Risse is the principal of SYNERGY/Planning,
Inc. He has spent much of his professional
career working with builders and developers to
plan, design and deliver community-, village-, neighborhood-
and cluster-scale projects where
citizens want to live, work, seek services and
participate in leisure activities.
In the Washington-Baltimore New Urban
Region, there are over 50,000 residents and 20,000
workers in places Risse has designed, planned and
summary of SYNERGY/Planning, Inc.ís services can
be found at www.synergyplanninginc.com
is also the designer of community governance
structures and land-use control systems including
the 5,000,000-acre Adirondack Park, the largest
one in the United States.
For over two decades, he has been active in
the identification of sources of transport funding
and in the creation of a balance between
transportation system capacity and travel demand.
Over the past 20 years, Risse has spent
much of his time working with subregional and regional institutions
to create sustainable human settlement patterns.
Risse is the author of over 200 studies, reports, books
and articles on
human settlement pattern.
He has developed a `unified field theory'
of human settlement, which is articulated in The
Shape of the Future.
He also authored the Handbook
for a Viable Future, which lays out a new
three-step planning process to create balanced
Risse is the architect of The Third Way
Program, the goal of which is to avoid the
stalemate between "Business-As-Usual" and
the past 35 years, Dr. Risse has taught urban and
regional planning to architects, lawyers and
planners at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's
School of Architecture, George Mason University
Law School, in the University of Virginia's
graduate planning program and other institutions.
His academic background includes forestry,
physics, architecture, philosophy and planning.
He holds a BA in Mathematics from the
University of Montana and JD and LLB degrees from
the University of California at Berkeley.
Picture is Worth a Thousand Lies.
reason it's so hard for people to envision
functional human settlement patterns is that the
images peddled by the Business-As-Usual crowd are
Yet Again. The hurricanes keep coming --
and they always will. We can continue Business As
Usual, making ourselves more vulnerable, or we can
evolve safer, better protected human settlement
American addiction to Autonobiles and imported oil
drains our economy of wealth in ways obvious and subtle.
We convert green landscape into swaths of pavement,
contributing to our own desertification.
thread runs between many newspaper stories: Higher
energy prices are reordering everything from
international trade flows to housing
affordability. Too bad our Institutions are
responding so sluggishly.
WaPo story highlights the threat of converting Montana
wilderness into masses of McLodges. But there's more to
the story: Developers are destroying the land they
exploit and, with rising energy prices, are creating the
ghost (non) towns of tomorrow.
or later, an economy built on wildly unequal incomes,
cheap energy and debt-fueled mass over-consumption will
collapse. Mass denial will not change this reality.
a Functional and Sustainable Future in Greater
the Tiger. Many
citizens, abetted by the MainStream Media, are clinging
to oil and autonomobile dependency to the bitter end. A
dismal reality of ever-climbing energy awaits them.
phrase "no cheap energy" embodies an
economic reality that is shaking the foundation of First
World Civilization. But citizens and politicians still
act as if they can ignore it.
Beltway to Easter Island.
the Eastern Islanders who built the big-eared moia, the
engineers of the well-treed Capital Beltway are
oblivious to the signs of impending ecological collapse.
End of Flight as We Know It.
fuel prices, terrorism and the environment, air
travel is losing altitude fast. In the not-too-distant
future, plane rides will be a luxury for those at the
top of the economic pyramid.
to Drive and Park.
consume huge amounts of space for roads and parking,
which disaggregates human settlement patterns, co-opts
transportation alternatives, and... increases dependence
Spheres of Fraud. While
the media salivates over the subprime lending
fiasco, journalists are overlooking the main
reason why Americans can't afford housing:
the building of the wrong kind of housing in the
News, Bad Reporting. As
the economy weakens, you can count on the MainStream
Media to defend MassOverconsumption and Business As
Usual in a desperate bid to keep the advertising dollars
from Big Boxes. Consumers
love big box stores for their "bargains" and
"everyday low prices." What they don't see are
the costs imposed by hidden subsidies and the
scatteration of human settlement patterns.
from the Mouse.
do people travel halfway around the world to visit
Disney World and Octoberfest? One big reason: Both are
places where you don't need cars to get around.
Is the Problem with
are a 20th century answer to a 19th century
problem. Tweaking our auto-centric transportation
system will not address the 21st century realities
of traffic congestion, escalating energy prices
and Global Warming.
people share the blame for the collapse of the
Rail-to-Dulles financing scheme. The feds are only the
first in a long line of guilty parties.
Road Ahead. As
the MainStream Media fails to provide information
citizens need to function as voters and consumers, a
citizen-driven media will emerge to fill the void. It's
not yet clear what that new media will look like.
Rise and Fall of Journalism. The
age of traditional journalism is ending as media
Enterprises lose their grip on information markets and
advertising revenues decline. The big question: Can
citizen-generation information take its place?
Metro-to-Tysons Is a Mess. The
reason the Metro-to-Dulles project is in danger of
collapsing can be traced to unbalanced
development, conflicting interests among
landowners and developers, and the politics of
Business As Usual.
the organizing constructs of human society, have
undergone dramatic conversions over the past 700 years.
In the process, the Fourth estate has relinquished its
Morphed Estate. The
Fourth Estate has abdicated its responsibilities.
Citizens can no longer rely upon the MainStream Media to
provide the news they need to participate in a
democratic polity and market economy.
More? Two More?
many more years of political fraud must we endure? Here
are some proposals to make the political system more
responsive to the needs of a 21st-century polity.
Waste of Energy.
"energy conservation" initiatives fall
short because they don't address
dysfunctional human settlement patterns, the
root cause of excess consumption.
and the Maritime Highway.
goods on water rather than roads can be a good
thing, but it's only a tiny part of the solution.
Creating a sustainable trajectory for civilization
requires shipping goods shorter distances.
Second Stroll with Katrina.
haven't made much progress preparing New Orleans for
another hurricane, but at least we have a clearer idea
of what went wrong. Dysfunctional human settlement
patterns + Business As Usual governance = disaster.
The Online Edition.
first step in creating a sustainable society is to use
words that precisely describe the world as it is. Today,
we update the glossary of those words.
of the Family as we Know It.
word "family" means many things to many
people. For purposes of examining human settlement
patterns, the term "household" is more
About Sustainable Logic?
the community of people who think seriously about
economic development and the natural environment,
"sustainable" has a specific meaning. In
Virginia, that meaning has been corrupted by loose
No Exit. Earth
is the only biosphere we've got. Gliese 581-C-A,
the closest potentially earth-like planet yet
discovered, is 20 light-years away. We must build
a sustainable civilization here at home.
Conservation Imperative. No
fantastical technology, green or otherwise, can keep the
world on its increasingly energy-intensive development
path. We need to get serious about conservation.
Is Wrong with this Picture?
the United States does need to invest more money
on infrastructure. But without Fundamental Change
in human settlement patterns, most of the spending
would be squandered.
by the horror at Virginia Tech, the MainStream
Media contributed some solid reporting last week
about taxes and the environment. All the stories
lacked was an overarching context.
above-ground version of METRO rail can work in Tysons
Corner. But it will take two things: Public Way Rights
and a Pyramid development strategy.
Really Doesn't Matter.
the world would be better off if everyone drove smaller,
fuel-efficient, non-polluting cars. But even small cars
can't solve traffic congestion. Only functional human
settlement patterns can do that.
Status and Ladies' Purses. Why
do politicians resist raising taxes for basic government
services? Blame the all-too-human preference for status
and luxuries over necessities.
principles behind The Shape of the Future have been
called "socialist," "fascist," and
everything in between. We call them profoundly
the Commuter Problem.
are no magic technological fixes for rush-hour
traffic congestion. The only real solution is
building balanced communities that support fewer,
shorter automobile trips.
Take This -- Not Another Day! Virginia
politicians have finally discovered the "land
use" word -- they just don't know what it means.
Their so-called reforms will solve nothing.
of TRILO-G. Backgrounder: TRILO-G combines "The Shape of the Future",
"BRIDGES", and "ACTION" to provide
understanding of human settlement patterns, current
commentary and a handbook for citizen action.
you want to promote family values, dispense with
cultural wedge issues like abortion and gay marriage and
focus on creating supportive dooryards and
talk about protecting the "American
Dream." What they refuse to tell voters is that the greatest threat to an
unsustainable American way of life is... the
American way of life.
Bread, Lame Circuses.
elections decided only this: that the two-party duopoly
would remain in power, that fundamental change would not
occur, and the nation would continue its slide down an
philosophy of "Buy More Stuff" does not make
Americans particularly happy, and it definitely is not
sustainable. But politicians of both parties still
peddle the fantasy.
(Gray, Brown) Sky Country.
by global climate change and energy- inefficient human
settlement patterns, my home state of Montana is on an
unsustainable growth path.
safety is like water -- it's one of those things you
take for granted until you don't have it. A food
distribution system based on regional produce would be
far easier to keep safe than what we have now.
are like the overweight Lotto winner who squanders his
winnings. The discovery of oil deep in the Gulf of
Mexico will do little to halt the coming energy crash.
Kaine has made two decisions that will aggravate
Virginia's dysfunctional human settlement
patterns: He nixed the tunnel for the Tysons METRO
extension and he picked a traditional highway guy
to run VDOT.
Whale on the Beach.
era of massive over-consumption of the earth's natural
capital is coming to an end. The only prayer for
sustaining our quality of life is to adopt more
efficient human settlement patterns.
in the United States is growing at an unsustainable rate
-- and we're running out of time before a crash landing.
We need to think seriously and comprehensively about
story of Bill Downey, a Fauquier County supervisor
who declined to run for re-election, is more than
the tale of one man's frustration: It's emblematic
of spreading dysfunction as non-urban communities
begin to urbanize.
Free Ride is Over.
General Assembly paid lip service this year to the
transportation-land use connection but it didn't
come close to Fundamental Change. Until it does,
Virginia's mobility crisis will only get worse.
the "Washington region" needs is not another
visioning session -- it needs a rational definition of
the region, an understanding of the nature of its
problems and the political will to enact real
Problem with "Mass" Transit. Light
and heavy rail are expensive, inflexible
alternatives to the automobile. It's time to
consider a 21st-century solution to mobility in
New Urban Regions: Personal Rapid Transit.
no hope of making progress on Virginia's most
intractable problems when our words only cloud
understanding. Our goal in 2006 is to introduce a
more robust Vocabulary.
use of confusing vocabulary in the discussion of human
settlement patterns just won't go away. Here's an update
of uses and abuses since our last column.
fiendish whirl of activity during the 2006 General
Assembly session won't come close to addressing the
fundamental problems facing the Commonwealth.
the Tower of Babel.
words "suburb," "urban,"
and "city" mean different things to
everyone who hears them. Without a precise
vocabulary, writers can't communicate clearly on
the most pressing issues of the day.
Foundation of Babble. In
the study of human settlement patterns, sloppy
language leads to sloppy thought. Take, for
instance, the use of the word "sprawl."
and Access: A Report Card.
Shucet ran a tight ship at VDOT, but his 10
recommendations for transportation reform reflect
the tunnel vision of a highway engineer. He still
doesn't get the need for fundamental change in
human settlement patterns.
people talk about "regionalism" with no clear
idea of what they mean. A regional
approach to solving problems is a good idea -- if
informed by Geographic Literacy.
View from the Heartland.
low-density settlement patterns make us sitting ducks
for energy shocks and natural disasters.
Labor Day Funk.
campaigns are supposed to pick up in September.
But the yack-fest that passes for debate in
Virginia has only obscured the fundamental issues
and distracted voters.
Memory Lane with Katrina.
Katrina was anything but a "natural"
disaster. New Orleans' vulnerability to a Cat 5
hurricane has been well documented since the
1970s, if not earlier.
"balanced communities" is critical to
achieving sustainable New Urban Regions in a
globally competitive economy. Herewith is a primer
on what they are and how to create them.
Diamond's master work surveys the collapse of
unsustainable societies from the ancient Mayans to the
Greenland Norse. There are lessons there for 21st
price of housing is getting out of reach for a
majority of Virginians. The solution isn't more
government subsidies, which are part of the
problem, but putting houses in the right location.
Smith, Andrew Jackson and Henry Ford originated
powerful strains of thought in American democracy.
Each one has its merits. But working in
concert, they create an unsustainable society.
in the November Election.
are fixated on finding more money for Virginia's
ailing transportation system, whether through
taxes, tolls or private investment. But
without Balanced Communities, there will never
be enough money.
the Property Tax. Forget
about providing "relief" for residential
property taxes. That's a Band-Aid. Restructure taxes to eliminate incentives behind so
much of today's dysfunctional economic and social
Ills and Base Closings. In
the absence of balanced system capacity and
Subregional demand, the METRO will be a long-term drain on Virginia's treasury.
But the proposed military base realignment could
help create that balance.
and Dooryard Density.
movement provides useful data on density for
residential projects. If re-developed at "Cohousing"
densities, our Subregions could accommodate growth
for years without consuming any more land.
latest Urban Mobility report confirms what we all know:
Traffic congestion is getting worse. As Virginia's
transportation systems decay, so do our regional
economies and quality of life.
housing subsidies and dysfunctional human
settlement patterns make a volatile mix. We're
witnessing the worst housing bubble in the history
of the United States. The inevitable bust will be
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.
housing prices create a false prosperity. Taxes are
rising, newcomers are priced out of the housing market
and the real estate bubble will bring widespread misery
when it busts.
Me Home, Congested,
human settlement patterns and traffic congestion are
spreading to West Virginia's panhandle. Traditional
conservation tactics will not work.
Traditional conservation techniques aren't
working. Because of Geographic Illiteracy, they're
accelerating the spread of dysfunctional land use
Speculators 2, Citizens 0. Property
rights zealots are cackling over the overturn of
Growth Management initiatives in Portland, Ore.,
and Loudoun County, Va. Land speculators
profit, and the public loses again.
Crime. Business-As-Usual interests are calling for bigger, wider
Interstates to improve interregional mobility.
The schemes won't work because they don't create
Mother of All Dysfunction. A
failing education system puts Americans at risk in
a globally competitive economy and undermines our
Settlement Patterns. Want
better education for Virginia's children? We need
to change the size, location and funding of our
Commuting Problem. Mass
transit is just one more "solution" that
won't work in the absence of Balanced Communities.
Money spent on helping commuters is money
Year's Resolution. Our
politicians and pundits could resolve to tell the
truth about what it takes to ameliorate traffic
congestion. Of course, they're no more likely to
do so than they are to lose 20 pounds.
Summing Up. No
one disputes the facts regarding the debilitating
impact of dysfunctional human settlement patterns
-- but Virginia opinion leaders ignore them all
the same. Ever optimistic, we suggest some light
Myth to Law. The
Private Vehicle Mobility Myth and Myth of the Big
Yard induce citizens to make millions of
small decisions that lead to dysfunctional
settlement patterns. Only by spreading the obverse
of those myths--natural laws--can we reverse the
Skycar Myth. Small
airplanes have their uses, but the idea of
subsidizing their development as personal mobility
vehicles is unsound. There is no substitute for
functional human settlement patterns.
Young in Traffic. Why
are so many teenagers dying in auto accidents?
Because the lack of walkable, balanced communities
means young people have to drive a car to go
anywhere or do anything.
in the METRO is the single best bet for improving
mobility and access in the National Capital
Subregion -- but only if it serves the interests
of citizens, not Business As
out the Mouse. Fending
off the Disney's America project 10 years ago was
a victory -- but only a temporary one -- against
the relentless spread of dysfunctional human
Data, Spinning Wheels. Traffic
congestion is actually worse than stated in the
widely touted 2004 Urban Mobility Study. And the
only real solution -- fundamental land use reform
-- is downplayed for reasons of self interest.
for Mr. Goodgrowth. The
time is ripe for a gubernatorial candidate to defy
the Business As Usual special interests and take
the case for Fundamental Change to the
Trap of Great Examples. Good examples, even great examples,
development have failed to influence the descent
toward dysfunctional human settlement patterns and
and editorials in Virginia's newspapers
consistently obscure the origins of traffic
congestion and legitimize the special interests
that benefit from raising taxes/building more
of Chaos. There
is only one solution to intensifying traffic congestion --
Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns.
Other touted remedies only tinker at the edges.
Perfect Storm. Virginia
has the ideal combination of a strong state
transportation agency, uncontested local control
over land use and a clueless public officialdom to
ensure a dysfunctional road and rail system for
years to come.
and Taxes. Your
tax dollars at work: More Americans have died in traffic
accidents than in all wars in U.S. history. Rather than
subsidizing our automobile dependency, we should be
Delusion and Fraud. Megaprojects
like the Springfield
interchange and Woodrow Wilson Bridge are
monuments to futility. They cannot improve
mobility in the face of dysfunctional human
the Jobs Are. Despite
attention given to fast-growing counties on the
edge of the National Capital New Urban Region, 94
percent of new office space built in the Virginia
portion is within 20 miles of the urban core.
Or Was it Just Luck? Nah,
they weren't listening. Still, the inability of
the General Assembly to raise taxes for
transportation gives Virginia one more chance to
get things right.
sums up the response to my recent arguments for
Fundamental Change. Trouble is, any compromise with
"Business As Usual" condemns Virginia to
entropy and decay.
Open Letter. While
caterwauling about the budget and tax
"reform", the General Assembly has
avoided addressing the fundamental issues. To initiate real change, here's where
we need to start.
15: Tax Deform.
reform that "expands the tax base"
sounds like a nice way to pay for public services.
But growth in Virginia today is so dysfunctional that
it also drives up the cost of government.
in Richmond are peddling the fantasy that raising
taxes and building more roads will ameliorate
traffic congestion. Wrong. Higher taxes will just
perpetuate the Business As Usual practices that
got us in the mess we're in.
Shape of Richmond's Future.
fundamental change, the long-term outlook for the
Richmond New Urban Region is grim: traffic
gridlock, "sub"urban decay, escalating cost of
government services, and more.
Context. The Washington Post could reforest the Amazon
with the paper it's wasted on transportation
issues. Without illuminating the underlying causes
of gridlock, the stories are worse than useless.
from illuminating the causes of traffic
congestion, the Washington Post editorial
page last year perpetuated the myths that sustain
Business As Usual.
a rail line to Dulles Airport could be a great idea
-- if planners cluster the right kind of
development around the rail stations. Otherwise,
it's just business as usual.
Risse boils down a year's worth of columns into
five pithy tenets about how human settlement
patterns shape the future of development in the
Washington-Baltimore New Urban Region.
Yard Where Johnny Can
Run and Play. American
families have been sold on the idea that kids need
big yards to play in. In reality, large-lot
development makes inaccessible many of the
amenities required for a healthy, happy childhood.
Growth Isn't Smart. Many
elected officials tout "slow growth" as
a remedy for the ills generated by dysfunctional
human settlement patterns. But it's a hopeless
mishmash of an ideology.
. Much of the damage
from natural disasters like Isabel is entirely
preventable. Rather than subsidized
scattered habitation in exposed locations, public
cluster people in
areas that can be protected efficiently.
solve many the most pressing problems of
contemporary society, citizens must abandon
fallacious beliefs that guide their everyday
actions and perpetuate dysfunctional human
Virginia's Countryside is dying the
death of a thousand small cuts. Scattered
urban land uses are eroding the foundation for a sustainable future.
8: Wild Abandonment
A short-term focus causes
developers, consumers and municipal
governments to abandon places that could become
high-quality, well-located places to live, work
and seek services.
commuter tax is a great idea -- but only if it
incentivizes commuters, employers and
municipalities to create communities with a
balance of jobs and housing.
is Northern Virginia?
are multiple definitions of the subregion known as
Northern Virginia. Informed discussion is
difficult if you don't know which one you're using.
14: The Housing Dilemma.
people want affordable,
accessible housing for all Americans -- as long as
the poor don't live near them. The current
incapable of solving the problem.
and Mobility. There
will never be enough money or transport facilities
to ward off traffic congestion without fundamental
change in human settlement patterns.
The Clear Edge.
The best way to
preserve Virginia farms, forestry and rural
landscapes from destruction is to change the
tax policies that encourage scattered development.
to the decisive role of human settlement patterns,
has made itself dependent upon foreign oil and
blunders through the reconstruction of Middle
Eastern nation states.
fiddled while Rome burned. Virginia's legislators
diddle while the state and its regions sink into
dysfunctional governance. Only informed citizens
can hold them accountable.
growth initiatives were toast in 2003. If itís
any consolation, they wouldnít have worked
anyway -- and legislative defeat may set the stage for
But No Bargain. "Affordable"
housing is often a code word for opening up cheap
land for development. But home owners pay a price
for the perpetuation of dysfunctional human
Home for Homeland Security
search for a Homeland Security HQ sheds new light
on the ideal locations for airports, transit and
public facilities within the Washington New Urban
and Shadows. Rather
than edify the public about the dynamics behind
Northern Virginia's transportation congestion, The
Washington Post obscured the causes and touted
Little, Too Late. Governor
Warner's proposal to link transportation and land
use planning might have made a difference -- 30
years ago. Now, far more radical measures are
2, 2002: Wrong
Solution, Wrong Problem. Since the sales tax referendum went down to defeat, government
officials have started lobbying for more federal
transportation funds. But more money will only
make matters worse.
25, 2002: Whatís
defeat of the taxes-for-roads referenda was a triumph for common
sense. Now comes the hard part: deep reform of government, taxes
and land use.