- Trump recently announced a plan to build up to 10 new US cities on federal land.
- His proposal for “Freedom Cities” has largely received a muted response.
- But some right-wing critics have attacked it as a “leftist plan” to create walkable “15-minute cities”.
Earlier this month, former President Donald Trump unveiled a dramatic, far-reaching proposal to build up to ten new US cities if he is re-elected.
Dubbed “Freedom Cities,” these federally chartered purported utopias will feature “vertical takeoff and landing vehicles,” manufacturing hubs, “baby bonuses” and plenty of single-family homes, providing a “quantum leap for America’s standard of living.” .”
“These Freedom Cities will reopen the border, rekindle the American imagination, and give hundreds of thousands of young people and other people, all hard-working families, another shot at homeownership,” Trump said in a video announcing his plan on Truth Social.
The grand, futuristic proposal was met mostly with crickets and some light derision from Trump supporters and others on the right.
Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote that Trump’s policies would yield “a Trump casino and some mixed-use buildings run by Jared Kushner rising from an unfinished freeway somewhere in the vacant parts of the American West, funded by hard-selling fundraisers appeals to vulnerable seniors.”
Conservative media barely covered the announcement. Fox News left its in-house comedian, Greg Gutfeld, to handle coverage of Freedom Cities. Gutfeld marveled at Trump’s quantum leaps as “optimism on meth,” while Fox contributor Tom Shillue urged Trump to bring back some of his biggest hits from years past, like building the border wall and buying Greenland from Denmark.
But another Gutfeld guest dove right into disinformation. Conservative radio host and Tea Party activist Sonnie Johnson argued that Trump’s proposal is “a left-wing plan” to create 15-minute cities — the urban planning concept where people live within a short walk or bike ride of most daily necessities.
She went on to push an increasingly popular conspiracy theory that cities around the world are trying to trap residents in dystopian, highly surveilled societies and deprive them of their cars and freedom of movement.
“The purpose of these cities is that everything is within 15 minutes walking distance, so you don’t have to have a car, they can keep you in a limited area, you’re not walking, you’re not If you’re wasting energy, it helps you to cut down on your carbon footprint,” Johnson said. “It’s a Green Deal initiative designed to cut energy and stop people from having the ability to move freely across space.”
She added: “They are already building them in Saudi Arabia and other countries.”
Paris, Saudi Arabia or the American suburbs?
The concept of 15-minute cities was popularized by the French professor Carlos Moreno and best describes a city like Paris, which has made many of its neighborhoods pedestrian-friendly while reducing car traffic.
Conspiracy theorists have linked the dense city model to the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development, mixing paranoia about pandemic shutdowns with opposition to climate action.
The disinformation about walkable cities brought thousands of people to the streets of Oxford, UK, in February to protest the British city’s modest efforts to reduce traffic congestion. Right-wing politicians have fanned the flames. A recent Conservative member of the British Parliament called 15-Minute Cities an “international socialist concept” that “would take away your personal liberties.”
The popular urban planning concept has been deeply misunderstood, say experts.
“There is nothing radically different from a so-called 15-minute city and what you would see in a small or medium-sized American city before World War II,” Andrew Justus, a housing policy analyst at the Niskanen Center, said in an email.
But Freedom Cities don’t sound like 15-minute cities at all. They were supposed to have affordable cars and single-family homes, recreating the classic American suburb on federal land.
Trump’s proposed cities have similar elements to new cities being built in the Persian Gulf, China and elsewhere. Saudi Arabia’s planned 100-mile carbon-free metropolis, called The Line, bills itself as a five-minute city — something like a massive indoor mall.
A Republican consultant close to Trump’s campaign said Trump came up with the idea himself and was likely inspired by Saudi Arabia’s construction of futuristic desert cities.
“Trump sees that the Saudis are investing a lot of money, you know, why don’t we do something similar in the United States?” he told Insider, on condition of anonymity. “It’s just the way his brain works.”
Urban policy experts are skeptical that any kind of federally chartered urban development project would be successful in the United States. Politicians should instead focus on how to make existing cities more livable and productive.
“Every economist would think this is a bad idea — that’s not how cities develop. They don’t magically appear out of nowhere,” Rick McGahey, an economist and author of the new book “Unequal Cities,” told Insider . “It just completely misunderstands where cities come from, what their role is in the economy, and that’s why we should help our existing cities because they are at the heart of our economic growth and prosperity.”
Andy Winkler, director of housing and infrastructure projects at the Bipartisan Policy Center, agreed that there would likely be little political or other support for a federally directed initiative like Trump’s. But he added that the United States needs to be “competitive in thinking about what the future of cities really is.”
“I can’t fault anyone for having a creative vision,” he said.
The Republican consultant was not convinced that Trump’s proposal is entirely serious, but he argued that it was designed to gain attention and has succeeded in doing so.
“I mean, you talk about it,” he said. “As for people making fun of it, so what? People make fun of things all the time. People made fun of Trump when he said he was going to renegotiate NAFTA. Guess what he did?”