The Shape of the Future

E M Risse




Land use myths are propagating like a virus: Find a cure for one, and new mutations multiply. Here, we offer three approaches for quarantining these bad ideas. 


The superficial political wangling that heralds fall elections in Virginia is heating up. During this period you will note an order-of-magnitude jump in the propagation of statements supporting the common myths that lead to dysfunctional human settlement patterns. Like pathogens which mutate and become drug resistant, the fragments of thought that support, reinforce and maintain debilitating myths continue to evolve. This is why it is essential to treat the generation of sound bites and silly statements that perpetuate myths just as the medical profession attacks contagious viruses. (See End Note One.)


The viruses that support debilitating myths related to transport and land use are directly responsible for individual and collective Geographic Illiteracy. (See End Note Two.) These viruses infect informed discussion of transport/land use relationships and must be identified, labeled  and quarantined for what they are: bad ideas. These viruses support:  

  • Politicians who can use them to avoid hard choices

  • Land speculators who hope to bail out of bad location decisions

  • Those who profit from scatteration of urban land uses.

There is a complex class of “entrepreneurs” (as well as some institutions and agencies) who profit or benefit in the short term from myths that create dysfunctional human settlement patterns and Geographic Illiteracy.  

The net result of continued propagation of viruses that support spacial myths is that citizens make bad location decisions.  That is because citizens do not yet understand (nor do they directly pay for) the individual and collective impact of their actions.

Understanding human settlement patterns is not rocket science; It is much more complex. Many factors complicate attempts by citizens to achieve a working knowledge of the causes and impacts of dysfunctional patterns and densities of land use that impact their lives. Seven of those factors are outlined in End Note Three.


Roadway Lunacy–The Front Hook Issue


The most common myths and the most virulent viruses relate to transportation infrastructure and the relationship between human settlement patterns and transport facilities. This is because many citizens are feeling the pain of dysfunctional transport as election time approaches. The most debilitating myth is: “Building more roads without fundamental change is human settlement patterns will improve mobility.” While this myth in its pure form was at one time widespread and pervasive, it is now waning and that is why new strains of roadway viruses are being propagated. Rejection of the sales tax in the northern part of Virginia and in Hampton Roads two years ago suggest that a majority of the voters “get it.”  

What one now hears from responsible transportation practitioners is “we cannot build our way out of congestion.” See quotations from senior Commonwealth transport officials in “The Perfect Storm, 12 July 2004 .

Most transport professions have, however, not yet been willing to state the reality of transport facility/ congestion relationships publicly in terms simple enough to destroy pandering politicians cover. Without exception, those running for reelection and most of those running for the first time continue to say or imply that it is possible to solve traffic congestion by just building roadways (or railways).   


Antidote One:

If confronted by someone who says “building roadways will solve the mobility problem” just ask them to provide data on one prosperous New Urban Region in the United States where building a new roadway (or roadways) without fundamental change in settlement patterns has, on a regional basis, lowered total (or even average) Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), average trip length, total hours of delay or average travel time much less decreased the distance between homes/workers and jobs/services. 

All these measures of dysfunction are going up faster than the number of drivers or the number of vehicles in every region for which comprehensive data has been published. The only thing that has reduced any of these measures of congestion in large, prosperous regions in the Untied States is a change in settlement patterns or the impact of congestion which forces single-occupant, private-vehicle drivers to change their activities. If you doubt this, check the data on urban congestion in the 68 largest New Urban Regions in the sources cited in “Spinning Data, Spinning Wheels,” Sept 20, 2004.

An affliction closely related to More Roadways Virus is: “Raising money for transport facilities without commitment for functional and transportable patterns of land use will improve mobility.”  

Citizens can use Antidote One above for the More Money is Enough Virus as well at the More Roadways Virus.


For information on the taxonomy of these and related transport/land use myths see the material cited in End Note 3 of “Gimme Shelter,” April 25, 2005.


The Propagation of New Roadway Viruses


Some, including those deluded by fantasies such as making money by scattering “affordable” housing on farmettes across the Countryside, have developed related stains of the More Roadways and More Money is Enough viruses.

A sample virus reads like this: Travel congestion occurs in built up areas where new roadways are hard and/or very expensive to construct, so it would be wise to build roads in areas where there is vacant land.

This is really just a rehash of the More Roadways theme song of roadway advocates but when it comes from earnest bloggers and letter-to-the-editor writers it sounds less like propaganda and more like an idea worth pondering. This the most dangerous sort of virus; a Trojan Horse.   


The simplistic foolishness of “radial expansion makes regional mobility less expensive” (or even possible) in any large or prosperous region flies in the face of both the market and physics. It is a sure sign of advanced Geographic Illiteracy. 


Antidote Two:

Suggest the radial expansion advocate take a trip to Houston. 

Every large, or prosperous New Urban Region in the Untied States where a version of “spreading out” to solve the urban mobility dysfunction has been attempted has experienced scatteration of urban land uses (especially dysfunctional distribution of urban dwellings) and rapidly escalation of mobility dysfunction. A favorite sub-theme is to pretend that congestion in lower density areas is somehow different because it is “sub”urban or even “ex”urban. The Houston New Urban Region is a good example where the measures of congestion noted in Antidote One are worsening at a robust rate in spite of 40 years of massive roadway construction. (See End Note Four.)


Even in oil-rich, road-happy Texas, road boosters have no idea where the money will come from to build promised “roadways-through-nowhere.” Texas politicians are now seeking cover provided by touting “Big Ideas”– like starting over with a whole new super roadway system. See “Interstate Crime,” Feb. 28, 2005. They are now building a shared-vehicle (“light rail”) system in the Houston New Urban Region but the settlement pattern is already so disaggregated by roadways and the promise of even more future roadways that it is hard to make any form of shared-vehicle system work.


Mobility Basics


There are two basic realities about matching travel demand with transport facility capacity that can be used as Geographic Illiteracy virus Antidotes if the roadway advocates are willing to pay careful attention to the fundamentals of trip generation:


Improving Mobility and Access Inside The Clear Edge. The reason mobility improvements inside the Clear Edge are expensive is that they have been focused on trying to increase capacity instead of cutting demand. As documented in “Self Delusion and Fraud, June 7, 2004, huge new roadway projects inside the Clear Edge are self-defeating.


Demand for transport facility capacity is reduced not by building bigger roadways.  It is not done by  eliminating the need or desire for “trips.” It is done by eliminating the need for vehicle trips and by shifting vehicle trips from private vehicles to shared vehicles. 


If one eliminates the ability to make a trip (there is no way to access a place, good or service) then the quality of life is lowered. If a place, good or service is available without a vehicle trip, then the quality of life is improved. This is not a abstract planning theory, it is exactly what the market demonstrates to be the preference of the vast majority of citizens.

The settlement patterns that facilitate access and mobility with a minimum of vehicle trips and are served by efficient shared-vehicle services are the most highly valued in the marketplace.  More on this reality later.

Why Shared-Vehicle Systems Work. Shared-vehicle system “work” not because all those who live, work or seek services in the shared-vehicle system station area use the system for all their trip needs.

Shared-vehicle systems work because citizens in the station-area use the system for some high-value trips, but the majority of their trips do not require any vehicle.  This is made possible by the pattern and intensity of land uses in the station area.

(For further insight into shared-vehicle systems see backgrounder “It is Time to Fundamentally Rethink METRO and Mobility in the National Capital Subregion,” and “Rail-to-Dulles Realities,” Jan. 5 2004.)


Understanding this reality quashes the virus that well designed station-area development increases traffic.  With balanced station-area land uses and a balance between shared-vehicle system capacity and station area trip generation, intelligent development creates more trips but reduces vehicle trips, both shared-vehicle trips and private-vehicle trips. That is what Fundamental Change to functional human settlement patterns is all about. 


As noted above, the market establishes a much higher value for accessible places than places where every trip must be a vehicle trip. With disaggregated origins and destinations of travel demand, every trip is a private vehicle trip–-usually a single-occupant, private vehicle.  With cheap fuel this mode of travel is possible but not convenient. With fuel prices going up it will not be possible for the majority to afford to overcome locational dysfunction. See “The Commuting Problem,” Jan. 17, 2005.”


The locational distribution of travel demand and spacial reality is why a “small town” like Greater Warrenton is so “convenient” if one does not choose to commute to work or travel long distances for goods or services. This is why the vehicle trip demand in a Balanced Community is greatly reduced. The total vehicle travel reduction in Balanced Communities as opposed to region-wide scatteration is not 20, 40 or 60 percent, it is far greater. If the total cost of urban services varies by a factor of 10 times and if transport is a major cost, the creation of Balanced Communities will have a profound impact on travel demand. The level of mobility improvement will vary from community to community.   


The Imperative of a Long-Term Strategy


It is important to eradicate viruses concerning land use and transportation relationships, especially during the run-up to elections. There is an even more critical reality. The counterproductive “build roadways in vacant land” and similar viruses do not crate mobility. More important, they help perpetuate the abandonment of places where it is feasible to provide mobility and access at relatively low cost. (See “Wild Abandonment,” Sept. 8, 2003.)

The More Roadways, More Money is Enough, and Radial Expansion viruses give those who crave simplistic solutions and short term profit the excuse to not understand or even give serious attention to real solutions.

It is important to continue to fight the propagation of viruses but so long as citizens have fundamental misconceptions about the nature of human settlement patterns they will be vulnerable to new generations of viruses. There is a need to fight fires but citizens must build a fireproof (aka, virus proof) understanding of the function of human settlement patterns. That requires an understanding of the “Big Picture.”  


Understanding the Big Picture


The “Big Picture” is not easy to convey. Most citizens are stuck on the current trajectory that leads to widening economic disparity and eventual economic stagnation as well as social conflict and environmental instability. 


A very good demonstration of the ramifications of the “Big Picture” can be understood after a careful reading of Doug Koelemay’s April 25, 2005 Bacon's Rebellion column “Competing for the Creative Class.” There are many important perspectives presented in the column. When completed, the reader is likely to say: Florida and Fuller are on the right on track. Global, national and interregional competition make it imperative to understand the importance of these factors. These ideas are important not just to the northern part of Virginia and to the Washington-Baltimore New Urban Region but to the future of the Commonwealth.” 


This is a thoughtful reaction to what Koelemay offers but it is not the whole story. Let us go behind the numbers and see what is really at play here. We will use a number Koelemay quotes from Professor Steve Fuller so everyone starts on the same page. It would be even more instructive to use the entire Radius=20 Miles area in Virginia (270,000 +/- acres that includes the City of Alexandria and Arlington County). However, Koelemay cited numbers for Fairfax County (250,000 acres), so we will go from there.


The key number is one from Professor Fuller’s model which shows a potential for 1,400,000 “More, Better Jobs” in Fairfax County by 2030. We might call this “Fuller’s Golden Future” potential. Based on Professor Richard Florida’s recent books, Koelemay spells out why attracting these jobs and the members of the Creative Class who will fill many of them is important to the County, the Subregion and the Commonwealth. 


Inside the numbers: Based on 1,400,000 jobs, 1.5 jobs per dwelling, 2.5 persons per dwelling and Balanced Communities, that means by 2030 there would be 930,000 dwellings and 2,300,000 residents in Fairfax County. In 2000 there were 359,411 dwellings and 969,749 residents in Fairfax  County. (See End Note Five.)


When we talk about Fundamental Change, that is what we are talking about. These numbers may be startling but lets see where they lead. In the words of the Verizon camera-phone pitchman, this is a “Mother’s Day Miracle” because at 250,000 acres, the minimum density of urban land uses in Balanced Communities in Fairfax County is a population of 2,500,000.


So we can have “Fuller’s Golden Future” with great jobs and also get the density of Fairfax County up to the point that will be attractive to the Creative Class, as well as provide functional transport and have space left over if Balanced Communities evolve in the County. (See End Note Six.)


There are 10 Beta Communities that fall within, or largely within, Fairfax County. Applying the 5%/95% rule for intensive urban area within the Clear Edge around the core of the National Capital Subregion, this means there is a need for 12,500 acres for the core villages of the 10 Balanced Communities. 


Intensive urban areas in Fairfax County totaling 12,500 acres passes the sniff test because there are 1,500 to 1,700 acres in the core of Greater Tysons Corners (depending on where the lines are drawn) with four planned METRO station areas. The other Balanced Communities would be smaller so 12,500 acres is a good place to start. A thumbnail sketch of greater Baileys Cross Roads, Greater Reston and Greater Fairfax Center confirm this estimate is realistic. The Balanced Communities would range from 150,000 to 300,000 citizens per community.


But the good news does not end here. It turns out that some of Fairfax is already developed at higher intensity than the minimum yard stick of 10 persons per acre at the community scale. Higher intensity in some parts of 10 Balanced Communities means that perhaps one quarter of Fairfax County can be reserved for open space–parks, real farms and real forests. [See End Note Seven.]    


Some of Fairfax is now in dedicated open space but not nearly a quarter of the County. By creating open space, we are not talking about Great Falls Fragment Farms (aka, large urban lots) or Occoquan Fragment Forests (aka, large urban lots). These urban lots range from five to 100 acres and they could remain urban lots if the owners pay their fair share of the full cost of lawn-tractor farmettes and hedge-trimmer forestettes.


So the bottom line is this:

Not only does Fairfax County have the space to achieve Professor Fuller’s goal of prosperity driven by “More, Better Jobs” and have places for Professor Florida’s Creative Class to live, shop and play but there are many other benefits.  They include mobility, quality services and affordable/accessible housing in every Balanced Community and more open space than now exists.  

There is still more good news. There is no need for draconian controls or high taxes to achieve these patterns and densities of land use. These settlement patterns can be achieved by letting the market operate within rational, democratically established parameters. This is because the Fuller and Florida ideal is what people want, contrary to what you hear from the Business-As-Usual crowd who propagate viruses. 


Those who attended the recent Urban Land Institute Real Estate Trends Conference heard presentations by developers, academics and researchers documenting that the patterns and densities outlined above are just what from 70 to 80 percent of the market desires. Some believe this is a recent shift in market preference, others found the same percentage distribution of housing types in what citizens actually purchased from 1980 to 2000 in the National Capital Subregion if the houses at unit and dooryard scale were reconfigured into components of Balanced Communities. (See End Note Eight.) Either way the mode of the market now supports the direction suggested by Fuller and Florida.

While there is growing recognition that functional human settlement patterns and not scattered urban houses are what citizens really dream about as the place they want to live, work and play, some will say that this form of development is “too expensive.” 

You guessed it, that is another virus spread by the Business-As-Usual crowd. In a market economy when something is "too expensive," the solution is to build more of it. It is clear that current examples of functional settlement patterns are expensive because buyers are willing to pay more, not because it costs more to produce.  In fact it is cheaper per unit and per square foot if costs were fairly allocated and bureaucratic obstacles were removed. This could be achieved if the evolution of Balanced Communities were based on sound regional, subregional, community, village and neighborhood plans.  (See “The Shape of Richmond’s Future,” Feb. 16, 2004.)


The Right Strategy for the Region and the Commonwealth


It is rational to conclude that the Fuller/Florida strategy based on “More, Better Jobs” and “Creative People” is the best human settlement pattern rationale for the Virginia portion of the National Capital Subregion. For that matter, it is probably the best strategy to achieve economic prosperity for the National Capital Subregion, the Washington-Baltimore New Urban Region and for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The distribution of land uses advocated by Florida and necessary to accommodate Fuller’s “More, Better Jobs” is consistent with the recent Reality Check exercise and reflects the “Five Critical Realities That Shape the Future,” Dec. 15, 2003 .

The key factor is that the majority of jobs are now inside Radius=20 Miles. That is where jobs are projected to be in the future, based municipal projections and the market for land and buildings in the core of the National Capital Subregion and in the cores of Greater Alexandria, Greater North Arlington, Greater South Arlington, Greater Baileys Crossroads, Greater Tysons Corner, Greater Fairfax Center and Greater Reston. (See “Where the Jobs Are,” May 24,  2004 .)


The Fuller/Florida strategy is the only viable road map on the table for the Subregion to compete in the interregional, intracontinental and global competition to attract and retain a critical mass of members of the Creative Class. The competition is with Boston NUR, New York NUR, Puget Sound NUR, San Francisco Bay NUR and Toronto NUR and, of course, the other desirable places in the First World . If the National Capital Subregion loses this battle then the subregion and the region starts a long slide toward becoming Bangladesh on the Potomac (and on the James/Hampton Roads.) 


Rational strategies at the regional and subregional scale are not just long term wishes, they are what is needed to guide Fairfax County’s current budget for economic development. These plans would help those currently looking at the shape of Greater Tysons Corner’s future and at METRO station-area land uses including those on the extension of METRO to Washington Dulles Airport. (See “Rail to Dulles Realities,” Jan. 5, 2004.)


If Fairfax County and the National Capital Subregion do not take advantage of the opportunity to attract the jobs and Creative Class workers to fill them, this talent will move on. They will continue to move on until they run out of regions to try or run out of gasoline to get there. As noted in The Shape of the Future, regions that want to prosper need to move before they run out of resources to implement Fundamental Change.


Fundamental Change is a far greater change from the current trajectory than most assume. This is why it is important to understand the implications of the jobs projection example outlined in Koelemay’s column on Fairfax County. Business As Usual will not get citizens to a functional future. 


It is not just “jobs” that are needed, it is not just jobs for members of the Creative Class that are necessary, it is Balanced Communities. It is not just the 10 Beta Communities that fall mainly in Fairfax County that must evolve into Balanced (Alpha) Communities but all 13 that fall within Radius=20 Miles, including the City of Alexandria  and Arlington County.


The evolution of Balanced Communities cannot be a beggar-thy-neighbor program that seeks jobs for “our” jurisdiction and lets the workers, especially those at the bottom of the food chain, look for a place to live elsewhere. That is what Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax County have done for years. That is why those jurisdictions have far more jobs than housing units. For nearly 40 years, Fairfax County has pursued a policy of recruiting jobs but not seeking to evolve Balanced Communities even when Balanced Communities (Reston and Fairfax Center) were part of the County’s comprehensive plan.

Providing services for 21st century urban citizens costs money.  Governments must capitalize on the efficiencies of Balanced Communities to off set the costs of providing urban services including assurance that there is affordable and accessible housing for the full range of citizens holding the jobs in the Balanced Communities.

Lessons from Fairfax


The facts about Fairfax County’s future illustrate a number of important points: 


The need for an overarching regional perspective. If citizens do not have an overarching conceptual framework with which to understand human settlement patterns, then silliness like “Fairfax County is all built out” and “the reason for a lack of affordable housing in Prince William County is the 10-acre urban lot area (aka, “Rural (sic) Crescent”) become established as debilitating viruses. 


The need to provide for the evolution of functional urban fabric. This is the way we stated it in Chapter 19, Box 1 of The Shape of the Future:


If New Urban Regions are thought of as an organic system, ‘sub’urban areas are the cambium layer, the zone of new growth and change. Something, however, has gone haywire. Instead of a thin ‘growth’ ring, the ‘sub’urban ring takes up most of the area which has been converted from extensive (agricultural, forest, etc.) uses to intensive(urban) uses over the past 100 years. The new growth has not matured with a density and pattern necessary to sustain urban systems. In addition, the older urban areas are not continuing to renew and revitalize.


While the entire New Urban Region is organic and logically should grow and renew, the new growth (expansion) area has not matured to an urban form. It is, in fact, a ‘sub’urban form. Most important, the disbursed ‘sub’urban form has stopped changing at an early stage in the process toward maturity. Instead of evolving into a sustainable human settlement with rational patterns and densities of land use, the ‘sub’urban form has been replicated over an ever larger area at an ever lower intensity. It is now clear that this form is not sustainable.

There is an analogous relationship between ‘sub’urban growth in New Urban Regions and cancerous cell growth within organisms.

The ‘sub’urban portion is by far the largest part of any New Urban Region (NUR). Between 70 percent and 80 percent of the urbanized land in a NUR is, at the neighborhood scale, ‘sub’urban in density. Of this land, between 80 percent and 90 percent is residential. Edge Cities may each occupy from 300 to 1,500 acres, but they are located within 50,000- to 100,000-acre subregions composed of ‘sub’urban development. These subregions are by far the largest component of the urbanized area within any NUR. This is not a sustainable human settlement pattern.

The popularity (and the premium price citizens are willing to pay) for “new urbanism” is because these projects almost always attempt to provide a fragment of mature, functional human settlement patterns. The problem is that the project is only a fragment and, all too frequently, in a dysfunctional location from a regional perspective.


Too much land. The most important lesson from the Fairfax County case is that the amount of land set aside for urban land uses far exceeds the amount needed. The numbers on Fairfax County above demonstrate that too much land has been set aside for urban development on the regional and subregional scales. An oversupply of land yields urban land use scatteration which generates short-term profit for a few and disaster for the many. It is worst for commercial/non-residential land uses, but far too much land is “planned” for low density residential land uses as well. 


Too much urban land results in short term problems like traffic congestion and the lack of affordable and accessible housing and the long term problems of regional economic stagnation, social conflict and environmental unsustainability. In The Shape of the Future, we phrased the problem of scatteration of urban land uses over too much land with this analogy:

“It is as if we took a good recipe for cookies to the store and brought home all the ingredients. However, instead of going to the kitchen to prepare the cookies, we left the eggs in the front hall, put the flour on the back porch, the butter on the roof and the chocolate chips in the basement. We then went to the kitchen and turned the oven up to the maximum heat and retired to watch TV. Just as our efforts to produce cookies for a snack would be a failure, citizens in the long term may find they have not assembled the necessary ingredients to provide them with a quality life.” (See End Note Nine.)

This is not the recipe for functional human settlement patterns. Municipal governments acting in response to citizens afflicted by Geographic Illiteracy have prevented the evolution of functional human settlement patterns. (See “The Role of Municipal Planning in Creating Dysfunctional Human Settlement Patterns,” December 2002 .)


Antidote Three:

Require opponents of Fundamental Change to do the numbers and provide specific parameters for functional patterns and densities of land use at the community scale. A broad citizen understanding of human settlement patterns really matters. Citizens must get a grip on the “Big Picture” before cooperative efforts patterned after Reality Check can be applied to work out the details.   

Antidote Three is obviously harder to apply than Antidotes One or Two, but citizens must be able to apply functional parameters as well as they can count calories, balance a check book, play an advanced computer game or keep track of their children’s grade point averages if there is to be and functional and sustainable future. Citizen conclaves such as the Rockfish Gap Workshop and the recent Reality Check show that this can be done.


NIMBYs and BANANA’S will scream about the “negative impact” of “high density.” That is why quantification at the community and subregional scale such as that outlined in the Fairfax County example above is so critical. There is an order of magnitude difference between “Manhattan” (which is what NiMBYs often call any alternative to a “sub”urban pattern of one-acre lots) and the 10 person-per-acre guideline for a Balanced (Alpha) Communities which has for 40 years been much more highly valued in the market place than the scattered one-acre lot “ideal.”

There would be little or no conflict if the evolution of Fairfax County and the rest of Virginia were handled in a rational, democratic, market-driven process supported by citizens who understand the need for functional human settlement patterns. (See End Note Ten.)

What about opposition from Congressman Tom Davis to rational METRO station area development? Tom has not understood human settlement pattern issues beyond his short-term political calculus since he was a junior county supervisor from Mason District. The calls he has gotten recently from heavyweight Republican donors will get him to back off soon, especially if there is demonstrated citizens support to counter the NIMBYs.

Evolving Balanced (Alpha) Communities in New Urban Regions will not be simple and it is not simplistic.  It is, however, hard for anyone afflicted with Geographic Illiteracy to grasp the importance of this effort thanks to the drumbeat of the Business As Usual advocates aided by viruses.  

What Does the Application of Antidote Three Portend?


The application of Antidote Three requires different strategies in three distinct areas of the Virginia portion of the National Capital Subregion.


Inside Radius=20 Miles, Antidote Three means the evolution of 13 Balanced Communities based on the parameters discussed concerning Fairfax County above.


Outside Radius=20 Mile, there are two distinct areas:


The Radius Band between Radius=20 Miles and Radius=30 Miles is about 330,000 acres in Virginia. This area is mostly in eastern Loudoun County and includes the majority of Prince William County. It is the territory through which a logical alignment for the Clear Edge would run. There are five Beta Communities in this area. Three are in eastern Loudoun (Greater Leesburg, Greater Ashburn and Greater Sterling/Cascades) and two in Prince William (Dale City/East Prince William and Greater Manassas/West Prince William.) One set of goals and conditions need to be pursued in this Radius Band.


The next Radius Band, between Radius=30 and Radius=60 miles, is composed mainly of Countryside with from two to four Disaggregated, Balanced Communities within the Countryside. A second set of goals and conditions need to be pursued in this Radius Band.  


The ramifications of the application of Antidote Three within the later two zones will be explored in future columns and the forthcoming book The Shape of Warrenton-Fauquier's Future.





1. On the topic of myths in general see, “The Myths That Blind Us,” Oct 20, 2003 and “From Myth to Law, Nov 29, 2004 . In order to address a recent rash of Geographic Illiteracy viruses, we have interrupted the three-column series addressing residential property price escalation (“Gimme Shelter,” April 25, 2005 , Property Tax Reform (Forthcoming) and Affordable and Accessible Housing (Forthcoming.)


2. For a definition of Geographic Illiteracy and a list of tools to overcome the Geographic Illiteracy see our backgrounder on the topic.


3. Here are seven factors directly related to the propagation of myths and the reinforcement of Geographic Illiteracy:  

a. The Fallacy of Composition: What is “good” (e.g., profitable in the short term) for one is very often not “good” (e.g., contributes to the general welfare) for the community or for an informed market place. 


b. The cumulative impacts of individual actions are often counterintuitive. Some of the most clear-cut examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences are dramatically demonstrated by actions that result in dysfunctional human settlement patterns.


c. Frequently those who will benefit from taking an individual action impacting human settlement patterns spin and distort the discussion so that it seems to be “what everyone really wants” or supports a lofty sounding ideal like “property rights.” (See “Land Speculators 2, Citizens 0,” March 14, 2005 .


d. Information of human settlement patters is valuable to those who make a living from the provision and maintenance of the built environment. Much of the information and the basis for understanding the interrelationships between actions and impacts that are needed to comprehend human settlement pattern issues are proprietary. Information is also intentionally distorted or withheld to gain economic advantage. 


e. The thirst of those who have made bad location decisions to have their past actions validated and justified or their bad investment salvaged.


f. Many are predisposed to believe there is a “villain” who can be blamed for what are in fact the cumulative results of well-intended actions.   


g. The ease with which myths and viruses leading to Geographic Illiteracy can be spread and reinforced by those who profit in the belief of myths. This is because those afflicted by Geographic Illiteracy want desperately to believe there is a simple solution that will allow them to live with their illusions, continue to win elections and accrue short-term economic rewards.

In addition, The Shape of the Future addresses the obstacles to citizens understanding the causes and impacts of dysfunctional human settlement pattern and is the topic of Chapter 2 of that volume. Risse, E M. The Shape of the Future:  (Vol I) The Critical, Overarching Impact of Human Settlement Pattern on Citizens' Economic, Social and Environmental Well-Being and (Vol II) Prospering in 21st Century New Urban Regions. Warrenton, VA: SYNERGY/Resources, 2000.


4. Some roadways like “Route 288" in the Richmond New Urban Region are in such bad location that they are still underutilized years after construction. That does not mean the measures of congestion region-wide have improved. Just give the roadway time and enough citizens and organizations will make bad location decisions base on its existence to fill it up. See “The Shape of Richmond’s Future,” Feb. 15, 2004 and the material cited therein for measures of the Region’s growth of congestion caused by creation of too many roadways, providing subsidized access to too many acres of Countryside which is being transformed by scattered urban land uses.


5. There is something not quite right with the numbers in the Koelemay column because he quotes Fuller as saying there are now 847,900 jobs in Fairfax County while the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (nee, Northern Virginia Planning District Commission) reports that the census found only 568,936 in April 2000. Also Fuller says there could be 1,400,000 jobs in 2030 but Fairfax County projects only 578,900 according to NVRC. We will use the Koelemay number because it illustrates the point well and lower employment numbers would mean less than a critical mass of Creative Class citizens.  


6. This total is arrived at by applying Regional Metrics including Cost of Services Curve and the 10 Person Rule.  This reflects the reality derived from developments actually built over the past 40 years to have a balance of jobs/housing/services/recreation/amenity while paying for the cost of basic infrastructure and meeting a regional market for residential and commercial demand. This is the density of the original plan for Reston and for Fairfax Center as well as Planned New Communities in the United States and Europe . If anyone would like to suggest an alternative minimum density for Fairfax County they need to develop criteria for balance at the community scale.


7. The percentage of open land could be much larger if Fairfax County had followed the regional and subregional plans developed during the 1960s. However, the County’s “comprehensive” plans and regulations during the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s have spread urban development across much of the County. This urbanized area will need to be retrofitted to sustainable densities or converted back to non-urban land uses.


8. This is the 87½ % Rule, the fifth of the Natural Laws of human settlement patterns introduced in The Shape of the Future.


9. Page 484 of  The Shape of the Future.


10. Recall that 20 percent of the population believes that the earth is flat. If someone could make a lot of money from widespread belief in this myth, they would create a think tank. The think tank/lobby group would organize the flat-earth true believers into an interest group. If the citizens in the group thought they could improve their economic/power position in society and they thought they would not be laughed off the streets, they would be out parading, blogging and writing letters to the editor about how their rights were being infringed upon by the round-earthers.















Ed Risse and his wife Linda live inside the "Clear Edge" of the "urban enclave" known as Warrenton, a municipality in the Countryside near the edge of the Washington-Baltimore "New Urban Region."


Mr. Risse, the principal of

SYNERGY/Planning, Inc., can be contacted at


See profile.