Posts falsely claim of restrictions under 15-minute city plan

Urban design proposals in Canada's capital have sparked online claims about movement restrictions and enforced checkpoints for residents. These claims are false; city living experts and an Ottawa developmental planner say the 15-minute city concept is meant to promote availability of essential services within a short commute of people's homes, not to limit mobility.

"The '15-minute Cities' as seen below in Ottawa…are the new 'Covid Lockdowns'. You will literally own nothing. There will be 'climate checkpoints,'" said a January 24, 2023 tweet sharing a screenshot of another post decrying an advertisement on a construction site said to be in Ottawa.

Screenshot of a tweet taken March 8, 2023

The same photo was shared on Twitter, Facebook and TikTok. One February 15 post shared the screenshot and a link to a YouTube video with more than 29,000 views falsely claiming 15-minute cities will allow governments to track movement and take away property rights.

The posts come after Ottawa adopted a city planning framework in November 2022 which aims to support convenient and quick access to services and amenities. It follows moves by other cities in Canada and across the world to adopt the 15-minute city planning philosophy, which prioritizes walking, bike riding and public transit over cars.

French-Colombian professor Carlos Moreno of the Sorbonne University in Paris defined the concept of a 15-minute city in 2016. The paradigm is meant to guide city-planning rather than legally restrict residents to certain areas, Moreno said in a March 2, 2023 email to AFP.

"No one has ever talked about limiting anyone's movements." Moreno said. "People are free to go where they want when they want."

But since the start of 2023, conspiracy theorists have claimed these urban redesigns will confine people to zones or track their movement.

David Wise, the director of economic development and long-range planning for the City of Ottawa, told AFP the claims of imposing climate checkpoints and restricting ownership are false.

"The idea of 15-minute cities is not new and has nothing to do with banning or restricting movement. It is about the idea of giving people the option to walk to meet their daily or weekly needs by allowing destinations to be closer together," he said in a March 7 email.

David Gordon, professor of urban and regional planning at Queen's University, Ontario, agreed.

"15-minute neighborhood plans certainly don't contain provisions for tracking individuals for any purpose," he said in a March 5 email. "However, a neighborhood where all your daily needs are available by foot or by bicycle would certainly provide options that could reduce its overall carbon footprint."

Origins of the photo

The image in the screenshot was tweeted in response to a video posted on January 13 showing the destruction of bollards dividing low-traffic neighborhoods in the UK city of Oxford.

The video from Oxford shows vandals destroying bollards that had been placed as part of a pilot project to reduce car traffic in parts of the city. AFP debunked the claims of climate checkpoints in the Oxford plan in December 2022.

The ad pictured in the post was not put up by the City of Ottawa, but rather a private construction company, Brigil. The company's logo can be seen in the photo shared on social media.

Sylvie Carbonneau, a spokeswoman from Brigil, confirmed to AFP in a March 7 email that the ad was posted by the company on a site it acquired in 2021 at 265 Catherine Street in Ottawa. The buildings seen in street-view on Google Maps at this address match the buildings in the photo from the post.

Ottawa's Wise said many areas in the city already fit the description of a 15-minute city and companies use this as a marketing tool to show residential properties will be in proximity to retail and other amenities.

"That is a market choice and not a policy requirement," Wise said.

He said the city is seeking to "strengthen these areas; and, where components of 15-minute neighborhoods are not all present within an area, the plan intends to guide development in these areas so that they can materialize over time."

AFP fact-checked similar false claims about 15-minute city plans in Mississauga and Edmonton.