It’s a peculiarity of our viral media ecosystem. One day, you’re trying to manage traffic jams in a mid-sized English city; the next you are the foot soldiers of an international conspiracy to lock people in their homes on the orders of the World Economic Forum.
At least, that’s what happened to local politicians in Oxford, England, after Oxfordshire County Councilor Duncan Enright explained to the Sunday Times in October how the university town of 160,000 would try to develop a “15-minute city” of “low-traffic neighborhoods”—assuring that most residents can access goods and services within a short walk or bike ride of home.
Pundits railed against these “tyrannical bureaucrats,” (Jordan Peterson) with their “insidious” and “evil” (Andrew Vobes) “climate change lockdowns,” (Nigel Farage) and “surveillance culture to make Pyongyang envious” (right-leaning news channel GBTV). Last week, a Tory MP asked for an inquiry into the “international socialist concept” on the floor of Parliament, noting that “15-minute cities will cost us our personal freedom.” The power of the English-language meme-o-sphere carried the 15-minute city conspiracy to Canada, Australia, and the United States, and it has flourished on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, prompting two separate debunkings from USA Today and one from Reuters.