The Shape of the Future

E M Risse


The Myths that Blind Us


To solve many the most pressing problems of contemporary society, citizens must abandon fallacious beliefs that guide their everyday actions and perpetuate dysfunctional human settlement patterns.


This is the third of three Special Reports addressing contemporary human settlement patterns. The first two reports discussed how settlement patterns have become dysfunctional, causing some of the most pressing problems our society faces today.(1)


Overpowering forces are ruining the vitality of Urbansides and are eroding and destroying the Countryside. In Part I ("Wild Abandonment," September 8, 2003), we outlined the forces that are thwarting promising components of Urbansides from evolving into high-value, high-quality places. In Part II ("Scatteration," Sept. 25, 2003), we illuminated the anatomy and impact of scattering urban land uses across the Countryside landscape.


Although citizens cannot always articulate their grievances, they identify the same problems in opinion poll after opinion poll:


·         Congested and failing transport systems;


·         Lack of affordable housing;


·         Erosion of economic prosperity for a growing segment of the population;


·         Fragile and aging infrastructure;


·         Deteriorating personal safety and community security;


·         Escalating costs and deteriorating quality of education, healthcare and other public and private services;


·         Loss of historic resources, erosion of the Countryside and degradation of the environmental quality;

  •  Lack of accessible recreation and amenity, including open space.

As documented in The Shape of the Future, these problems are part of the same systemic crisis.(2) But they are difficult to solve because citizens to not understand that they stem from a common cause, dysfunctional human settlement patterns, which are, in large part, the unintended consequences of billions of their own, well-intentioned actions. Conditions are growing worse even though citizens believe they are doing what is best for themselves and their organizations.


This report steps beyond the direct causes of settlement pattern dysfunctions considered in the first two Special Reports. It focuses on citizens’ underlying perspectives and misconceptions which drive dysfunction. These “myths” exacerbate the forces eroding both Urbansides and the Countryside. 


Myths guide individuals, families and organizations in our contemporary competition- and consumption-driven society. The myths are perpetuated by the billions of dollars spent each year on advertising, infomercials and image building by those who profit from Business As Usual. Myths are also reinforced by political action committees (PACs), by governance practitioners who hold their positions thanks to PAC contributions, and by media “news.”


Following a review of myths that impact human settlement patterns and the factors that perpetuate these myths, this report explores three overarching obstacles to reaching intelligent, considered public judgment on the need for fundamental changes in human settlement pattern:  


1. Lack of time and opportunity for citizens to thoughtfully consider important issues;


2. Failure to recognize the need for fundamentally restructuring governance;


3. Absence of a comprehensive collective worldview –- a conceptual framework and vocabulary –- with which to discuss dysfunction and fundamental change.


Widely held misconceptions are hard to challenge effectively when citizens have so little time to consider their immediate personal needs along with those of their families and organizations, much less the time to focus on larger contextual issues. Even if they had the time, existing democratic processes are not capable of arriving at intelligent decisions about collective best practices. Also very important, citizens have no “worldview” -- vocabulary and conceptual framework -- with which to consider these issues.


As long as citizens and organizations base actions on myths and misconceptions, they can do little to ameliorate dysfunctional human settlement patterns and, thereby, address transportation congestion, lack of affordable housing, deteriorating prosperity and related problems. 


Myths at the Root of Dysfunctional Human Settlement Patterns


Society is controlled by myths today no less than it was in 1500 A.D. Today’s society and the myths nurtured by proponents of Business As Usual are more complex but no less inscrutable to current citizens than were many of the beliefs people held during the time of Copernicus.


This report explores broad, societal myths and misconceptions.(3) It also examines the context in which these myths operate. The misconceptions thwart attempts to generate support for broad, fundamental changes in human settlement patterns and governance structures. They erode the social compact that underlies civil society.(2)

Myths cloud the citizens’ ability to adsorb and process facts. As author Paul Waldman notes: “...the way we interpret information and arrive at conclusions is colored by what we already believe.”(4)

The following is a sampling of key misconceptions arranged in ascending order of abstraction. The myths range from ones that can be dismantled with the application of basic physics (e.g., mobility) to those that must be addressed by metaphysics (e.g., the human need for “community” to achieve economic, social and physical objectives of civilization).


The further down the list one goes, the harder it is to tie down the facts necessary to refute the myths. But the facts and analysis techniques do exist and must be applied.


While some myths involve metaphysics as well as physics, they remain in the realm of science -– anthropology, psychology, socio-economics and consilience to name a few. Debunking these myths requires that the quagmire of uninformed preferences, policy and Politics As Usual be avoided.


Mobility and Access. The Industrial Revolution vastly expanded transport options. However, the power of mobility to make citizens happy and safe is vastly oversold. The core misconception concerning mobility and access is often expressed this way:

Contemporary technology gives citizens a broad range of mobility and communication choices. These choices make access a function of desire and resources. For this reason, “location” is largely irrelevant.

This misconception is often expressed in terms of the “Private Vehicle Mobility Myth:”

Citizens can live wherever they can afford a house, work wherever they can find a job, and seek services and recreation where they want. Further, having made these choices, it is possible for government to provide a mobility system so citizens can go wherever they want, whenever they want to travel and arrive in a timely manner.

(See “Too Little, Too Late,” December, 23, 2002.)


Employment. In the winner-take-all, competitive economic environment, a well-paying job is important in order to pay for all the things that are needed by citizens to assemble a quality life. Job-related misconceptions that are embraced by citizens include:

It is good practice to take the best-paying job available regardless of location.


The geographic context of the job and its relationship to the worker’s dwelling is less important than the salary.

Housing. The desire to own and control one’s dwelling and the desire to make as much money as possible intersect to form a range of housing-related misconceptions.

A family can buy the home of their dreams and live the good life regardless of location.


When homeowners want to move, they will be able to sell their house at a profit regardless of whether or not they have invested time and money in the dwelling unit or invested time and effort in the dooryard, cluster and other organic components of the communities where they live.

When one decides to acquire a different house, what is most important is getting the most house for the dollar, regardless of the location.


There is no possibility of another residential real estate crash or widespread residential  property value depression, such as the ones that decimated the banking/savings and loan industry, the building industry or stock markets in the last 25 years.

(See “Affordable, But No Bargain,” Feb. 17 2003 ; “The Housing Dilemma,” July 14, 2003; Pam Woodall’s “House of Cards," The Economist, May 29, 2003 .)


Education. “Securing a quality education for their children” is a prime reason for choosing a house location. A number of misconceptions confound those concerned with securing a quality education for their children or maintaining their status as an educated individual.

To get a good education for their children, all parents have to do is move to a school district with a good reputation, open the door and send the child off on a school bus.


Education is a commodity that once achieved is good forever without further investment of time or effort. For this reason, the location of community education infrastructure is of little importance for adults.

Safety. When the Cold War ended, citizens of the First World escaped, at least for the time-being, the unthinkable calamity of World War III. After 11 September 2001, new threats rooted in past mistakes came into focus. It turns out that what most citizens are trying to escape is media-driven xenophobia and the collective impact of well-intended actions. Here are some of the safety and security misconceptions with respect to criminals and terrorists.

The first step to insure family safety is to move to a house on a big lot in a low-density jurisdiction.

For those who can afford it, the very best safety strategy is to move to a gated housing enclave and associate only with people just like themselves.

Up to this point, we have either addressed the myths previously in the context of human settlement patterns or they are blatantly silly when clearly articulated. The myths surrounding safety, and those that follow, require additional comment.


With the topic of “safety,” one moves into the metaphysical –- the realm of the social sciences –- economics and socio-economics, as well as psychology, anthropology and consilience. This is not straightforward math and physics, but neither does it belong to the universe of preference polls of uninformed citizens and political posturing.


Contrary to popular belief, distance does not yield security. A gated enclave is the contemporary version of the walled village. Technology has made walls and gates permeable and thus largely irrelevant with respect to serious safety threats. Those who move to gated “communities” seek safety but find neither safety nor community.


Private Property vs Community Responsibilities. At the core of the misconceptions about human settlement patterns are myths grounded in age-old conflicts between privacy and community, between urban activities and non-urban (aka, “rural”) activities and the need to balance competition with cooperation. 


With respect to human settlement patterns, the need for balance is often clouded by intentional misinterpretation of constitutionally protected property rights. The misconception is often stated as follows:

There is no need for community property; we just need more respect for private property rights.

In fact, it is very important to sort out property ownership and rights. Individual self-interest and the common good is best served by an intelligent balance of private and community rights and responsibilities. Since the time of Greek colonization, the Planned New Community has provided a context where newly urban residents could learn the skills needed to peacefully share urban space. Key strategies employed in Planned New Communities are common ownership of land and self-governance for the organic components of human settlement. One objective of Ebenezer Howard’s garden cities was to help educate and acculturate the cadre of new urban residents who were drawn from the Countryside into the Urbanside during the 19th century by the prospect of urban jobs. Three generations of citizens reared in “sub”urban spaces where spaces where separation and distance are seen as unblemished good things.  


The conflict between privacy and community is articulated as a conflict between two forces by Amitai Etzioni in his memoir My Brother’s Keeper (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003):

“First, the advance of modernity, the march of enlightenment, the rise of new technologies and industries, and secularism were undermining the traditional society based on life in small communities.” (There were “small communities” both within Urbansides and in the Countryside.)

“Second, at the same time, the resulting loss of social fabric, the increase in human isolation, threatened people’s mental health and moral character, resulting in alienation and crime. It makes people yearn for a more communal life.” (“Social fabric,” could also be termed “social capital,” and “communal life,” is now widely referred to as “civil society”.)

The rise of global and regional economic competition and the ensuing winner-take-all environment exacerbate this conflict. It is not possible to make a lot of money by building “community,” either physical community, as pointed out in the first Special Report, or community as a social entity. In fact, consumption is now a substitute for genuine social satisfaction and fulfillment. Retail consumption, gambling and entertainment are the big moneymakers.


For 2,000 years, Communitarians have been wrestling with how to meet the need for community in the face of the powers and the demands of empire, church, king, prince, mercantile monopoly, nation-state, dictatorship and now global economic force.  Contemporary Communitarians have yet to understand the spacial (aka, “spatial”) aspect of “community” and the absolute need to create “community” at the level of each one of the components of organic human settlement patterns that make up Balanced Communities in sustainable New Urban Regions.


Misconceptions are Reinforced by Ads, News and Political Pronouncements


No one who reads a regional newspaper or watches commercial television disputes that the myths listed above are reinforced daily by advertising and by the “news” that is  provided by mass media. But why are the myths systematically reinforced? The answers are simple:


·         Individuals and enterprises make a lot of money as a result of actions based on these myths. Over two-thirds of the current economy in the Untied States is driven by consumer decisions, many of which are controlled by the myths articulated above.


·         The leaders of institutions and agencies are rewarded (e.g., get raises and get re-elected) if citizens embrace the myths over reality.


The direct tie between advertising and sales/consumption is obvious. The indirect tie is not always clear. News media are private enterprises supported by advertising revenue. The owners of media outlets are keenly aware of the need to perpetuate the myth-driven consumer decisions that keep the economy expanding even though unsustainable and dysfunctional settlement patterns are also expanded. The more media ownership is concentrated, the more powerful the bias becomes.


Governance practitioners say they get “wake-up calls” from time to time, but they do not wake up to the need for fundamental change. They face each new crisis with “concern” and then propose “solutions” that have already been tried and have not worked. The old ideas are presented with “optimism” and to question them is unpatriotic. Where is George Orwell when we need him? “In this great town, ‘city,’ state or country, we can overcome the evil doers by doing what we have done before” and by waving the flag with more fervor.”

Without changing any of the global economic parameters, human settlement patterns in the United States would become infinitely more sustainable if the total cost of land conversion from nonurban to urban land uses and the cost of providing urban services were rationally and fairly allocated to those who profit from those actions and use of those services. (See Special Report Two.)

Even this modest change is apparently beyond the pale of consideration by contemporary governance structures and the media that support them.


Cumulative Impacts


One fact that makes a fundamental change in human settlement pattern difficult to secure is that the dysfunctional and unsustainable patterns and densities of land use are cumulative conditions that result from billions of individual, well-intended actions.

Committing the Fallacy of Composition is the operative axiom in this case.

Brookings Senior Fellow Anthony Downs has pointed out that in a democracy it is hard to change policies that benefit individuals near the top of the food chain when the negative impacts are primarily felt by those at the bottom. This is especially true when the negative impacts are cumulative ones that are obscured and confounded by myths. It may be easier to move forward when it is shown that the negative consequences are moving up the ladder and now impact all but a very few at the top.

Abandonment within Urbansides and Scatteration in the Countryside are the cumulative result of myth- driven actions and reactions.

Abandonment and Scatteration are, however, not the only drivers of dysfunction in human settlement patterns. There are direct and indirect threats to the maintenance and creation of Balanced Communities within Urbansides and to Disaggregated Balanced Communities in the Countryside. They include the loss of jobs in manufacturing, processing, fabrication, customer service, back office and communications due to global competition, electronic communications and off-shore outsourcing. The loss of jobs exacerbates the problem of creating Balanced Communities in both Urbansides and the Countryside. State and municipal jurisdictions spend their energy on tax-base catch-up and fighting brain drain. A new generation of budget-breaking “mega-projects” now threatens both Urbansides and the Countryside. 


There are direct threats to the Countryside from industrial agriculture, clear-cut timbering and mountaintop-removal mining. There are also indirect results of these practices, e.g., air and water pollution. Scattered urban land uses also exacerbate the problem of Countryside management. For example, scattering urban houses in the woods dramatically raises the cost of managing forest fires.


There are bright spots, such as ecologically sound specialty agriculture and resource- and commodity-based tourism, which are focused within the urban enclaves in the Countryside. However, all the “solutions” are made less attractive and viable when they must compete with traffic and other impacts of scattered urban land uses that are in the Countryside due to the forces outlined in the first two Special Reports.


Marketplace of Ideas


The traditional practice of journalism turns out to be a significant problem. The “let’s you and him fight” and “he said, she said” approaches of “balanced” journalism are not conducive to breaking through widely-held myths and misconceptions. When challenged about misleading stories, graphics or editorials, the response from the media is “balanced reporting,” “journalistic integrity” and “freedom of the press.” No, the map is wrong and misleading. No, building more roads without changing the settlement patterns makes congestion worse, not better. 


(See “Smoke and Shadows,” Jan 13, 2003, and “Access and Mobility,” June 30, 2003.)

Every substantive issue related to human settlement patterns has a set of obfuscations masquerading as “balanced journalism.”

The media currently does not sort fact from opinion. A science-based fact is given less credence than the opinion of a “notable” person who has a stake in preserving the status quo (aka, Business As Usual). An unsubstantiated view of an office holder is given preference over fact-based analysis. A complex problem with far-reaching impact is given less air time than some looney action by a sports figure or a silly pronouncement by the star of a sitcom, especially the ones who happen to work for the same network or channel as the news program. Everything is entertainment. Medicine becomes “ER,” law enforcement becomes “NYPD Blue,” sports becomes “Playmakers” and politics becomes “ K Street.” With respect to regional and community news, “if it bleeds, it leads.” If it bleeds a lot, it is national news.


The reason that 19th and 20th century journalism no longer works is that contemporary civilization is now at a stage similar to that at the end of the 15th century. At that time:


·         Geography and exploration were controlled by a belief that the earth was flat.


·         Human health practice was dominated by rumors, humors and spirits.


·         Physical and chemical actions and reactions were thought to be controlled by mystic forces and supernatural powers.


·         History and the potential of a better future fell into the realm of revealed truths perpetuated by both church and state.


Humans were able to move beyond those constraints, but it was not done by relying on the leaders of the day to reconsider their positions or by taking a vote among those who believed the prevailing myths. No amount of discussion between uninformed partisans will wipe out myths. In the current context, the marketplace of ideas via major media outlets only offers soft drinks and fast food.

In the late 15th century, as is the case now, those who profited from Business as Usual controlled the fora. 

More important, due to the global economy and regional markets, there is now a single language -– money. The default setting for the control of contemporary civilization is “Economic Competition" (3). Those who support Business As Usual are now making the most money, the fastest. It is hard to overcome the unified voice of money:

·         Individuals, families and enterprises are making money directly.


·         Institutions and agencies are profiting indirectly.  

  • “You do want to support the economy and have a good job, don’t you?”

These issues have been aired before. They are ignored, and the impact grows worse. More and more citizens are disenchanted with the options offered by the current political process. However, no one is stepping forward to support fundamental change.


The role of media must be reexamined. As author and media critic Paul Waldman notes:

“Once misconceptions are known, journalists have an obligation to highlight the facts in a prominent way, writing stories specifically about where people have misunderstood or been misled, and correcting the misimpressions. The average citizen can’t be expected to wade through the euphemisms and competing claims, research the evidence, and come to a conclusion about who’s telling the truth and who isn’t.” (4)

As noted at the outset, there appear to be three overarching obstacles in coming to intelligent public judgment about fundamental change. These are subjects not commonly raised in the context of these human settlement patterns, but they should be. The following three sections address these concerns:


1.       Lack of time and opportunity necessary to thoughtfully consider important issues


2.       No understanding of the need for fundamentally restructuring governance


3.       Absence of a comprehensive collective worldview–a conceptual framework and vocabulary–with which to discuss the issues  


Time and Opportunity to Consider the Myths Impacting Human Settlement Patterns


The first fundamental contextual problem is that citizens lack time to carefully consider the issues raised in these three Special Reports. This fact is intuitively obvious. To drive this point home, here is a summary of why citizens do not have the time to consider the issues and realize that myths control contemporary society as much now as in 1500 A.D.


At the Top of the Economic Food Chain. Those at the top of the economic food chain believe that “they can have it all, and do it all.” That's certainly what advertisements and politicians tell them. Here is a partial list of “all” for the contemporary family.


·         Both family partners have meaningful careers and continuously keep up-to-date on professional and work skills.


·         Parents raise beautiful, well-adjusted children who have good relations with siblings, peers, immediate family, extended family, and those they meet by happenstance.


·         Beyond the extended family, both partners and their children maintain close and mutually supportive relationships with a range of friends who share their history, interest and geography.


·         The family always prepares and enjoys balanced, nutritious meals.


·         Parents work together to ensure that the children get quality, comprehensive educations.


·         Children participate in activities such as scouting, music, dance, sports and other extra curricular activities for which the parents provide active support.


·         Adults continue to expand their horizons through effective continuing education.


·         Parents keep current with the most intelligent health and exercise information, practices and routines for themselves and their children.


·         Family members who are so inclined write, paint or in other ways participate in creative pursuits.


·         Travel and vacations provide relaxation and reinforce positive, authentic experiences.


·         The home is creatively decorated and maintained to reflect and support the lifestyles and unique experiences of the family.


·         The family creates and maintains an ongoing visual, audio and material archive of activities and shared history.


·         The family intelligently manages and maintains home(s), cars, yard and, if they choose, a  second/vacation home, in such a way as to prevent dangerous build-ups of mold, carbon, bats and other adversities.


·         Both partners learn and follow best practices to minimize the environmental impact of household, cars and yard maintenance.


·         The family performs cleaning and maintenance tasks and/or competently manages contracts for services, utilities and repairs.


·         The household intelligently manages funds and plans for retirement.


·         Voting age citizens are informed on current community, regional, national and international events so that informed decisions can be made at elections in which they always vote.


·         The parents choose whether the family joins a religious or other spiritual-based institution, and if they belong to one, they attend and follow the ethical and moral teachings of the faith.


·         The parents and children intelligently choose and attend the best live entertainment available in the region.


·         The family intelligently chooses and enjoys the best entertainment available electronically.


·         The family contributes to the health, safety and function of the community by volunteering in clean-up, governance, safety, education and other activities at the dooryard, cluster and neighborhood scales.


·         Both parents support their favorite educational institution and follow its teams and activities.


·         The family acquires and uses the latest appliances, entertainment, electronics, tools, telecommunications and other equipment.


The list could go on. There are no hobbies here. No bird watching, no golf, no serious gardening, cooking or woodworking. There is no coin collecting, no book clubs, no league bowling or fantasy football leagues. For sure there is no Stitch and Chatter Club and no bingo. The list is, however, sufficient to demonstrate the futility of thinking anyone can “have it all” or “do it all” in the context of contemporary lifestyles. 


For example, it is fully possible to take seriously the last point and spend almost every waking hour, year after year, selecting and learning how to use every feature of the appliances and equipment that those at the top of the economic food-chain acquire. If this were accomplished, families would have no time to consider the other 22 potential considerations on this list. 


If, of course, the family falls for the myths related to the mobility or home and job location, only the bare minimum of any of the considerations can be attempted, much less achieved.

The possibilities for life experiences and activities are infinite, but time to pursue them is finite. 

One cannot “do it all.” In fact, one cannot do most of it. Who is fooling all these well-intended citizens? Check to see who is making money by selling goods and services that are never, infrequently or partially used.


At the Bottom. At the other end of the economic spectrum, the situation is reversed. Those at the bottom have almost none of “it.” They have little or no control. Worse yet, they have no concept of what would be useful to control if they could. For starters, they are forced to live in locations that allow them time and resources to address only a bare minimum of the elements of a quality life.


A Few in the Middle. There are a few in the middle who have found a great place and have tried to sort out what they think they can do. Just keeping it all sorted out is itself a full time job. Some have adopted the following mantra:

Keep up the good work, abandon the rest. No one can do it all.

The problem is how does one determine what is the “good” work? A classic example is the time and effort that co-housers devote to finding just the right clustermates. The co-houser’s search is like finding exactly the right partner –- only exponentially harder. The exponent in this equation is the number of households involved. Try solving a problem when each of 32 variables is raised to the 32nd power. Co-housers work exhaustingly to find the best team members. As soon as they move in, things start to change.


The Professionals. There is a parallel problem with time. Due to the two contextual issues addressed below, academics, professionals and governance practitioners who should address the myths and their impacts instead spend their time chasing shadows on the wall in a classic demonstration of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. They are fully occupied being “notable,” publishing their ideas, speaking at the right conferences and getting on the right talk shows.  They have little time to consider the larger context of their specialty. (2)


Ways to Restructure Governance


The second contextual problem deals with governance. Achieving fundamental change in human settlement patterns requires a change in governance structure. A major problem is that those who support Business As Usual are those at or near the top of the existing economic food chain. They are getting richer as the result of maintaining the status quo (aka, Business As Usual). They raise the money and buy political influence to preserve the status quo.


Twenty-five years ago this month, Czech playwright and “dissident” Vaclav Havel wrote a 90-page essay titled “The Power of the Powerless.” This essay is widely credited with fundamentally changing the course of modern history in the Soviet bloc -– especially in former Czechoslovakia and Poland. Although Havel focused on “post-totalitarian society driven by ideology,” he also had a lot to say about what might be called “two-party totalitarianism driven by competition, consumption, commercialism and automatism.”


Few in the United States would have agreed with Havel’s characterization of democracy 25 years ago. In light of the continuing march toward dysfunctional settlement patterns and entropy, many more may find his characterizations timely today. Political footballs such as health care, welfare reform, affordable housing, campaign finance reform, improving education, defense and security, growing income disparity, deregulation (as a universal panacea), tax reform, as well as tax cuts and subsidies for the very rich, may generate support for a new perspective on governance. 


Perhaps there is a need for someone to identify how to create “parallel structures” in the “pre-political” sphere of “two-party totalitarianism.” Havel talked of “dissidents” bringing reality (“living within the truth”) to those “living in the lie of post-totalitarianism.” There is a need for a new generation of dissidents to bring the reality of living within the truth to those living in the myths of two-party totalitarianism. Living in truth would be much easier with a governance structure that is congruent with the organic composition of human settlement pattern.


Problem of Worldview


The third contextual problem is that of limited perspective or “worldview.” This has also been called the problem of vocabulary and conceptual framework.(2) The need for a consistent, agreed-to vocabulary is easy to understand. “Conceptual framework,” which may be thought of as a “comprehensive geographic context,” is more complex. “Worldview” is perhaps a better, more all-encompassing term. 


The current prevailing worldview is characterized by what The Virginian-Pilot calls the “Me Firsters” in an editorial published September 13, 2003 . Me Firsters have been growing in numbers and diversity since they emerged as the “baby boomers” and the “Me Generation.” The Virginian-Pilot editorial was aimed at those who want to protect and expand individual tax exemptions, but Me Firsters interests go much farther. They are the heart of the “Club of Growth” (aka, Club of Consumption) theory of economic expansion and prosperity. Their simplistic mantra is “A rising tide raises all boats.” This is not true. As noted in the first Special Report,(1) a rising tide in this context swamps most of the small boats. What it does do is to meet the needs of those few who have the “biggest ships.”


There is a necessity for a more comprehensive worldview, one that becomes a basic element of all public education. Each human’s existence can be represented by a giant four-dimensional matrix. The problem of a constrained or warped worldview is that no one knows the scope of their own matrix and how it fits within the infinitely larger shared ‘n’ dimensional matrix. A person fills in only a small part of his personal matrix from his own experiences and education. Then he acts, based largely on myth, to optimize his own self-interest. 


In the current context, citizens have no sense of the whole, no conceptual framework and no vocabulary with which to describe and discuss it. This is because these things are not part of the current educational experience of most students or the continuing education of adults. 


Geographic illiteracy is just the tip of this iceberg. Iceberg is a good analogy to use with this contextual issue because the answers are submerged in the psychology of learning, socio-economics, consilience and other emerging fields.


Where to From Here?

As noted at the outset, citizens understand that fundamental problems exist. With each new crisis, more come to believe that the problems are at least partially the result of dysfunctional human settlement patterns and outmoded governance structures. 

But what can be done about it? The need is to focus these interests to achieve positive change.


Initiate a Process to Discuss Issues


The first step is to initiate the processes -– no one approach will suffice -– to create fora and bring the issues of fundamental change to the forefront. A diverse coalition of compatible interests must be energized to address the forces outlined in these three Special Reports.


The use of study circles in Sweden to adopt a national policy on sustainability (The Natural Step) and to join the European Union offers insights. So might reviving the League of Women Voters of the ‘50s and ‘60s in the United States with a comprehensive focus and without a preoccupation of working within the existing governance structure.


Explore Ways to Come to Public Judgment on the Best Course of Action


The Kettering Foundation, the Pew Trust and others such as the Center for Deliberative Polling are exploring ways to enrich and revitalize democracy.


The six “Overarching Strategies” spelled out in The Shape of the Future (2) and the 12 steps outlined at the end of the first Special Report(1) are places to start on the path to functional human settlement patterns. The steps to fundamental governance reform are not as clear.


-- October 20, 2003



1.  Special Report One, Abandoning Potentially Great Places (“Wild Abandonment,”, 8 Sept 2003 ) and Special Report Two “Sub”Country–Scatteration of Urban Land-Uses in the Countryside (“Scatteration,”, 22 Sept 2003). The observations contained in these reports, as well as this third report are supported by the fundamental principles and theories established in The Shape of the Future and document the importance of “The Third Way” laid out in Handbook: The Three-Step Process to Create Balanced Communities in Sustainable New Urban Regions.  A series of PowerPoint programs illustrate the Three-Step Process. This third Special Report reflects input from Linda Risse, SYNERGY/Planning, Ret. and from Professor Joseph Freeman, Lynchburg College.

2. See Risse, E M. The Shape of the Future (2000) and Handbook (2003). Warrenton, VA: SYNERGY/Resources.

3. The Handbook: The Three-Step Process to Create Balanced Communities in Sustainable New Urban Regions outlines the classification of myths and misconceptions that directly impact any strategy to improve human settlement patterns. Section III of the Handbook (“Myths and Misinformation Which Drive Dysfunctional Human Settlement Patterns”) focuses on specific myths that relate to the pattern and density of land use. There is some overlap, but in general, the Handbook myths are primarily of importance to those working to make specific changes to the forces that impact human settlement.

4.  Waldman, Paul. “Why the Media Don’t Call It as They See It.” The Washington Post, 28 September 2003 B-4.  






































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.