elderly woman hugging a boy
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Human connectedness is good

A single telephone is an essentially useless device. At best, it is a very expensive paper weight. A telephone becomes substantially useful when it connects to a telephone network – and each telephone becomes more useful when there are more telephones connected. Being able to speak to one person is useful. Being able to speak to millions – or billions – of people is incredible!

Humans are similar: a single human living on an isolated island is likely to live a lonely life of poverty and early death. Their life is not only likely to be short and brutal, but it is likely to lack much purpose. An isolated human has no one to serve, no one to love, no one to remember, and no one to be remembered by.

Communities create love

But communities of humans do great things. They produce great love, they produce great art, they produce great memories. Communities have lives that endure beyond the reach of any one individual in time or in geography.

The great explosion in the greatness of human prosperity of the last two hundred and fifty years coincides with a huge expansion in the size of human communities through fundamentally radical revolutions in human transport and communications. Instead of being limited to interactions with the few hundred humans born within a few miles, modern humans have the potential to interact with literally billions of people.

The outcomes are excellent on almost every level – humans are collaborating scientifically, commercially, athletically, musically and lovingly in ways that would be unimaginable to humans from a couple of hundred years ago. The results are obvious: imagine explaining that no longer do people die of blisters, that people can travel to different continents, that the four minute mile is achievable, that you can listen to music from across the planet daily, and interracial marriage has become so common, that no one even notices it any more. These are wonderful advances that arise because more humans are connected than ever before.

Overcoming the tyranny of distance

A big part of that great development in human life comes from being unshackled from the tyranny of distance. It is trivial, today, to commune with friends and family from other towns. Bizarrely niche customer demands can be served by businesses who are able to serve a larger pool of customers. People who play weird sports (Men’s netball!) can do so because a bigger pool of people allows niche teams to form. Minority religious communities can pray and worship their faith together because when only 1 in 1,000 people share your faith drawing from a population of 85,000 allows a congregation to form. We can get a bunch of people to plant trees on a Sunday by drawing from across our island.

All of this connectedness comes from the rise of the motor engine[efn_note]There are several types of motor engines, including:

  1. Internal combustion engines:
  • Petrol engine
  • Diesel engine
  • Gasoline engine
  • Natural gas engine
  1. Electric engines:
  • DC motor
  • AC motor
  1. Hybrid engines:
  • Hybrid electric engine
  • Plug-in hybrid engine
  1. Fuel cell engines
  2. Steam engines
  3. Stirling engines

Each type of engine has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the choice of engine depends on the specific application and requirements. [/efn_note]. From the steam engine of trains, to the big diesel engine of ships, to the small internal combustion engine of cars, to the electric engines of electric vehicles today, engines have brought people together. That connectedness has done great things, and created great prosperity in a way that my great-great-grandparents living in the 19th century could never have even dreamed of.

Fifteen minute cities are an attack on human connectedness

Imagine being a government planner and being so arrogant to think that residents shouldn’t have friends who live further than a few hundred metres away. Imagine having the arrogance to think that you should only work in the immediate surroundings of where you live (and being forced to move every time you got a new job!) and that you should only find romance, practice your faith, and play sport within your immediate geographic locality.

The origin of fifteen minute cities

That’s what “fifteen minute cities” try to do. The “term was coined in 2016 by Sorbonne professor Carlos Moreno”[efn_note]Source: The surprising stickiness of the “15-minute city”[/efn_note]. During a TED talk in 2020, he said, “The idea is to design or redesign cities so that in a maximum of 15 minutes, on foot or by bicycle, city dwellers can enjoy most of what constitutes urban life: access to their jobs, their homes, food, health, education, culture, and recreation.”

This is a bad idea!

We should not limit people to what they can reach in 15 minutes on foot or by bicycle! Vehicles with motors are good because they allow people to see their friends and family and work and sports teams and faith groups and service clubs, wherever they are located. If you live in Douglas, but want to get absolutely soaked playing hockey in Peel for Castletown Hockey Club, you should have that choice! If you live in Ramsey and want to work in Douglas, go for it. If you have a minority faith that requires communing with people from across our island, be my guest!

The advocates of ‘fifteen-minute cities’ implicitly don’t like diversity. They don’t want people to build communities based on interest, or faith, or service, or family, that transcend their silly little geographic boundaries. They – quite openly – oppose people benefiting from motor engines. They – quite openly – oppose people building communities outside limited map circles.

Bad for small businesses, good for big corporations

This idea is bad for small businesses. Niche products and niche services are great, because they allow local and artisanal producers to make special objects and special experiences. They are only able to survive if they can draw upon a large and diverse population. It’s fine if you’re running a relatively ordinary grocery shop to draw upon the people who live in the immediate area. But if you’re doing something unique and special, you need to service customers from further away, because demand for unique products is not as common as demand for commodities. In this respect, ‘fifteen-minute cities’ are fine for faceless and standardised global chains, but terrible for unique and special local businesses.

Transport should serve people; people shouldn’t be forced to serve transport

These meddling municipal menaces should stop trying to control our lives to fit within their silly little boxes and lines on a map: and instead build communities that serve their people. Stop trying to force people to serve the convenience of the bureaucracy, and instead force the bureaucracy to serve the convenience of people. Instead of forcing humans to live within pre-determined zones, build better transport systems that allow people to travel more easily wherever, and whenever, they want, cheaply and comfortably.

Ultimately, these fake experts want workers, but forget that we are people who are more than just numbers on a bureaucrat’s spreadsheet. Human life is too complex and too beautiful to fit into the little fifteen-minute circles drawn on maps.

Michael Josem is a long-term consumer advocate, most prominently as a global leader in combating fraud in the online gambling industry. He was in part the inspiration for the 20th Century Fox Movie, Runner Runner, starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake.

Josem has over a decade of experience as a senior business leader working across various high-tech and online industries, and takes action to build a better community. His primary volunteer roles include service for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and Graih, the homelessness charity.