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Conservative Conspiracy Theorists Need to Chill Out Over 15-Minute Cities

Not being forced to spend hours in traffic is somehow fascism?

Trucks and cars drive in a convoy, displaying American and "don't tread on me" flags

The latest right-wing conspiracy is about how walkable cities are secretly a kind of quarantine, one where people have their movements limited to only within a certain radius. Because not being forced to spend hours in traffic in a suburban tank somehow equals fascism.

The conspiracy theory has been growing for some time, culminating recently in a massive protest in Oxford, England.

But why are people convinced that 15-minute cities are an attack on their freedom?

Where did these conspiracy theories start?

Some claim the conspiracy theory resulted from the pandemic, where people were forced to stay home for long stretches of time. However, it wasn’t just from the pandemic.

According to the above video from BBC News, the terminology came from a fossil fuel think tank called the Heartland Institute, and it was picked up by right-wing influencers as a kind of rallying cry against what they insist on calling “eco-tyranny.”

The BBC says it may be an issue of outreach. Many people are concerned about how eco-friendly policies are affecting their daily lives. But not only are changes in behavior the point, but these changes may also be positive for individuals and communities alike.

Not being able to drive your car to the corner store and back isn’t a punishment, it’s a sacrifice that we’ll have to make if we want to fight climate change and actually make the world better for future generations.

Pro-Car Propaganda

This conspiracy theory isn’t a new propaganda trend by any means. Right-wing propaganda machine PragerU published a video about the supposed ‘War on Cars’ all the way back in 2017. The video fashions car ownership into a form of freedom and a symbol of the American Dream, and all other forms of transit are ‘fascist’ because they happen on someone else’s timetable.

Thankfully, many have pointed out the ridiculousness of this misinformation by noting that traffic is among the most universally hated things about cars, rivaled only by gas prices, other drivers, or honestly a million other things that even die-hard car owners love to complain about.

The Real Anti-Car Movement

That’s not to say there isn’t a movement critiquing cars and private car ownership. But it’s one that’s been around long before the pandemic.

The Facebook page “New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens” is dedicated to critiques of car-dependent infrastructure and memes about the ridiculousness of prioritizing cars over people and living spaces.

Adam Ruins Everything also had multiple features on car culture, from how jaywalking was made a crime to shift blame to people instead of cars, to how cities are more eco-friendly than suburbs, and how EV cars aren’t going to save the world.

In fact, a lot of the YouTube channels dedicated to the ‘war on cars’ are actually parody accounts showing how many people in the world function fine without cars.

While there are some people who talk about banning cars altogether, many of these groups and critiques are focused more on urban planning with a focus on shared space, providing more room for mixed modes of transportation, and properly funding public transit so people feel less reliant on cars.

Some of these attitudes may relate to mixed feelings about modern car ownership reported amongst millennials and gen-z. It also may be a reality of a changing financial landscape. In a world where many people are living paycheck to paycheck, prioritizing car ownership over genuine necessities or long-term goals is unrealistic. The average American car owners spend almost $800 a month on paying for and maintaining their cars. If you don’t have $800 to spare, then a car simply doesn’t factor into your life. Add in the fact that many Americans got into cycling during the pandemic and the discussion of walkable cities was inevitable.

That’s part of what makes 15-minute cities ideal for all types of people. When people don’t have to spend hours upon hours commuting or running errands, they have more time and money to do the things they actually enjoy.

15-minute cities are not an attack on anyone’s lifestyle or freedoms, and they’re definitely not a government conspiracy. They’re just a different kind of convenience. So please, die-hard car owners, chill out. Try going for a bike ride instead of a drive. You won’t know if you don’t like it until you try it.

(featured image: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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Kimberly Terasaki is a Creative Writing graduate, fanfiction author, and intersectional feminist. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan. She appreciates all constructive criticism and genuine discussion.