducing our CO2 emissions, to have more economical activities, and to develop more social inclusion, culture, education and public space.”
“In real life 15-minute cities are being implemented”
With 15-minute cities being covered by outlets like British channel GB News, which described 15-minute cities as “deeply illiberal” and “un-British”, the concept has become politically controversial.
Although the concept is now a hot topic, Moreno doesn’t believe that this will impact the implementation of his ideals and explained that 15-minute cities are being developed all over the world.
Paris is the most notable adopter of the principle, but versions of 15-minute cities are also being implemented in London, Melbourne, Shanghai, Houston, Edmonton and Chengdu among others.
“Even if this is a noisy movement in the social network, the social network is not the real life,” he said. “This is very, very, very important. We have a lot of people with Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, but in real life 15-minute cities are being implemented.”
Read the full interview with Moreno below:
Tom Ravenscroft: Has the recent reaction to 15-minute cities surprised you?
Carlos Moreno: I published 15-minute cities for the first time in 2015, but in the past two weeks there has been a worldwide explosion within the conspiracy world. For me, it is the first time in my life when I was totally targeted by the conspiracy world – communists, stalinists, neo-facists. Yes, I was surprised. It’s shocking.
Tom Ravenscroft: Why do you think it has become the basis of this conspiracy theory?
Carlos Moreno: This concept is a simple concept. It’s the convergence of one century’s work by a lot of people in reaction to the ideas of zonification in the Athens Charter. My contribution with my team at Sorbonne University was to propose a modern, different, local traffic plan for fighting against the car dependency. For a long time pedestrians have been in a kind of confrontation with the car.
Our scientific contribution was to propose a new model based on a new urban lifestyle regardless of the size or density of cities. The most known concept is the 15-minute city, where we wanted to develop more local services in a polycentric city.
But we have the twin concept, the 30-minute territory. This is the same concept to develop local services in a polycentric territory, but for cities or territories or regions with a medium density. The media were very interested in the 15-minutes-city concept, because it sounds good. I think it has the Andy Warhol touch.
In our concept, the most important point is not to 15 or 30. We could have a 10 or 18 or 25 or 39. The question is not the time. The real question is a new model for urbanism.
The 15-minute city with the 30-minute territory propose no more zonification but a polycentric city. In a polycentric city with essential services to live, to work and live.
My fight is how could we improve the quality of life – and to improve the quality of life we need a city without zonification with a lot of local services, with more natural ecology for reducing our CO2 emissions, to have more economical activities, and to develop more social inclusion, culture, education and public space.
Tom Ravenscroft: Why do you think the model is being misunderstood?
Carlos Moreno: I want as well to understand. I think that the spark of this insane a movement in Europe was the question about the the role of the cars in cities. In Oxford, the municipality half proposed deploying new measures for reducing the role of the individual car in the city. We had this movement that started saying that limiting cars meaning reducing our individual rights.
In the conspiracy, they have this idea that Covid-19 and the vaccine were measures for controling people and that climate change doesn’t exist. This is the dynamic, and I think that in the insane mind of the madness of these conspiracy people to reduce the role of cars was a crime.
The conspiracy movement needs storytelling. The 15-minute city is an opportunity for building a story. A lot of people around the world are saying that they want to reduce the role of cars with the control of emissions. A lot of people do not like reducing the place of the car, but this is not a story for developing a panic, for developing the apocalyptic idea, this is not enough for hiding a catastrophic and drama fear for people.
I think the 15-minute city was the possibility for building a new storytelling in the continuity of the climate dynamic and the lockdown of Covid-19. They said 15 minutes is the new lockdown. In this conspiracy the only point that is relevant is the number 15.
But in our model this is not important – 10, 12,15 or 32 is not the question. For us we have cafes, restaurants, local shops, sports equipments, you have the possibility for going to the theatre, working, going to the park. But for the conspiracy it is good storytelling – 15-minute city will reduce our movements.
Tom Ravenscroft: In the UK an MP said 15-minute cities will reduce people freedom’s to travel, can you respond to this?
Carlos Moreno: For these people, the most important point is 15 minutes. From their home we have a radius of 15 minutes, a circle and I will be blocked inside this area. And this is the new Berlin Wall, or concentration camps – because they published the pictures with the concentration camps – or it will be an open jail.
They say Moreno proposed an open jail, a neofascist with the concentration camp or communist, that he wanted to reduce our freedom.
But in reality, when this is embraced, we develop a polycentric city with a lot of new bike lanes, new pedestrian areas and to propose a lot of different services in our city.
I think that for the conspiracy movement, the question is not to have a real act of acceptance of our proposal. They aren’t interested in understanding how this concept could improve quality of life. The only point for them is to have a bad buzz, the new concentration camps
Tom Ravenscroft: To be clear nothing in the 15-minute-city concept would ever restrict someone from leaving an area?
Carlos Moreno: No, nothing.
Tom Ravenscroft: Are you worried that the conspiracies will impact the implementation of 15-minute cities?
Carlos Moreno: Even if this is a noisy movement in the social network, the social network is not the real life. This is very, very, very important. We have a lot of people with Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, but in their real life 15-minute cities are being implemented.
For example, with the C40 Cities, which works with the governments on policy in almost 100 cities with almost 1 billion people in. We have launched with the C40 cities for three years. At the global city summit in Buenos Aires, the core of the summit was the rise of the 15-minute city. We have launched with the C40 Cities a new programme for helping cities, for implementing the 15-minute city.
The post "My fight is not against the car" says 15-minute city creator appeared first on Dezeen.