CONSPIRACY THEORYAre 15-minute Cities a Plan to Create Lockdowns?

By Rachel Baig and Nadine Michollek

Published 13 April 2023

It’s an urban planning concept aimed at reducing emissions and travel distances by reducing everyday journeys to a quarter of an hour on foot, by bike or by public transport, with the goal of helping citizens to better meet basic needs. But some fear it will limit movement, lead to lockdowns, or increase surveillance. What do the details tell us?

For many, it may sound like a good idea: reducing everyday journeys to a quarter of an hour on foot, by bike or by public transport, with the goal of helping citizens to better meet basic needs. 

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

We need to make cities for walking, for having more medical services, educational activities, for the needs of our daily tasks, to make cities livable,” says Carlos Moreno, a professor at Paris’s Sorbonne University who has been credited with developing the concept.  

Locked Up in Neighborhoods? 
So far, several cities worldwide have discussed or in some cases implemented this concept or very similar ones, including Paris, Barcelona and Shanghai.

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

Let’s check some of the claims. 

Claim: “The population lives locked up in neighborhoods and the goal is that they do not commute in order to reduce emissions,” according to a claim by Spanish far-right TV channel  ‘El’ Toro TV(claim can be seen around minute 50 in the video).

DW fact check: False. 

The 15-minute concept is less about designing plans for each 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 about the Dutch cycling culture and its challenges called ‘Building the Cycling City’. 

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

Additionally, urbanist Carlos Moreno told DW that the 15-minute concept “is a humanistic concept for fighting against current segregations, to fight against certifications and gentrification.” 

We want to promote a polycentric city, a multi-center city and a more climate resilient city with public spaces for humans and not for cars.” 

Claim: “Residents are gonna need a permit to leave their district from 2024,” is a claim made in this  viral Tik Tok video about Oxfordshire, in the United Kingdom. Katie Hoopkins, a columnist and far-right political commentator, is even calling the driving restrictions climate lockdowns.

DW fact check: False.