how walkability became conspiracy theorists’ boogeyman once again
If you were to be plopped down in the center of a major European city, you’d find it quite easy and convenient to get around without a car. Malls, coffee shops, specialty stores, markets, and restaurants are typically within casual walking distance, while trams and subways ferry you to more bubbles full of amenities and attractions. Obviously, every city is different, and you may have to walk a little further in Munich and Vienna to get to a dense square packed with things to do than in Innsbruck or Lucerne, but in general, the walkability factor is quite high.
People tend to like walkable cities. Housing in areas where you can stroll to local amenities goes for premium prices, and they’re quite popular in public opinion polls. Why? Convenience plays a major role, but they also tend to be greener, quieter, have less pollution since there are fewer cars on the roads at any given time, encourage more sociability, and the daily walks help many residents keep off unwanted pounds. In short, they’re just plain healthier and better for us, as a fair bit of research demonstrates.
Given this popularity and demand, some urban planners have come up with the concept of a so-called 15-minute city. The idea is that all the amenities anyone would reasonably need are within a casual walk residents could complete without breaking a sweat should be the goal when designing or revitalizing a neighborhood. We’d have to give up some yard space and have a higher concentration of townhomes and condos, but we’d gain public green spaces, healthier lifestyles, and greater convenience. It’s not a perfect idea, but certainly a positive aspiration.
from urban planning to new world order in minutes flat
Of course, that’s not the way it’s playing out on social media where 15-minute city plans quickly became open air prisons after Canadian and American right wing trolls claimed that once those cities go up, their residents will not be allowed to leave their 15-minute zones without a permit, or maybe ever. Where did they get this idea? They heard mayors and urban planners pitch such plans, added the most warped, sinister hidden meanings they possibly could, then insisted that all of their paranoid and deranged fantasies were fact, and that only an amoral paid shill for the Illuminati or a stupid sheeple could disagree.
And this is far from the first time they’ve done this, convinced that literally any idea to improve cities and add housing is an evil plan meant to enslave them and take their stuff, as if what they have is so valuable that the world’s ultra-wealthy would go out of their way to get their hands on a typical suburban plot against which their banks already have liens. Any new idea is quickly stripped of nuance and mutated into a fearsome parody of itself, no matter how popular, well intentioned, or potentially helpful and beneficial.
In many ways, this is par for the course when you’re dealing with people who have extreme right leaning beliefs. New stimuli are immediately treated as threats rather than objectively evaluated, and fear, rather than logic or skepticism, drives their worldviews. This is not to say that there aren’t serious questions about how to make the 15-minute city design work or that it’s indeed a cure for all urban ills. But there’s a difference between asking those questions to scrutinize the proposals, and simply howling with rage while concocting nightmarish fantasies.
how the inmates took over the asylum
Sadly, this is where so many debates about potentially improving society now end up. People who want to help propose ideas, social media trolls explode with paranoid outrage that turns these ideas into tools of subjugation and dark conspiracies against them, the media eagerly covers the digital rage storms, politicians with ties to the trolls take their paranoia to a debate in the relevant legislative body to legitimize it, then nothing actually gets done and problems simply continue to fester. Which is, quite frankly, utterly insane, literally.
It can’t be avoided that nearly 7 in 10 of QAnon followers who participated in the January 6th insurrection reported numerous mental health diagnoses including PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, paranoia, and schizophrenia. We also can’t refuse to mention that millions of very politically active boomers who follow the aforementioned paranoid conspiracy accounts are feuding with their families for years on end at this point and don’t seem to be able to stop no matter how many calls for a truce they get from their increasingly horrified children.
There’s something profoundly wrong here, with decades of unchecked boredom and neglect from our leaders quite literally scrambling the minds of millions, and our society refusing to make any changes whatsoever to help deal with this pent up, unfocused rage that now often ends up being aimed at younger generations, immigrants, minorities, foreign nations, and at times, inward. Instead of actually fixing problems, we’re stuck doing nothing because social media trolls shrieked in rage at yet another paranoid fantasy we’re not allowed to ignore.
when our leaders just want to be social media stars
Again, there are definitely plenty of things we should discuss before implementing 15-minute city plans around North America. Zoning laws, infrastructure investments, highway and route changes, and different preferences of the locals would all need to be considered and debated. In some places, they might never work. In some places, they may be a phenomenal success as people have been clamoring for them for years. But these plans and how they’ve been talked about on social media are great example of how we approach just about every new idea today.
Rather than evolve, we keep being dragged into the paranoid fears of our loudest and most extreme voices exploited by populist politicians who want to be professional trolls rather than lawmakers or leaders because it’s easier to be snarky on Twitter then pass real reforms and see them to the end. And for decades now, we’ve allowed them to keep getting away with it, and grow more and more bold and more and more comfortable in selling their fans and voters a warped, paranoid fiction of perpetual grievance, victimhood, and learned helplessness.
In the end, we’re locked into the perfect conditions for an endless cycle of rage, turmoil, and social conflict. We know there are serious problems to solve and major changes to make so we can adapt to the future. Our politicians harp on this fact every day. But we’re also not allowed to solve those serious problems or make major changes because those efforts must be part of some sinister plot or dismissed out of hand as too radical and too costly despite long festering problems requiring ever more ambitious and overarching solutions to meaningfully tackle.
Meanwhile, as things feel like they’re spiraling out of control, nothing is allowed to change in a positive direction, and there’s no accountability for our leaders and those who buy their votes and influence, all we have left to do is lash out at each other and listen to the voices in our heads. Until we can finally break that cycle and have purpose, accountability, and change, we will stay beholden to the loudest, most paranoid, and the biggest trolls among us.