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‘15-minute city’ conspiracy theory reaches Sudbury

The city’s elected officials are pushing back against conspiracy theorists with claims about the 15-minute city and smart cities planning concepts

Fuelled by misinformation, local conspiracy theorists have expanded their scope beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and focused on another convoluted web of misinformation.

During a town hall meeting in Azilda earlier this month, a handful of people aggressively asked Mayor Paul Lefebvre about the “15-minute city” concept, jeered and talked over responses. 

They claimed Lefebvre signed up for it, but the mayor said he hadn’t heard of it.

“You know what it is,” a Chelmsford resident told him in a video captured by the city of the event (click here for the video, with the 15-minute city talk beginning at 58 minutes). 

Although the city’s video captured the angry tone of a segment of the audience in reaction to Lefebvre’s response, most of their words aren’t audible.

In other videos posted online by audience members, they can be heard claiming the city is striving to surveil residents, move toward digital IDs, and someone can be heard saying something about “concentration camps.”

Much of this relates to “the great reset” conspiracy theory, which claims that global elites are dismantling capitalism and enforcing radical social change.

These fears are part of an international conspiracy theory which distorts the 15-minute city planning concept into something barely resembling its source material.

The 15-minute city idea “is a legitimate planning concept,” city CAO Ed Archer told, urban planners use to talk about maximizing density and encouraging environmental stewardship.

The concept urges the creation of an urban environment in which residents can walk or cycle to get everything they need within 15 minutes.

During the meeting in Azilda, in which Archer participated, he said people “really twisted the idea into an unrecognizable plot to isolate and keep everybody in what they’re considering to be these cages, basically.”

People have extrapolated the 15-minute city to claim residents’ movements are going to be controlled to the extent that they are unable to leave their home communities and will become isolated from friends and family who live outside their 15-minute bubble.

Some people, including at least one person at the meeting in Azilda, conflate the 15-minute city concept as being “the same thing” as smart cities.

The smart cities approach aims “to improve the lives of their residents through innovation, data and connected technology.” Greater Sudbury mayoral candidate Mila Wong advocated for smart cities during last year’s civic election campaign.

Some conspiracy theorists have claimed the City of Greater Sudbury was bought and sold as a smart city for $10 million, and that they’ve signed onto a related program. As with many conspiracy theories, this claim carries a hint of truth that has been extrapolated and taken out of context to reach the stage of misinformation.

Five years ago, the City of Greater Sudbury competed for $10 million in federal funding as part of the Smart Cities Challenge. The city did not receive funding, but four recipients got a total of $75 million, including the Town of Bridgwater, Nunavut communities, City of Guelph and Wellington County, and the City of Montréal.

With misinformation about 15-minute and smart cities swirling around Greater Sudbury in recent weeks, Ward 7 Coun. Natalie Labbée requested that Lefebvre clarify matters during last week’s city council meeting. 

The City of Greater Sudbury is too large to consider a 15-minute city model, Lefebvre said during the meeting, adding, “we are not promoting or contemplating that scenario.” reached out to the mayor’s office for additional comment last week. His chief of staff, Dawn Noel de Tilly, responded by saying the mayor was busy and that it’s not something the city is looking at. 

“There really isn’t a story here,” she said by e-mailed correspondence.

Labbée told that several people had reached out to her with questions about the 15-minute city issue, and that they seemed genuinely worried and “deeply concerned.”

It’s easy to see how they get pulled in, she added.

“These people are so passionate about that issue and so convinced this is the way that it’s going that they convince you, or make you second-guess what you thought.”

Labbée said the 15-minute city concept “is all about proper urban planning and nothing more.”

“It is just a modern version of a neighbourhood where you can get around the neighbourhood quickly without driving but are not limited to that neighbourhood.”

Combatting misinformation is old hat for the City of Greater Sudbury, Archer said, encouraging people to phone their customer service line at 311 or to contact their city council representative to ask questions instead of stoke fear online.

Even in cases where the question posed might elicit eye rolls, he said they have been answered.

“Whether they choose to accept answers is another question.”

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for


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Tyler Clarke

About the Author: Tyler Clarke

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for
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