Fact Check: Are 15-Minute Cities Planning to Create Lockdowns? | travel

It is an urban planning concept aimed at reducing emissions and travel distances. But some fear it will limit movement, lead to lockdowns or increase surveillance. DW looks at the details. For many, this may sound like a good idea: reducing daily commutes by foot, bike or public transport to a quarter of an hour, with the goal of helping citizens better meet their basic needs.

Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, prioritizes bike use, with bridges dedicated to cyclists (Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance)
Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, prioritizes bike use, with bridges dedicated to cyclists (Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance)

This is what the 15-minute city concept sets out to achieve.

“We need to make cities more walkable, more medical services, educational activities, for the needs of our daily activities, to make cities livable,” says Carlos Moreno, a professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris, who is credited with developing the concept. .

Closed in the neighborhood?

Many cities around the world, including Paris, Barcelona and Shanghai, have implemented this concept or similar ones.

But the 15-minute city concept is becoming the focus of misinformation and misinformation on a global scale.

Let’s examine some of the claims.

Claim: “The population lives captive in the neighborhood and the goal is that they do not travel to reduce emissions,” according to the claims of the Spanish right-wing TV channel ‘El’ Toro TV’ (the claim can be seen in about 50 minutes). video).

DW fact check: wrong

The 15 Minutes concept is less about designing plans for every single neighborhood and more about making basic needs accessible within 15 minutes, author and urban mobility advocate Chris Bruntlett told DW.

He wrote a book called ‘Building the Cycling City’ about Dutch cycling culture and its challenges.

Utrecht as a city 15 minutes

The Dutch city of Utrecht has already implemented the 15-minute concept. Research based on data from 2019 to 2021 showed that almost 100% of Utrecht’s population can reach nine basic needs – such as food, healthcare, education and sports – within 15 minutes by bike.

In addition, urbanist Carlos Moreno told DW that the concept of 15 minutes is “a humanist concept to fight against the current segregations, against validation and against gentrification.”

“We want to promote a polycentric city, a multi-centric city and an environmentally resilient city with public spaces for people, not cars.”

Claim: “Residents need permission to leave their district from 2024,” claims this viral TikTok video about Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. Katie Hopkins, a columnist and far-right political commentator, is also calling driving bans climate lockdowns.

DW fact check: False.

First of all, users mixed two concepts: a new traffic filter scheme for the city of Oxford, with a trial phase starting in 2024, and Oxford’s 15-minute city planning comprehensive strategy that is part of the Oxford Local Plan 2040.

Regarding the traffic filter scheme, it was passed by Oxfordshire County Council in November 2022 to install traffic filters on six roads in the city of Oxford.

The plan is to reduce traffic during peak hours by restricting the use of private cars in these areas. Walking, cycling, using buses, taxis and other means of transport are exempt.

Residents can apply for a permit to drive through the filters for up to 100 days per year. However, officials clarified that people will still be able to reach every part of the city by car, but they may have to use alternative routes.

The scheme will be monitored by cameras but there will be no physical check points. This is not related to the 15-minute city plan for the city of Oxford.

Due to mis- and inaccurate information in the 15-minute city plans for Oxford, officials received several messages from concerned residents. Therefore, local authorities published a statement answering the most frequent rumors and questions on the matter.

Claim it: “15-minute cities in China – each neighborhood area is separated by a fence, the entrance is guarded. If you want to go in or out of your area, you need a permit, and a face scan,” is the claim. Created by a TikTok user (here is an archived version of the deleted original post).

DW fact check: Partly unproven, partly false.

The video suggests – as do other social media posts – that the 15-minute city concept is already firmly implemented in Chinese cities.

The video purports to show that neighborhoods are separated by fences and citizens can leave them only through facial recognition because of the 15-minute concept.

But is this really the case?

In short, we concluded that the claims conflated three things: Covid restrictions, Chinese government surveillance, and the 15-minute concept.

Shitao Li of DW’s China department says facial recognition systems, gated communities and mass surveillance are common in China. But these don’t necessarily have anything to do with the 15-minute concept. “There are many things you can criticize about the Chinese state, but the 15-minute city still doesn’t seem to be one of them.”

But let’s take a deeper look at the Tik Tok video.

The video is a compilation of different scenes. The first scene shows a barbed wire fence dividing the road. Some signs lead to the assumption that these are the Covid safety measures in the city of Shenzhen.

The building has ‘Sha He Apartment’ written on it. We couldn’t identify the specific building, but Shenzhen has a district called ‘Sha He’ and also has a ‘Sha He Apartment’ building, so indications indicate that the video was probably shot in Shenzhen.

The woman in the video speaks with a southern Chinese accent, which could also indicate that the video refers to Shenzhen, as the city is in southern China.

Furthermore, other social media users reposted the video saying that it was the city’s COVID safety measures. At the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, several reports from China documented the very strict security measures imposed by the government as part of the zero-covid strategy.

15-minute community life circle

In terms of the 15-minute city model, Shenzhen authorities plan to implement ideas from this urban planning concept. The Shenzhen local government announced the establishment of a so-called “15-minute domestic service circle”. But we could find no indication that fences or gates were part of the implementation.

In general, closing off neighborhoods contradicts the 15-minute concept, as people have to cordon them off.

Liu Daizong, director of the World Resources Institute’s China Sustainable Cities Program, says gated land disrupts the urban landscape and complicates planning initiatives.

Meanwhile, Eva Heinen, a professor at Germany’s Dortmund University, and Carlos Moreno, the model’s designer, both told DW that they are not aware of any 15-minute city concepts that plan to block neighborhoods or use facial recognition. systems.

Also, cities such as Utrecht, Paris, or Barcelona that are about to implement the concept or have already implemented it do not use these restrictions.

Watch the second series of videos.

We see a person walking through a gate using facial recognition to enter an open outdoor area. Then, the person approaches another gate to leave the compound again using facial recognition. The claim is that the sequence shows a measure related to the 15-minute concept.

But in fact, it shows the entrance to the Yuzhong Campus of the Northwest University for Nationalities in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province in northwest China. The campus can be found via geolocation. In the video, we recognize the sign of a karaoke bar. That karaoke bar is located next to the university. Also, in the original upload, the student enthusiastically describes how the security system on their college campus works through facial recognition.

So this scene does not show the implementation of the 15 minute concept in a Chinese city.

Javier Pérez de la Cruz, Ines Isele, Shitao Li, Thomas Sparrow, Catherine Wesolowski and Silja Thomas contributed to this report.

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