The '15-Minute City' Is a Thing Devoutly to Be Unwished

Archeologists using the latest LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology in the dense jungles of Guatemala recently announced a discovery of a massive and hitherto unknown ancient Mayan city that dates back possibly to 1000 B.C. The discovery upended much of the existing consensus about Mayan civilization. It ought also to help upend enthusiasm for the latest repackaging of an old utopian idea for today: the “15-minute city, now being proposed for the city of Oxford in the U.K., among other places.

15 minute city zones that have been proposed by Oxford City Council as part of the Local Plan 2040 have garnered significant controversy. The plan, which will see traffic filters installed on six roads as part of a £6.5m trial, is set to commence in 2024. Under these new filters, residents will be able to drive freely around their own neighbourhoods but will be fined up to £70 for driving into other neighbourhoods through the filters. The plan’s aim is to create neighbourhoods in Oxford where ‘essential’ facilities are accessible by a walking distance of up to 15 minutes. These facilities were determined by a 2022 civilian consultation of over 5,000 stakeholders.

The City Council has asserted that the plan’s intent is not to coerce residents into staying in one neighbourhood, but to address ‘awful’ congestion in the city centre which it argues is making public transport in Oxford ‘unviable’. The traffic filters will not take the form of physical barricades; instead, new traffic cameras which can read number plates will be installed.

It's a terrible idea, of course, and one that's already receiving serious pushback. Critics rightly point to the fascist implications of this latest "green" lunacy, a new kind of lockdown that, like the old one, is for your own good.

The modern fondness for Rousseauvian primitivism is a throwback to the Swiss-French philosopher's prelapsarian "noble savage" theory and posits a halcyon Golden Age that reasonable people understand never existed. The discovered Mayan area featured extensive urban infrastructure including even large sports stadia. There was one aspect of the story that deserves special notice: the imaging detected 110 miles of raised roadways, which the archeologists are calling “the first freeway system in the world.” The Romans might have something to say about that claim, but the point is that even in the most dense urban areas of antiquity, the desire for mobility radiating outward from the central city manifested itself in the form of large roads, centuries before there would be motorized vehicles to use them.

There is a lesson here for our time, especially for the latest generation of urban “planners,” whose new dreamy schemes for urban utopia never seem to learn from past failures. Above all, citizens desire mobility, including access to the edge of the city and beyond. The purpose of the city is for humans not simply to live together, but to live well. If a city fails at that basic purpose, it will decline and eventually collapse. The Mayan cities of antiquity that disappeared beneath a jungle canopy find their modern analogue in Detroit, which has largely become an asphalt jungle as a result of decades of appalling government.

For decades liberals assailed “white flight” when the middle class fled Detroit and other central cities in large numbers. More recently, liberals turned on a dime and assailed “gentrification” when professional class younger whites moved back to central cities and displaced minority residents and transformed entire neighborhoods. This trend abruptly stopped with Covid and the recent spike in crime in urban areas.

The obliviousness about the reasons why people choose to leave—or return to—urban cores brings us back to the “the 15-minute city.” The concept is simple: cities should be designed and built such that every urban dweller can meet all or nearly all of his or her basic needs within a 15-minute radius on foot. The idea for the 15-minute city is said to have originated less than a decade ago, but the ideal of “walkable” cities has been around for decades. Twenty years ago it went by “the new urbanism.” Ten years before that it was called “smart growth.” Probably the equivalent idea was expressed when the pyramids—the skyscrapers of antiquity—were built in Egypt and Guatemala. All that's new is the label.

When each successive label is scrapped off one finds not a thoughtful appreciation of form and function in urban design, or even a nostalgia for small-town America of a bygone era. Before long you discover a hatred of the automobile, a fixation for mass transit, and disdain for middle class life and especially the large-scale enterprises (think WalMart or Costco) that have improved the material lives of the middle class. The fetish for expanding mass transit, even as ridership on current systems continues to fall everywhere, and removing lanes on existing roadways to make way for barely-used bike lanes while making car traffic worse, are examples of this coercive utopianism at work.

All of these urban visions, under whatever label, invariably involve one thing above all other: more money and power for centralized planners to impose their vision on everyone. It should not surprise us that the enthusiasts for the idea are the very same people who think we should eat bugs, abolish private property, and submit to endless mandatory Covid shots, all to reduce our "carbon footprint."

Plus ça change...

Although the 15-minute boiled eggheads behind this idea like to claim the mantle of Jane Jacobs’s famous analysis of functional neighborhoods in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, they have the matter precisely backwards. Jacobs’s main insight was that ideal neighborhoods were spontaneous, organic things, and not the product of deliberate centralized planning. It was the early version of “urban renewal” that prompted her rebellion against the pretension of the planners.

The simplest way to promote truly walkable neighborhoods is simply to allow them to exist. The kind of mixed-used, variable density development that would make for more walkable neighborhoods is prohibited by most zoning codes and regional general plans today. But few of our enlightened elites propose scrapping or relaxing our stifling planning regulations or even emulating Houston’s very permissive land use regime. Houston remains the last major American city without traditional zoning, and it is no coincidence that it is the easiest major metropolitan area to start a business, is a magnet for striving minorities, has less income inequality than progressive-run cities in the north or west, and offers affordable housing.

In other words, an outline of a truly 15-minute city would take only 5 seconds to achieve. But there’s no fun (or power) in that for our squads of reimagineers.

Russian-British Comedian Slams 'Climate' Wokeness at Oxford Union Debate

Do yourself a favor and watch this speech by Konstantin Kisin, comedian and cohost of the wonderfully sane podcast Triggernometry.

Kisin was taking part in a debate at the Oxford Union on the topic of Wokeness, and as he felt the general anti-woke position had been well articulated by the speakers who preceded him, he chose to delve into a specific woke critique of the west, that being its contribution to global anthropogenic "climate change." Addressing himself to the woke who are open to rational argument (he added "a small minority, I accept, because one of the tenets of Wokeness is that your feelings matter more than the truth") Kisin offered to accept "for one night only," that is, for the sake of argument, that there is in fact a climate emergency, that we should all "worship at the feet of St. Greta of Climate Change" and "that our stocks of polar bears are running extremely low." He asked "What can we in Britain do?"

This country is responsible for two percent of global carbon emissions. Which means that if Britain was to sink into the sea right now, it would make absolutely no difference to the issue of climate change. You know why? Because the future of the climate is going to be decided in Asia and Latin America: by poor people who couldn’t give a shit about saving the planet. You know why? Because they're poor!

He challenged the privileged students of Oxford University to consider what living in that kind of poverty, in India, in China, in Latin America, the areas of the world which actually pose the worst threats to the environment, is actually like, and assured them that it would be futile to try and convince people in those conditions that they shouldn't aspire to improve their lot.

The only thing that they in Britain can do "is to make scientific and technological breakthroughs that will create clean energy that is not only clean but also cheap.” But does Wokeness contribute to the required technological advancement in any way? Of course not -- instead it lionizes the performative nihilism of climate activists who have chosen to wage war on western civilization. Said Kisin:

The only thing Wokeness has to offer in exchange is to brainwash bright young minds like you to believe that you are victims, to believe that you have no agency, to believe that what you must do to improve the world is to complain, is to protest, is to throw soup on paintings.

He counters that the true "way to improve the world is to work, is to create, is to build." Unfortunately Woke culture is ordered to convincing the very people who should be doing those things, "to forget about that," and (this writer would add) to tear down and destroy instead. It's nihilism and cultural vandalism in the service of a primitive superstition led by an idiot child. Mock it.

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Boarding

After participating in a disastrous environmental conference, I headed straight to my childhood home in St John’s Wood, only to find Daddy and Judith had gone to the country.  Granted they hadn’t expected me, but some notice would have been nice. It was just as well—I was frustrated with the way the conference had gone and just wanted a curry and a hot bath.

I woke up the next day refreshed, and decided to drive to Le Manoir in Oxfordshire and tuck into one of their eco-friendly suites.  I wasn’t up for any of their cooking or gardening programmes but I pinched some books from Daddy’s study and set off to arrive before lunch. 

The check-in process took an eternity. They are understandably proud of their Green Michelin Star, but I also had to hear about the 100% recyclable amenities, sensor lighting in the bathrooms, a state-of-the-art Rocket Composter, soaps and candles that get re-crafted by local seniors (re-crafted into what I did not want to ask!), and newspapers that are sent to Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital to be reused as bedding. Perhaps just a tad TMI?  I mean I don’t want to be thinking that my morning paper is going to be under some goat’s bum. As it stands I was just getting over learning that Prince Charles never leaves home without his favourite loo seat and velvet lavatory paper.

No green too Green for HRH.

In point of fact, all sustainability measures tickle my little green heart, but at £1,200 a night, I did not want to be thinking about their much-touted closed-loop waste system (whatever that even is!). I nearly had to shove the bellman out of my room to make it to luncheon before the cutoff.  Seven courses later, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Wine without meat (I chose the vegan) packs an extra punch. I made my way back to my room and flopped on the bed which felt like Egyptian cotton but at this point I was beginning to wonder.

I might have slept right through the day but my phone started buzzing as it usually does around this time. No sense closing my eyes… I was up. UGH. I grabbed my earbuds and dialled my father.  

‘Yes, Jennifer', he answered. ‘We missed you at the end of the conference.’

‘Yes I know, I left. Obviously.’ 

‘Obviously’, he replied.  

I was grateful he didn’t push it. ‘So I was thinking of joining a board… I mean, I’ve been asked to join a board. It’s a pretty big deal'.

‘How big?’

‘HSBC big.’

‘I see', he said. ‘Because you know so much about banking?’ 

‘Obviously no’, I huffed. 'Because I can contribute in ways that help them meet stakeholder capitalism metrics'.

Stakeholder capitalism: everybody's a winner!

‘But they don’t need you for that', he observed. 'They can just make things up without any input from you or anyone else'.

‘Ouch! Not nice'. 

‘Actually I’m being very nice', he said. ‘Generous, even. I’ve always supported your ideas, pointed you away from avenues that were not well-reasoned… but this is crackers'.

‘I don’t agree that this is crackers, but historically you help me do my job, even if you don’t agree with it'.

‘Yes, and I will', he said. 'But understand exactly what you are doing here. You are essentially the mob'.

‘As a board member??’ 

'No, as you—Jennifer—thorn in the side of corporations. You are saying hire us to give our opinions, and if you don’t we will hurt your business'.

‘It’s not as simple as that’, I insisted.

‘Actually, it is. You can confer no benefit, you don’t know that your beliefs will improve the company’s bottom line, you don’t have the ability to affect their performance or their profitability. What you offer, is extortion: Pay us or else'. 

He had a point. UGH. ‘Okay…’ I continued. ‘I’m not saying I agree, but Klaus says that global challenges amplified by the COVID-19 have made…’

‘Stop right there. Covid didn’t amplify. Governments amplified. Unprecedented restriction amplified.  And governments, and shake-down artists like Klaus, searched for and found ways to use a health crisis to address other problems. Not to mention previously unimaginable levels of public spending. I submit to you this unprecedented restriction and profligate spending is why they were able to sell it as a pandemic, and why from the very start, it seemed more dramatic than a health crisis—because it was'.

Your papers, please, comrade.

My mind flipped through my many chapters of Covid.  The lockdowns, the travel restrictions, the fear, the confusion, all the take-out food—crazy time. And not to mention the cancellation of Davos—three times,  when in truth  we were all getting on with our lives as best as we could… still flying… still… OK, he had a point.  

‘So Jennifer, I’m not saying don’t take the position—take it.  If you don’t someone else will, and I know you will be more conscientious than the next fellow, but make an effort to reign yourselves in, and not be pushed to sound like a complete nutter'.

 ‘Meaning?’ I asked. 

‘Meaning don’t assume you are right just because it’s what you want. The jump from shareholder to stakeholder was a very slick manoeuvre. And I believe when they realise all they’ve done is let the fox in the henhouse, they’ll want an accounting of every hen that went missing'.

Bright and early the next morning I rang to say I’d take the position. ‘Excellent', replied the woman at the other end of the line. Although she didn’t mean excellent. She asked about my 'additional qualifications'. 

‘Like banking?’ I replied. I mean, she had to know I didn’t know the first thing about banking.

‘No, no...' she said laughing as if I’d given the world’s funniest response to a question of qualification. ‘No, I meant, racial makeup—POC, or sexual identity'. 'As a qualif…’ I bit my tongue. Oh boy. She did mean as a qualification.

And just like that, I went from qualified to unqualified. Perhaps the shortest tenure of a board member in history.