Carrying forward the “Who Will Report the News?” theme…

It is “totally awesome” (to quote a favorite member of the extended family) to find a story on the front page of WaPo and a second story on the front page of the Metro section on one day that illustrate the CAUSE of human settlement pattern dysfunction and on the very next day see two more stories in the very same positions in the same paper that document the EFFECT of MSM malfunction.

Let us start with CAUSE on 15 February:

On the front page D’Vera Cohn has a story about “Inner Suburbs Fall Through the Cracks.” We will have more to say about the Brookings study and conference about which the WaPo story is written in the near future but the story (and the reports) provide a stark demonstration of the chaos caused by the use of the Core Confusing Words. (Problem One: failure to use a robust, functional Vocabulary.)

The front page of Metro presents a story by Susan DeFord about Doughoregan Manor titled “When the Past and Future Collide.” Here Geographic Illiteracy is on parade. There is a full color low oblique photo and a location map with the story. These tools document that most of the “where” and “what” elements of the story are pure MSM fiction. (Problem Two: lack of a comprehensive Conceptual Framework to describe human settlement patterns.)

On to the EFFECT in the 16 February WaPo:

The front page story by Steven Ginsberg is headlined: Region’s Traffic: “From Bad to Worse.” This should not surprise anyone but the “solution” is to build more roadways (in this case HOT lanes) to “solve the problem.”

The Metro front page story by Carol Morello features a map that documents that the focus in on a small part of REGIONAL immobility and lack of access.

The real problem is that so long as citizens have an understanding of the New Urban Region based on stories like the two in the 15 February edition, they and their governance practitioner representatives will have no clue about what to do about the lack of mobility and access or the Shelter Crisis.

BTW 1: TAMU’s Urban Mobility Report with 2003 data is out today. We will look at it with care when time allows but it appears at first glance to have the same strengths and weaknesses as the last 20 of these annual reports. (See our column “Spinning Data, Spinning Wheels” 20 September 2004 at BaconsRebellion.) On the “MSM-does-not-know-what-they-are-talking-about” theme, calls the report the “Urban Utility Report.”

BTW 2: It goes without saying perhaps but Jim Bacon’s note earlier on “he said, she said journalism” (with a small, small “j”) is right on and so are the comments on “entertainment” and on the spin we can expect from “news makers.” We deal with the entertainment issue in the section titled “Economic Competition’s Impact on Language and the MainStream Media” in our column “Deconstructing the Tower of Babel,” 12 December 2005.


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5 responses to “CAUSE AND EFFECT”

  1. Saying this is THE cause and this is THE effect is hoplessly oversimplifying the many issues involved.

    Silicon Valley for example has seen enormous changes in their traffic volume over the past few years while their settlement pattern changed very little. What did happen was that settlement was temporarily less dense, due to lack of jobs and business, and traffic volume went down, only to increase again when conditions improved (or not, depending on your point of view).

    The National Energy Model predicts VMT quite accurately based on real income growth, the price of gasoline, and addition and subtraction of new drivers. There is no mention of patterns of living in this model.

    Despite your claims to the contrary, there is ample evidence that for the same population levels a system of smaller cities saves time lost in commuting, has a larger labor supply, and makes more goods than does a single large city. Neither is there conclusive or undisputed evidence that VMT is related to any identifiable pattern of growth or living. According to the Texas transportation studies, the only cities that saw congestion levels fall were spread out Houston and Phoenix, along with job deficient Pittsburgh. Americas most traffic snarled cities are its densist and most transit intensive.

    Anyone who chooses to read Arnott, Giuliano, Handy, Downs, Southworth, Benson, Glaeser, Rodier, Anas, Gordon, Elliot, Morgan, Cervero, to mention jsut a few will find that the issue is far more complex than your “only way” approach suggests.

    If that is not enough you can check out Oak Ridge National Labs, General Accounting Office, or the U. CA. Institute of transportation studies and make your own conclusions about what is likely to work and what is not.

    Our pattern of living has barely changed in the last three years, so the idea that it is a cause of doubling traffic congestion during the same time period is not even a good joke. If anything it acts as a disproof of your ideas.

    Your ideas are fine in the limited way they apply and as far as they go, and in certain places or times. But there are too many issues at play here to suggest that such simplistic, not to say expensive theories are the only way to proceed. We will need a full court press on every idea to get the little competitive advantages that each one offers.

    It is going to cost a lot of money, one way or another, and it won’t solve all our problems. So what we are really trying to decide is who pays and who benefits and how to make that fair and equitable.

    And we should recognize that some of these ideas are counter productive of each other, so we will never achieve an optimal solution. If you are really interested in educating people as to what is really happening and how complex this is, you might try suggesting some reading other than your own.

  2. E M Risse Avatar

    There is an important contributing factor to confusion over human settlement patterns: Obliviousness to the importance of Vocabulary and Conceptual Frameworks. This is, in part, caused by “commentators” who have no idea about what they are saying or writing.

    A good example is the last post. We usually ignore this persons rants but this time he has gone way out of bounds.

    Just one example of the shallowness of his wild attempts to make it sound like he has a basis for “commenting” is the list of 13 writers in his latest post.

    He insinuates that if EMR would just read some of these authors he would see the errors of his ways.

    Many of the 13 authors are well enough known to be recognized by a single name. “The Shape of the Future” cites work by these authors over 30 times. Some are cited in others of our works including columns. We have served on committees and panels, corresponded with and worked with some of the 13 and have read material by nearly all of them.

    One thing distinguishes most of the authors on this list and that is that they are professors, researchers and employees of think tanks. Their work follows and reflects a path dictated by employment reward in these endeavors. While we have taught in several universities, the core of our experience has been in the design and construction of components of urban fabric that have been successful in the market. These components range in scale from units and dooryards to villages and communities. This experience is vastly different than that of professors, researchers and especially employees of ideologically driven think tanks.

    Many on the list of 13 have written works with which we agree; with some we do not agree. Some of them agree with our work, some do not. The theses, laws and strategies outlined in “The Shape of the Future” reflect input from a vast array of scholars and practitioners, including some of these 13.

    When we disagree with these 13 or others based on our experience it is frequently with respect to Vocabulary and Conceptual Framework. The two issues we address in our original post.

    No one needs to remind us of the complexity of the forces shaping human settlement patterns. However, in a democracy, understanding the basics such as Vocabulary and Conceptual Framework is a prerequisite to intelligent and sustainable action. The complexity of human settlement patterns cannot be used as an excuse to continue “Business-As-Usual” for reasons we will be exploring in future columns.

    One downside of the Internet is that is allows lazy students to whip up apparently erudite term papers. It also allows bloggers to whip up silly fabrications in attempts to discredit those with understandings about topics such as the evolution of functional human settlement patterns which for us is an important endeavor.


  3. Ah yes. The same old agument. Only I have the vocabulary to make a perspicacious argument, a vocabulary that I invented, and which is described in my own articles for anyone to see and understand that cares enough to be enlightened.

    Of course I am way out of bounds.

    I don’t have any doubt you have read most if not all of these authors. You and I both agree and disagree with some of their statements. We both agree and disagree with each other from time to time. But you are content to disregard them on the basis of their motivations, as you do my own. You on the other hand are content on rest on your laurels, claiming such masterpieces as Burke. As if PEC was not an ideologically driven think-tank.

    We can disagree on vocabulary or Conceptual Framework (sic), but the real issue comes down to what works, what is factual, what is provable, what is economical, and what is fair. It seems to me that these are concepts that elude you, as common as the vocabulary is. The issues we debate here are causing real and irreparable harm to thousands of people every day. I don’t happen to believe there are any single answers, or even any answers that are completely fair. All I suggest is that you at least consider some ideas other than your own. If you disagree, then take a position and provide the data to support your position.

    I offered three concrete statements for you to defend or attack at your leisure. You chose to ignore them and attack me instead. I freely admit that I do not have your experience or specific knowledge, or a Ph. D, if that makes a difference. I am just a scientist, and a sailor, and a farmer, of sorts, that depends on observation for survival. My observation is that your arguments make not the slightest sense, and they are unsupportable by facts.

    I am not offended by ad hominem arguments. It makes not the slightest difference to me whether I am right and you are wrong, or vice versa. It makes not the slightest difference to me if the answer is somewhere in between. Despite your claims to the contrary, I will be equally happy turning my farm into housing as running it as a farm at similar profit. I would even take less profit for the latter. The only thing I expect is to be treated fairly either way. If you are willing to engage an argument on a single topic and support it with facts, then I am willing to engage. But one thing that distinguishes the people mentioned above is that they supply numbers, however suspect, with their arguments.

    I am not a developer, a road warrior, a member of any society, nor am I paid for my efforts: implying that I am lazy has no meaning to me. I am perfectly willing to change my mind: in fact I support your efforts. But I sincerely believe you are doing the cause of everyone who has to live with the consequences serious harm by making arguments that are unsupportable by facts, contrary to ordinary observation, and inimical to widely accepted social and legal principals. I am, in fact, in favor of what PEC is trying to do. But, I cannot support them because I believe they are utterly wrongheaded in their approach, they are making enemies out of many common people, and because they support arguments such as yours. If I were they, I’d pull the plug.

    So here is my challenge. Take my comment about Silicon Valley, or the national energy model, or my comment that multiple areas generate more good than piling everyone in one place, and destroy them. Knock yourself out. But leave out vocabulary, illiteracy, “no clue”, laziness, dysfunctional, human settlement patterns, any reference to your own works, and generally any negative reference to others. Try not to be what one MSM reference described as “a crank”.

    If you want to engage, then do so. If you really want to do so, then do it economically. I’m not so lazy as to not take you on. Otherwise, have a nice day. I am not attempting to discredit you, but I am asking you to provide any credit at all.

    Look at the bright side. Our verbal feud is probably bringing you, and PEC more readers than ever. If I got paid as much as you do, this would be a lot easier. It might even keep the farm open. (PLUG to PEC, wink, wink).

  4. E M Risse Avatar

    One last time. Silicon Valley, The National Energy Model, Small Places.

    Silicon Valley

    We will get back to “The Valley” in a moment but first why go way out there? The same phenomena can be (and has been) observed on the roadways of southwestern Virginia, in the northern part of Virginia and with every mobility and access system in recorded history from West Glacier in April to Paris in August to Rome when the Emperor invited everyone out to his country place.

    In fact, any system running at or near capacity can be thrown into gridlock / chaos by a small increase in demand and into a free flow condition by a small decrease in throughput.

    With respect to traffic this happens on a continuing basis due to weather, school schedules, sporting events, accidents, holidays, etc. Are you next going to suggest that the lack of traffic in Green Bay, Wisc. on certain Sundays demonstrates that our laws of human settlement pattern are unfounded?

    Back in the early 90s we documented that if all those who were then practicing telework would quit and drove to work every day, the entire Washington-Baltimore New Urban Region mobility system would crash.

    It is only natural that changes in employment or hours of work will cause traffic levels to change. As far as I can tell that is just another fact and does absolutely nothing to discredit any of the statements S/PI has made over the past two decades about settlement patterns (functional or dysfunctional) or about the relationship between the capacity of mobility and access systems and the traffic generation pattern of alternative land uses. Unless, of course, these statements are intentionally misinterpreted.

    Now to “The Valley:” This is a perfect example of a root causes of Geographic Illiteracy.

    Just where is “Silicon Valley?” Most would agree it is focused on Stanford University’s campus and research park / Palo Alto and includes postal addresses in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Atherton, Woodside, etc. But even that constrained area falls in two separate, large counties (San Mateo and Santa Clara) and into many separate municipalities. The territory is served by two major limited access corridors and a rail line and is delimited by the Bay as well as mountains that do not follow municipal or county boundaries.

    Others refer to “Silicon Valley” as stretching from as far north as South of Market in the City and County of San Francisco and south to King City or even Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County. Those who work in “Silicon Valley” live in an even more dispersed area especially to the east. (For a discussion of the parameters subregional location see “Where is Northern Virginia,” 11 August 2003.)

    Any way you articulate the boundary of “Silicon Valley,’ data gathering and analysis is impossible or meaningless unless there is a comprehensive Conceptual Framework to use to gather and analyze data. Therein lies a major difference between our work and that of some of those who you suggest contradicts that of S/PI. Our pineapples are not their blood oranges.

    The problems encountered by those trying to find an easy way to agglomerate data are alluded to in the reference to D’Vera Cohn story on “First Suburbs” in the original post and will be addressed in a future column.

    The National Energy Model

    I have not worked on or with the “National Energy Model.” However, based on work with other large models, I am confident that the equations that make up the model (but not necessarily the variables tested by running the model) have constants and sub-equations that reflect the dispersal of urban activity that has been going on over the past 80 years. They may even probably have a fractional power factor included to compensate for the acceleration of the disaggregation of urban activities over the past three decades. One of our graduate students did an interesting analysis of the models used to determine the economics of agglomeration and found these sorts of fudge factors.

    The bigger issue is that I see no way to assume any attribute or product of a nation-state scale model of energy consumption would call into question the arguments S/PI makes with respect to the benefits of functional human settlement patterns on energy consumption or vehicle use. S/PI’s work is based on analysis at the unit, dooryard, cluster and neighborhood scales (The 10X Rule). The reality of these small scale relationships can be proven with the application of common sense and high school physics and math as we document in “The Shape of the Future.”

    Small Places.

    (“… multiple areas generate more good than piling everyone in one place…”)

    I know of no one who advocates “piling everyone in one place.”

    Were you not so intent on searching for ways to discredit S/PI’s work, you would realize that your “small place” argument (which you have articulated much better in other contexts) is just another way of saying that “a functional future for contemporary civilization requires the evolution of Balanced Communities in sustainable New Urban Regions.” In other words we agree on the need for small scale components of human settlement. By the way, many who you cite have not yet evolved to this realization. It is also critical to understand an important reality of the First World: New Urban Regions (or what ever you want to call them – some in the European Union call them “Urban Agglomerations”) are the fundamental building block of contemporary civilization. Almost no one disagrees with this, they just ignore reality and become ensnared by municipal, county, state, nation-state agencies and boundaries.

    There are parameters for creating Balanced Communities. These places do not rely on historic borders, government controls or planners preconceived notions. They rely on the market. The Balanced Communities inside the Clear Edge (and the Disaggregated but Balanced Communities outside the Clear Edge in the Countryside) must have components at the unit, dooryard, cluster, neighborhood and village scales (the “comprehensive, Conceptual Framework again) that are functional and efficient.

    The test of “functional” is the market and the test of “efficient” is that the total cost of location variable goods and services are fairly allocated. Further the Balanced Communities must be collectively create a sustainable New Urban Region.

    So there you have our response to your “challenge.”

    Now here is one for you:

    Rather than spending your time trying to discredit our work, you might better use your considerable energy to carefully consider the Nine Fundamental Theses, The Five Natural Laws in Part One of “The Shape of the Future” and The Six Overarching Strategies to create a sustainable future in Part Four of the same book. You can follow the simple steps outlined in Chapter 4 to prove for yourself the Five Natural Laws. Part Three (Chapters 15 through 22) will provide the basis for understanding why our work is not in conflict with most of those you like to dig up on the Internet and quote out of context. A good place to start is with the “Five Critical Issues the Shape the Future” which includes all the data you will need to understand why in order to create Balanced Communities at minimum density in the northern part of Virginia, there is no need to expand urban development beyond R=20.


  5. You didn’t respond to the challenge at all, all you did was change the subject.

    The point of the silicon valley/ Pittsburgh example was that the pattern didn’t change at all but the traffic density did. Your response was a diatribe on geography and to ridicule a possibility I never offered.

    With respect to the National energy model you first claim you don’t know anyhting about it, but assume that it takes into acount your five natural laws, etc. and then calim it is meaningless because it is national and not local or regional. Whew.

    And the concept that multiple smaller cities are more efficient is ignored inspite of your previous claims other wise.

    And the thirteen authors I mentioned, out of many that have published opinions that seem to differ fro yours, and done so in refereed journals with verifiable data and models, wel them you dismiss as vocabulary chllenged and lacking the correct conceptual framework – meaning yours.

    Your argumentation is craftily done, but it is still patently poor argumentation. Granted, the ideas I presented are single points out of a continuum, but if I present single points I’m out of context and if I supply a full argument, I’m filbustering.

    To me it is not a question of right or wrong, the world will make its decisions without or in spite of us. I just present some ideas different from yours for our readers to see.

    But your article “Five Critical Issues offers no data or any model to support your opinions – none. Even if you can eventually explain why there is no need to expand urban development beyond r-20, it has already happened. Right now the question is what to do with what we have and how much it will cost.

    Life is what happens to you while you are busy making plans, so waiting until people are educated to your standard won’t help, especially if we expect them to agree on a new legislature and a new agenda. Life will have happened by then, and a lot of other bad things, too.

    You claim we can put 8 million people in 800,000 acres. All within 20 miles of memorial bridge and with very little use of shared vehicles. Well, there are pretty close to 4 million people there now and more than half of Fairfax is already at or near 10 people per acre. How do plan to do that, considering most of the land is already spoken for? That can’t be anything like sustainable: a cow takes four acres, and all she needs is grass and water. After you subtract out the land for schools, parks, roads, drainage, public facilities, unusable land like the acre my house is built on by virtue only of clever enginnering, what does the real density come down to? You are talking about ten dwelling units per acre, or more, average. That is if you can wrest all the land that is set aside in easements, and the land that belongs to the wealthy in Great Falls, etc.

    Good luck. That idea is simply comical. There is no estimate of what it would cost, how to do it, and no justification for your claim that you could also contain all the required amenities.

    Besides which much of the infrastructure would have to be entirely rebuilt, the people there don’t want it to happen, and the existing government already has other plans, a few of which are in concert with your ideas and hotly disputed.

    Such a plan would require enormous outside support which would have to be provided and cared for, so your contention that it could all be done in R20 doesn’t account for obvious facts.

    Why would you want to do it anyway? For some supposed efficiency in infrastructure? So the other 98% can sit there in pristine undisturbed unmanaged tranquility?

    If it took 20 years of your career to ome up with that idea, well, all I can say is I’m truly sorry.

    But let’s assume for laughs that this is a goal 8 million peole could agree on. What would you suggest as achivable goals for the first year of your first five year plan? The biggest revolution this state has tried to pull off in dacades is this year’s transportation plan and it might be worth $400 million. At a half million dollars apiece, that’s 800 homes. The closer you get to the core, the more that sounds like 400 homes, and that is without infrastructure.

    How long did you say it would take to complete your plan?

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