Education and Human Settlement Patterns

by EM Risse

Want better education for Virginia’s children? Then help change the size, location and funding of our schools.

Transportation is “the canary in the mine field” of scattered, low-density and unbalanced development. Typically, traffic gridlock is the first symptom of profoundly dysfunctional land use. Education is a close second as an indicator. Few factors affect the quality of education more than the size and location of school facilities, both of which are influenced by prevailing land use patterns. More.


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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    A response to “Education and Human Settlement Patterns” by Ed Risse

    “Typically, traffic gridlock is the first symptom of profoundly dysfunctional land use.”

    Frankly, I think this is a profoundly ridiculous statement, and unfounded and unsupported as well. Traffic gridlock is symptomatic of many people trying to go to the same place at the same time. Traffic gridlock, lest anyone forget, actually precedes automobiles, and probably even roads. As an example I suggest you visit the souks in Fez or Marrakech. When many people are trying to go to the same place at the same time it is because that place has developed a strong concentration of opportunities, whether that is the corner crack market, a crowded disco, or a busy commercial center. Gridlock is symptomatic of success, not failure. A forest is arguably a better land use than the corner crack market, and it seldom experiences gridlock, just don’t expect to have a lot of social or commercial interaction there.

    “Education is a close second as an indicator. Few factors affect the quality of education more than the size and location of school facilities, both of which are influenced by prevailing land use patterns.”

    I think this is backwards and wrong, but I can’t tell for sure from the way it is written. In my experience the quality of schools strongly affects the desire to own homes in the area, and that seems to be true regardless of the size or location of the schools. On the other hand the size and location of schools is clearly unrelated to the quality of the schools. At present, Fauquier County is undergoing a bitter battle over school size and site selection. Many citizens favor smaller and more disperse schools and are willing to pay the extra costs. The powers that be, including the school board, citizen’s school selection committee, and the board of supervisors favor a large centrally located school. This school will have profound effects on a small but heavily traveled local road. As it happens, this road has been studied for improvement for many years, but the improvements were always put off on the belief that building roads would cause more development.

    It has been known for years that a new school would be needed, and it would likely be sited somewhere near its presently proposed location. Under current plans it will be built with only a small amount of excess capacity. This capacity will surely draw yet more homeowners and construction to the area and it is unlikely the road will be improved. Local gridlock, when it occurs will be the result of improper planning, deliberately carried out.

    Anecdotal as it is, this planning and development pattern is common, and it will result in housing that is more or less co-located with the school, yet with no real method of dealing with the transportation requirements. A large portion of the school’s land area is devoted to parking. Curiously, in this case the County is a developer: if any other developer proposed to put in a facility of this magnitude, the county would be demanding that a developer provide more infrastructures.

    In point of fact, a key reason this location was chosen was that a developer was bludgeoned into giving the land to the county. This serves the county’s planning goals in two ways: the developer has less land to develop, the county does not pay for its own needs and the costs are transferred to homeowners. Under any other circumstances we would call that extortion or stealing. Overall this situation is obviously a result of the communities own planning efforts and strong-arm tactics on the part of local government. The local government is currently calling on the legislature to grant it still more control over land use. Until we are willing to pay full cost for what we get, what we get will be sub-optimal.

    This example shows that schools affect land use more than land use affects schools. I know of parents who have relocated solely to get their children in a different school district, and they are willing to commute farther to work in order to do it. If our children had uniformly excellent schools this might not be an issue, but it seems to me that our schools are more dysfunctional than our land use. In the Fauquier example, citizens are lobbying for two schools in diverse locations, where the government is insisting on one central school. The citizens prefer a sprawling school system, and the government wants a central one. In this case the government is responsible for planning a school system that will increase congestion and the citizens want one that will decrease congestion.

    Apparently both the schools and the government are dysfunctional in this case, but neither condition supports Mr. Risse’s argument that land use drives school choices. Indeed, he spends the next three paragraphs verifying the arguments made above: that government and school officials make school decisions based on price, that smaller more displaced schools are probably more expensive, and students and parents will wind up paying the cost difference anyway in travel costs and general dissatisfaction.

    On the other hand, if we have smaller schools located closer to where people want to live, they will become a primary driver in developing what is called a sprawling environment. There is another problem he does not address. While everyone wants smaller locally located schools, no one wants it next door. That is one reason the government designs juggernaut schools: the process is sufficiently cumbersome to steamroller objections, and there are fewer objections because there are fewer neighbors. In an unbuilt neighborhood, as this one is, there are no neighbors, as yet.

    “Class size, teacher training and parental involvement, all of which are effected by the prevailing settlement patterns, are among the most important predictors of success in education.”

    What controls class size, and teacher training, is money. The single most predictive indicator of success in college is not class size, school grades, non-class activities, or SAT scores: the single best predictor of college success is how much money the parents make. No one has ever shown that settlement patterns have anything to do with education: ask Abe Lincoln, George Washington, or Edgar Allen Poe.

    “But by the time a local government faces the need for expanded school capacity,”

    Exactly. Fauquier County is surrounded by counties that are growing at twelve, fifteen, and five percent, yet the county comprehensive plan is based on one percent growth. Loudoun County, Prince William County and Fairfax County all made similar planning mistakes, primarily at the behest of no-growth advocates, and the result was a mad scramble to build schools later, with students in trailers meanwhile. Mr. Risse makes the argument that previous failure in planning call for more planning. It might be that trailers are a good answer: cheap, flexible, portable, and reusable.

    I will accept and even agree with his arguments concerning the size of schools. I particularly like his idea that “distributing children between a greater number of schools allows them a greater chance to participate in the life of the school.” and “Making the same errors in smaller buildings will not improve education.” I’m convinced that more quarterbacks at more and smaller schools will eventually produce more good quarterbacks. I’m going to accept for the moment his suggested distribution of schools with respect to population clusters, but I suspect this distribution will work against his subsequent arguments.

    “It will require Fundamental Change to align schools, like transportation facilities and governance structure, with the populations they serve.”

    Fundamental Change (caps) scares me. It scares me three times as much when it involves transportation, schools, and governance. It has taken us three hundred years to put together what we have now
    . How many years does he suppose it will take to dismantle all the dysfunctional parts and put it back together again? How will we incorporate population growth in the meantime, and what about our current problems?

    “Building schools in the middle of nowhere is a nationwide problem, not just a Virginia problem.”

    By calling such schools dysfunctional, Mr. Risse does nothing to further his point. If every jurisdiction is reaching the same conclusions, why are we to suppose that hundreds of decisions are wrong and Mr. Risse’s premises are right? He touches on one reason: these decisions are more immediately economical. If I am not mistaken, in Virginia what is considered to be “the public interest” is defined to be how it affects the government budget. Government officials are expressly prohibited from considering economic interests other than the government’s. That is why you can’t go to the zoning board and claim hardship in order to get your project approved.

    “Good education is hugely expensive, and it will get more expensive for the reasons that Welch and others point out. As society becomes more complex, so does the cost….”

    You can make exactly the same argument for transportation, but Mr. Risse chooses not to. Instead he complains that transportation costs are going up faster then population growth. Complexity is going up faster than population, and it is complexity that raises costs. Practically speaking, not every student is going to be able to compete, and we will need to decide to cut our losses at some point. The same goes for every driver.

    “There is a profound difference between the need for money for education and the need for money to create mobility and access. With Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns there may not be a need for much new money for transport.”

    Instead of adding roads as required we will instead recreate the entire built environment around lessened transport costs. And rebuilding the human settlement patterns is going to be free, I suppose.

    “Whatever the cost of mobility, there is a silver bullet: Charge motorists the full cost of location-variable goods and services and the cost of providing mobility choices.”

    I agree with this free market philosophy entirely: as long as it includes the corresponding free market philosophy regarding land use. Mr. Risse has frequently said that transportation and land use are closely tied: he can’t very well propose that they run on entirely different philosophies.

    “The education establishment may well be squandering resources on the wrong things. That needs to change. But when schools start spending the money on the right things, it still will cost far more than they are spending now. “

    I need a nice new John Deere tractor, but I can’t afford it, and I will never be able to afford it. By wasting my money on a lesser tractor that does not fully meet my needs, I am squandering resources. Is it less dysfunctional to spend money to meet part of my needs, or should I go plow with a stick by hand until I can afford a John Deere?

    “Society spends trillions of dollars on entertainment and the advertising of entertainment. Educational materials and educational processes must be improved to compete with the impact of Sponge Bob Square Pants”

    Well, that is right: as a society we make a lot of utterly stupid financial decisions. Unfortunately, folly is part of the price of freedom. Apparently we choose to spend more on entertainment than we do on education. When engineering efficiency experts studied tribal Bushmen, they discovered that these subsistence level hunter gatherers only worked about ten hours a week and they spent the rest of the time in various forms of entertainment. Are they dysfunctional? Now we see that Fundamental Change is really a bid to reduce our freedoms. Anyway the videogame business is a multibillion dollar industry, among other things it has introduced concepts of modeling, simulation, and visualization that are now being used in defense and community planning, so it is not a total loss, and it pays considerable support to schools as well.

    “In 1805, 95 percent of the extended families/households in the United States were engaged in agrarian activities and in agrarian support crafts and services. For these families children were part of the economic equation, and raising and educating children was an integral part of the families full time job.”

    Just like the Bushmen, much of their required training was OJT.

    “Perhaps the economic equivalent of paying the full cost of location-dependent costs for mobility can be calculated in education. We suggest that it is something like this: Each parent of a child between conception and 25 years of age must spend one half of his or her total productive time (aka, waking hours) preparing for, caring for, educating and civilizing that child.”

    Unless you choose to do this, this is excessive and unnecessary. I was out of the house, supporting myself, and paying for my own college and graduate school when I was eighteen. My father believed in paying for what you get. Not every child goes to college, even today. School is much more expensive today primarily because as recently as 1900, 90% of students never graduated from high school. With all the new technologies and job destinations education is more complex, and more costly. The same goes for transportation.

    “And it will require ever greater effort and creativity to produce materials and processes that make “education” as interesting as the anti-education that makes gamers, toy manufactures and the “entertainment industry” billions in profit.”

    Right, and when education offers as much money as game developers pay, we might see some of that creativity.

    “There will be an expanded roll for volunteer efforts, especially in the facilities and services provided at the dooryard, cluster and neighborhood scales. When real progress is shown, private philanthropy, a major supporter of higher education, will filter down to smaller scales and earlier years of education. “

    This is sheer fantasy, as far as I can tell. In the first place volunteer services are not free, they represent efforts that might have been expended gainfully elsewhere and therefore subtract from the net public good. Private philanthropy already supports education; ask any teacher who has to buy her own school supplies. Practically speaking, there isn’t enough money in the economy to supply public schools with the kind of endowments that support higher education. Again, those endowments have been accumulated over hundreds of years. What are we supposed to do in the meantime?

    “This still will leave a big gap in resources. This gap should not be filled by new or expanded taxes on property, income or consumption. These sources of revenue are already spoken for.”

    And spoken for and spoken for. When I pay my property tax, it comes out of my income, not my property. When I pay my sales tax, it comes out of my income not the goods I purchased. There is only one source of revenue and that is income. If you want to increase revenue, then increase income. Unfortunately, that will also increase consumption and a lot of other bad habits.

    “Citizens must explore new sources for funds to support governance and services at the dooryard, cluster, neighborhood and village scales where, at this point, there is no functional governance structure.”

    More fantasy. The Fauquier school situation implies that there is no functional governance structure, and in fact government is striving to prevent us from having what we want. There is no source of revenue other than income. What this suggests is that we can do more with less.

    “We suggest that the activities of product and service testing, product and service endorsements, communication and data collection could support dooryard,
    cluster, neighborhood and village scale governance and education. These actions are now profit centers….”

    Exactly, they are profit centers. If we divert those activities to other efforts we are diverting their income to supporting education. There is no source of revenue other than income. Without their revenue and profits how exactly will these activities support themselves, let alone provide support to schools? I suppose we could raise taxes to pay them for their work.

    “These activities could generate billions in revenue by replacing the failed system of trying to induce citizens to spend and consume or find information”

    There are millions of people whose pension funds will be surprised to learn that their investments in successful media and entertainment companies support a failed system.

    “The first step is for individuals to become involved in the school-siting, school-size and boundary-adjustment process in their jurisdiction.”

    Most individuals don’t have time for that: they are too busy earning a living in order that their income can be taxed in order to hire professionals to make those school decisions. Usually it is called division of labor, and it is the most successful system yet devised. Those that have the time tend to be from the wealthy, creative, and successful classes, and these successful people drive the decisions that we see made.

    One of the dysfunctions of government is that it continually mistakes the voice that shows up at meetings as the voice of democracy. They have made a total, and deliberate, failure of public relations in order to achieve the balance of power they desire. A common remark of government officials is “Well, we advertised the meeting in the paper.” Yeah, a one inch ad buried in a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo. The Fauquier Supervisors recently changed the time of their meetings, which was roundly decried by the local papers because it meant the meeting news could no longer make the deadline.

    “The next step will be to break up all big school districts and reform them along community lines.”

    No, the next step will be to figure out how to pay for it. If we actually develop all those schools a long community lines, it will exacerbate the sprawl Mr. Risse claims to avoid. Let’s take his proposed school distribution plan and apply it to the known and expected population densities. Surely we are not going to tear down schools that are already operating in denser areas; instead we would have to build a bunch of new ones.

    Montgomery County land is one third under preservation. The other two thirds are 80% developed. There are currently heated discussions about relaxing building height restrictions and placing new schools. (Not In My Back Yard). Meanwhile lower paid residents have fled to locations farther west – where schools are lacking. Effectively, Montgomery County’s higher paid residents have exported their taxable requirements for new schools to other jurisdictions that haven’t the money to pay for them. Therefore all those new schools Mr. Risse claims are needed won’t be built in Montgomery County. Instead they will be built in the middle of nowhere, where they will soon be needed.

    He claims that this “sprawl” will increase transportation costs, which I deny, based on his own arguments about busing children. Now if we apply his school theories to jobs and spread them out where people live, we could really cut down on transportation. We will eat up a lot of land in the meantime, but if land, school and job decisions are truly free we will be allowed to make decisions that are less dysfunctional.

    At present, every jurisdiction in the area is promoting job creation and opposing housing. Dysfunctional communities have been planned to be the way they are in the mistaken belief that planning will reduce costs. Instead, all it does is shift the burden to others and simultaneously prevents us from getting what we want. Obscene sports salaries account for a large portion of the price we pay for cable TV. Apparently we are willing to pay the price in order to view weekly spectacles of violence that would be against the law if they involved animals.

    In the end, the cost of supporting, transporting, and educating all of us is going to cost pretty much the same one way or another. The only way the costs are going to be less is if we agree to do with less. Depending on how you look at it, Fundamental Change amounts to shifting the burden to others, (Mr. Risse suggests we shift it to the media moguls in this instance) or requiring us to do with less. I’m pretty certain that either approach will result in vehement opposition because we choose to have football over education and lawns over condo’s.

    Ray Hyde
    Delaplane, VA

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    A response to “Education and Human Settlement Patterns” by Ed Risse

    “Typically, traffic gridlock is the first symptom of profoundly dysfunctional land use.”

    Frankly, I think this is a profoundly ridiculous statement, and unfounded and unsupported as well. Traffic gridlock is symptomatic of many people trying to go to the same place at the same time. Traffic gridlock, lest anyone forget, actually precedes automobiles, and probably even roads. As an example I suggest you visit the souks in Fez or Marrakech. When many people are trying to go to the same place at the same time it is because that place has developed a strong concentration of opportunities, whether that is the corner crack market, a crowded disco, or a busy commercial center. Gridlock is symptomatic of success, not failure. A forest is arguably a better land use than the corner crack market, and it seldom experiences gridlock, just don’t expect to have a lot of social or commercial interaction there.

    “Education is a close second as an indicator. Few factors affect the quality of education more than the size and location of school facilities, both of which are influenced by prevailing land use patterns.”

    I think this is backwards and wrong, but I can’t tell for sure from the way it is written. In my experience the quality of schools strongly affects the desire to own homes in the area, and that seems to be true regardless of the size or location of the schools. On the other hand the size and location of schools is clearly unrelated to the quality of the schools. At present, Fauquier County is undergoing a bitter battle over school size and site selection. Many citizens favor smaller and more disperse schools and are willing to pay the extra costs. The powers that be, including the school board, citizen’s school selection committee, and the board of supervisors favor a large centrally located school. This school will have profound effects on a small but heavily traveled local road. As it happens, this road has been studied for improvement for many years, but the improvements were always put off on the belief that building roads would cause more development.

    It has been known for years that a new school would be needed, and it would likely be sited somewhere near its presently proposed location. Under current plans it will be built with only a small amount of excess capacity. This capacity will surely draw yet more homeowners and construction to the area and it is unlikely the road will be improved. Local gridlock, when it occurs will be the result of improper planning.

    Anecdotal as it is, this planning and development pattern is common, and it will result in housing that is more or less co-located with the school, yet with no real method of dealing with the transportation requirements. A large portion of the school’s land area is devoted to parking. Curiously, in this case the County is a developer: if any other developer proposed to put in a facility of this magnitude, the county would be demanding that a developer provide more infrastructures.

    In point of fact, a key reason this location was chosen was that a developer was bludgeoned into giving the land to the county. This serves the county’s planning goals in two ways: the developer has less land to develop, and the county does not pay for its own needs. Under any other circumstances we would call that extortion or stealing. Overall this situation is obviously a result of the communities own planning efforts and strong-arm tactics on the part of local government. The local government is currently calling on the legislature to grant it still more control over land use. Until we are willing to pay full cost for what we get, what we get will be sub-optimal.

    This example shows that schools affect land use more than land use affects schools. I know of parents who have relocated solely to get their children in a different school district, and they are willing to commute farther to do it. If our children had uniformly excellent schools this might not be an issue, but it seems to me that our schools are more dysfunctional than our land use. In the Fauquier example, citizens are lobbying for two schools in diverse locations, where the government is insisting on one central school. The citizens prefer a sprawling school system, and the government wants a central one. In this case the government is responsible for planning a school system that will increase congestion and the citizens want one that will decrease congestion.

    Apparently both the schools and the government are dysfunctional in this case, but neither condition supports Mr. Risse’s argument that land use drives school choices. Indeed, he spends the next three paragraphs verifying the arguments made above: that government and school officials make school decisions based on price, that smaller more displaced schools are probably more expensive, and students and parents will wind up paying the cost difference anyway in travel costs and general dissatisfaction.

    On the other hand, if we have smaller schools located closer to where people want to live, they will become a primary driver in developing what is called a sprawling environment. There is another problem he does not address. While everyone wants smaller locally located schools, no one wants it next door. That is one reason the government designs juggernaut schools: the process is sufficiently cumbersome to steamroller objections, and there are fewer objections because there are fewer neighbors. In an unbuilt neighborhood, as this one is, there are no neighbors, as yet.

    “Class size, teacher training and parental involvement, all of which are effected by the prevailing settlement patterns, are among the most important predictors of success in education.”

    What controls class size, and teacher training, is money. The single most predictive indicator of success in college is not class size, school grades, non-class activities, or SAT scores: the single best predictor of college success is how much money the parents make. No one has ever shown that settlement patterns have anything to do with education: ask Abe Lincoln, George Washington, or Edgar Allen Poe.

    “But by the time a local government faces the need for expanded school capacity,”

    Exactly. Fauquier County is surrounded by counties that are growing at twelve, fifteen, and five percent, yet the county comprehensive plan is based on one percent growth. Loudoun County, Prince William County and Fairfax County all made similar planning mistakes, primarily at the behest of no-growth advocates, and the result was a mad scramble to build schools later, with students in trailers meanwhile. Mr. Risse makes the argument that previous failure in planning call for more planning. It might be that trailers are a good answer: cheap, flexible, portable, and reusable.

    I will accept and even agree with his arguments concerning the size of schools. I particularly like his idea that “distributing children between a greater number of schools allows them a greater chance to participate in the life of the school.” and “Making the same errors in smaller buildings will not improve education.” I’m convinced that more quarterbacks at more and smaller schools will eventually produce more good quarterbacks. I’m going to accept for the moment his suggested distribution of schools with respect to population clusters, but I suspect this distribution will work against his subsequent arguments.

    “It will require Fundamental Change to align schools, like transportation facilities and governance structure, with the populations they serve.”

    Fundamental Change (caps) scares me. It scares me three times as much when it involves transportation, schools, and governance. It has taken us three hundred years to put together what we have now. How many years does he suppose it will take to dismantle all the dysfunctional p
    arts and put it back together again? How will we incorporate population growth in the meantime, and what about our current problems?

    “Building schools in the middle of nowhere is a nationwide problem, not just a Virginia problem.”

    By calling such schools dysfunctional, Mr. Risse does nothing to further his point. If every jurisdiction is reaching the same conclusions, why are we to suppose that hundreds of decisions are wrong and Mr. Risse’s premises are right? He touches on one reason: these decisions are more immediately economical. If I am not mistaken, in Virginia what is considered to be “the public interest” is defined to be how it affects the government budget. Government officials are expressly prohibited from considering economic interests other than the government’s. That is why you can’t go to the zoning board and claim hardship in order to get your project approved.

    “Good education is hugely expensive, and it will get more expensive for the reasons that Welch and others point out. As society becomes more complex, so does the cost….”

    You can make exactly the same argument for transportation, but Mr. Risse chooses not to. Instead he complains that transportation costs are going up faster then population growth. Complexity is going up faster than population, and it is complexity that raises costs. Practically speaking, not every student is going to be able to compete, and we will need to decide to cut our losses at some point. The same goes for every driver.

    “There is a profound difference between the need for money for education and the need for money to create mobility and access. With Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns there may not be a need for much new money for transport.”

    Instead of adding roads as required we will instead recreate the entire built environment around lessened transport costs. And rebuilding the human settlement patterns is going to be free, I suppose.

    “Whatever the cost of mobility, there is a silver bullet: Charge motorists the full cost of location-variable goods and services and the cost of providing mobility choices.”

    I agree with this free market philosophy entirely: as long as it includes the corresponding free market philosophy regarding land use. Mr. Risse has frequently said that transportation and land use are closely tied: he can’t very well propose that they run on entirely different philosophies.

    “The education establishment may well be squandering resources on the wrong things. That needs to change. But when schools start spending the money on the right things, it still will cost far more than they are spending now. “

    I need a nice new John Deere tractor, but I can’t afford it, and I will never be able to afford it. By wasting my money on a lesser tractor that does not fully meet my needs, I am squandering resources. Is it less dysfunctional to spend money to meet part of my needs, or should I go plow with a stick by hand until I can afford a John Deere?

    “Society spends trillions of dollars on entertainment and the advertising of entertainment. Educational materials and educational processes must be improved to compete with the impact of Sponge Bob Square Pants”

    Well, that is right: as a society we make a lot of utterly stupid financial decisions. Unfortunately, folly is part of the price of freedom. Apparently we choose to spend more on entertainment than we do on education. When engineering efficiency experts studied tribal Bushmen, they discovered that these subsistence level hunter gatherers only worked about ten hours a week and they spent the rest of the time in various forms of entertainment. Are they dysfunctional? Now we see that Fundamental Change is really a bid to reduce our freedoms. Anyway the videogame business is a multibillion dollar industry, among other things it has introduced concepts of modeling, simulation, and visualization that are now being used in defense and community planning, so it is not a total loss, and it pays considerable support to schools as well.

    “In 1805, 95 percent of the extended families/households in the United States were engaged in agrarian activities and in agrarian support crafts and services. For these families children were part of the economic equation, and raising and educating children was an integral part of the families full time job.”

    Just like the Bushmen, much of their required training was OJT.

    “Perhaps the economic equivalent of paying the full cost of location-dependent costs for mobility can be calculated in education. We suggest that it is something like this: Each parent of a child between conception and 25 years of age must spend one half of his or her total productive time (aka, waking hours) preparing for, caring for, educating and civilizing that child.”

    Unless you choose to do this, this is excessive and unnecessary. I was out of the house, supporting myself, and paying for my own college and graduate school when I was eighteen. My father believed in paying for what you get. Not every child goes to college, even today. School is much more expensive today primarily because as recently as 1900, 90% of students never graduated from high school. With all the new technologies and job destinations education is more complex, and more costly. The same goes for transportation.

    “And it will require ever greater effort and creativity to produce materials and processes that make “education” as interesting as the anti-education that makes gamers, toy manufactures and the “entertainment industry” billions in profit.”

    Right, and when education offers as much money as game developers pay, we might see some of that creativity.

    “There will be an expanded roll for volunteer efforts, especially in the facilities and services provided at the dooryard, cluster and neighborhood scales. When real progress is shown, private philanthropy, a major supporter of higher education, will filter down to smaller scales and earlier years of education. “

    This is sheer fantasy, as far as I can tell. In the first place volunteer services are not free, they represent efforts that might have been expended gainfully elsewhere and therefore subtract from the net public good. Private philanthropy already supports education; ask any teacher who has to buy her own school supplies. Practically speaking, there isn’t enough money in the economy to supply public schools with the kind of endowments that support higher education. Again, those endowments have been accumulated over hundreds of years. What are we supposed to do in the meantime?

    “This still will leave a big gap in resources. This gap should not be filled by new or expanded taxes on property, income or consumption. These sources of revenue are already spoken for.”

    And spoken for and spoken for. When I pay my property tax, it comes out of my income, not my property. When I pay my sales tax, it comes out of my income not the goods I purchased. There is only one source of revenue and that is income. If you want to increase revenue, then increase income. Unfortunately, that will also increase consumption and a lot of other bad habits.

    “Citizens must explore new sources for funds to support governance and services at the dooryard, cluster, neighborhood and village scales where, at this point, there is no functional governance structure.”

    More fantasy. The Fauquier school situation implies that there is no functional governance structure, and in fact government is striving to prevent us from having what we want. There is no source of revenue other than income. What this suggests is that we can do more with less.

    “We suggest that the activities of product and service testing, product and service endorsements, communication and data collection could support dooryard, cluster, neighborhood and village scale governance and education. These actions are
    now profit centers….”

    Exactly, they are profit centers. If we divert those activities to other efforts we are diverting their income to supporting education. There is no source of revenue other than income. Without their revenue and profits how exactly will these activities support themselves, let alone provide support to schools? I suppose we could raise taxes to pay them for their work.

    “These activities could generate billions in revenue by replacing the failed system of trying to induce citizens to spend and consume or find information”

    There are millions of people whose pension funds will be surprised to learn that their investments in successful media and entertainment companies support a failed system.

    “The first step is for individuals to become involved in the school-siting, school-size and boundary-adjustment process in their jurisdiction.”

    Most individuals don’t have time for that: they are too busy earning a living in order that their income can be taxed in order to hire professionals to make those school decisions. Usually it is called division of labor, and it is the most successful system yet devised. Those that have the time tend to be from the wealthy, creative, and successful classes, and these successful people drive the decisions that we see made.

    One of the dysfunctions of government is that it continually mistakes the voice that shows up at meetings as the voice of democracy. They have made a total, and deliberate, failure of public relations in order to achieve the balance of power they desire. A common remark of government officials is “Well, we advertised the meeting in the paper.” Yeah, a one inch ad buried in a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo. The Fauquier Supervisors recently changed the time of their meetings, which was roundly decried by the local papers because it meant the meeting news could no longer make the deadline.

    “The next step will be to break up all big school districts and reform them along community lines.”

    No, the next step will be to figure out how to pay for it. If we actually develop all those schools a long community lines, it will exacerbate the sprawl Mr. Risse claims to avoid. Let’s take his proposed school distribution plan and apply it to the known and expected population densities. Surely we are not going to tear down schools that are already operating in denser areas; instead we would have to build a bunch of new ones.

    Montgomery County land is one third under preservation. The other two thirds are 80% developed. There are currently heated discussions about relaxing building height restrictions and placing new schools. (Not In My Back Yard). Meanwhile lower paid residents have fled to locations farther west – where schools are lacking. Effectively, Montgomery County’s higher paid residents have exported their taxable requirements for new schools to other jurisdictions that haven’t the money to pay for them. Therefore all those new schools Mr. Risse claims are needed won’t be built in Montgomery County. Instead they will be built in the middle of nowhere, where they will soon be needed.

    He claims that this “sprawl” will increase transportation costs, which I deny, based on his own arguments about busing children. Now if we apply his school theories to jobs and spread them out where people live, we could really cut down on transportation. We will eat up a lot of land in the meantime, but if land, school and job decisions are truly free we will be allowed to make decisions that are less dysfunctional.

    At present, every jurisdiction in the area is promoting job creation and opposing housing. Dysfunctional communities have been planned to be the way they are in the mistaken belief that planning will reduce costs. Instead, all it does is shift the burden to others and simultaneously prevents us from getting what we want. Obscene sports salaries account for a large portion of the price we pay for cable TV. Apparently we are willing to pay the price in order to view weekly spectacles of violence that would be against the law if they involved animals.

    In the end, the cost of supporting, transporting, and educating all of us is going to cost pretty much the same one way or another. The only way the costs are going to be less is if we agree to do with less. Depending on how you look at it, Fundamental Change amounts to shifting the burden to others, (Mr. Risse suggests we shift it to the media moguls in this instance) or requiring us to do with less. I’m pretty certain that either approach will result in vehement opposition because we choose to have football over education and lawns over condo’s.

    Ray Hyde
    Delaplane, VA

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Hi, Ray,

    You make many interesting and valid observations, but a number of them are quite beside the point. In your critique of both Ed Risse’s writing and my own, you lump us indiscriminately with the “smart growth” crowd. I feel that I can speak for Ed in saying that while both of us share, to a large degree, the smart growth critique of dysfunctional land use patterns in Virginia, neither one of us is particularly enthralled with smart growth solutions, which, as you observe, entail many problems of their own.

    Thus, I find myself in the strange situation of agreeing with a fair amount of what you write but objecting to it at the same time because you are making incorrect assumptions about what both Ed and I stand for. I would urge you to read our back columns on growth-related issues. You will see that we don’t want to “impose” our vision on anybody, and that we both prefer market mechanisms over “central planning” solutions–recognizing, however, that as long as government is in the business both of zoning and of providing roads and other public services, a certain amount of “planning” for the allocation of public resources is inevitable and desirable.

    Secondly, I have to tell you that you are just nearly alone in your conviction that there is little/no causal connection between land use and transportation congestion. This is not some fringe idea propagated by the smart growth crowd and parrotted by Risse and myself. This is a fundamental axiom of transportation planning that is shared, among others, by Secretary of Transportation Whitt Clement and VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet. The main difference between their view and the Risse/Bacon view is that reforming dysfunctional human settlement patterns is not, by itself, sufficient to solve the problem of traffic congestion. But both would agree that it is an essential element.

  4. E M Risse Avatar

    Mr. Hyde’s Commentary:

    Having quickly reviewed Mr. Hyde’s Commentary as well as e-mails he has sent me directly and letters he has written to community news papers it is clear that there are many points upon which he and I agree. It is also clear that if the time were taken to sort out the facts from impressions and assumptions that most of the remaining differences would disappear.

    What would be left are personal preferences. In a democracy with a market economy those preferences are sorted out by the market and at the voting booth. From what I have been able to determine of Mr. Hyde’s preferences they are not those most valued in the market. The front page stories this week about the location of the highest housing assessment escalations confirm what we state on this topic in “Wild Abandonment” 8 Sept 2002, “Where the Jobs Are” 24 May 2003, “Five Critical Realities That Shape the Future” 15 December 2003 and other columns on market preferences of spacial distribution. That is fine so long as the true costs are equitably allocated and Mr. Hyde and others are willing to pay the full cost of their locational choices.

    Mr. Hyde raises indirectly an important issue with respect to education. How does a society inform well intended, imaginative and concerned citizens to the point they can make intelligent choices in the market and in the voting booth. This is the goal of the Property Dynamics program outlined by Prof. Joseph Freeman in “Rain Dance” 4 January 2005.

    It is also directly related to the issue of school size and location. A colleague in the graduate planning program at the University of Virginia has determined to their satisfaction that elementary school students raised in a Planned New Community “get it.” Those same students by the time they are in high school are much less intuitively aware of the importance and function of human settlement patterns. I can testify that this is clearly the case when one gets to the graduate level. This is especially true for those holding jobs in the current governance structure and seeking a degree to advance their careers.

    We will touch on this issue in our next column.

    I should also note that sickness in our household through off the timing and proofing of the column and that a clarified version will be up shortly at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com

    EMR

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    I apologize for lumping Mr. Bacon and Mr. Risse in with the Smart Growth crowd. We have had that conversation previously and I slipped into a bad habit -again. I do recognize that your position is different is some respects from the Smart Growth crowd.

    Remember, I own property in town and in the country: I know the economic advantages and disadvantages firsthand. I have training and experience in Environmental Chemistry and Environmental economics. I’m on your side, but I believe you are making unsupported statements that are logically circular and counterproductive to promoting conservation and sane living.

    I agree completely that since government is in the road building and zoning business a certain amount of planning is required. That need not translate into $80,000 traffic lights that take years to install. It need not translate into a six year plan to repair an intersection where people routinely have accidents. It need not translate into a 20 month exercise in order to get a building permit for a single family home – on a lot where street water and sewer are already available. I don’t see where any of that should result in a 30% premium on home prices just because the government can’t or won’t do its job. In this view of things, our settlement patterns happen for valid reasons – it is government that is dysfunctional.

    Congestion at Fauquier High School is a direct result of government failing to address the problem to begin with, applying stopgap measures, and overloading both the school and the infrastructure that supports it.

    I don’t believe that I said there is little/no connection between land use and congestion, I believe there is a connection, but rather that it is not the one so often repeated. There are two types of congestion – wanted congestion and unwanted congestion. Wanted congestion is associated with highly popular activities, whether that be jobs or football games. Unwanted congestion is what happens when our transportation system fails to get us to the area of desired congestion. The smaller and more disperse the wanted areas are, the less likely the unwanted are to occur. At any given time we have plenty of unused roadways, and the way to make best use of them is to spread out.

    Neither am I alone in this line of thinking; I can provide references to studies that show that the increase in suburb to suburb travel makes better use of highways than the radial travel that so frequently leads to traffic bottlenecks. Other studies show that rural travel is faster and less costly than urban travel. Where problems occur it is because government is still planning based on factors that have long since changed.

    What is true is that government has been slow to act on providing the roads needed for this new development in settlement patterns. Even though Metro was constructed in the 1970’s after burb to burb travel patterns were becoming obvious, Metro and our major highways were constructed as a radial system, which does next to nothing to meet our current needs. At the same time activists were successfully defeating planned roadways and bridges which have subsequently proved necessary.

    What is true is that the theory of induced traffic (if you build them they will come) has largely been dismissed by professionals even though it is still widely repeated. Instead, induced traffic is seen as a reallocation of traffic that was previously constricted elsewhere, and as due to growth in housing and commerce that would have occurred anyway. We build roads in order to create the good kind of desired congestion, then we call them failures because they are heavily used!

    Ever notice that the one form of infrastructure we never seem to run short of is churches? Churches are privately funded and relatively immune to government interference. How is it that on an individual basis we have the resources to build, own, and operate enough cars to clog (certain places) on the highways and not enough collective resouces to fix the problems?

    Regardless of how you plan your community, the idea that you can increase density and reduce congestion or reduce infrastructure costs is simply folly that has nowhere been proven by facts on the ground. Neither is that idea supported by the market, with certain exceptions.

    Traffic goes up faster than population. If you could magically double the population density of an area and at the same time cut the per person travel distance in half, the traffic density and related congestion would still go up. City congestion is higher than rural congestion, and contrary to common assumptions often repeated by Mr. Risse, transportation costs, and time consumed in travel, and associated pollution, is higher for urban residents than for rural residents.

    These are documented facts provided by the PA Dept. of agriculture, noted transportation engineers and other sources. They are also transparently evident to many people in the market place. That is why somewhere between 70 and 90% of population growth has occurred in suburban areas. At the same time, your views are partially supported by the conjoined fact that in spite of this suburban growth, the cities have densified as well, with the result that the % of urban population to the whole has remained stable over the last fifty years in spite of massive suburban growth.

    This implies that suburban growth and urban growth are proceeding more or less to meet market requirements. A recent article in the post declared that it is time to stop fighting sprawl and start making it beautiful.
    Instead, people who already live in less congested areas, like Mr. Risse, are raising barriers to anyone else coming out and bringing their congestion with them. I have two problems with this: these barriers raise costs for everyone and yet manage to do so inequitably.

    Mr. Risse has pointed out that ” Citizens, families, enterprises, institutions and agencies are taking actions that systematically thwart the creation and expansion of potential high-quality, high-market-value places to work, live, seek services and participate in leisure activities.” To this I would respond that high-quality is subjective, and the fact that so many people are trying to move out of congested areas supports that idea. I don’t deny that places like Georgetown are high-value places to live and work. Mr. Risse and Mr. Bacon are correct in pointing out that the price to live there is evidence of this fact. So are country club communities, airpark communities, and marina communities and many other planned developments. It is for exactly this reason that Rural Fauquier County is home to many of our nation’s wealthiest individuals. In fact, the Michigan Land Institute has commented that Fauquier’s conservation successes have largely been due to the influence of a few wealthy individuals.

    These places are only desirable to those who wish to, and can afford, to live there. There are two elements to price: one is the availability of the product and the other is the willingness to pay. Certain products are only available, and only useful to, those with an overabundant willingness and ability to pay. Those who pay exorbitant amounts to live in Georgetown or join expensive country clubs do so precisely because of the lack of diversity it provides: they are paying to be associated with others of their kind.

    Many other people have entirely different utility functions. For them value is largely inversely related to price, given relatively similar products. Value is also associated with the possibility of increase in price, that is why you buy stocks with a low P/E not a high one, yet Mr. Risse suggests that the prospect of individual profits is somehow wrong. History suggests that both of the alternatives to profit are pretty unappealing.

    No matter what the price, Georgetown is not a suitable environment for someone whose hobby is playing the bagpipes, building boats, or ridi
    ng horses, and neither are an awful lot of other places. No matter how low the price some people would not choose to live in Georgetown. On the other hand, Wal-Mart did not get to be where it is by having the highest price items.

    Therefore I find that it is Mr. Risse’s arguments that are beside the point. Perhaps he can explain why it is that rural Fauquier County is home to some of the wealthiest people in the nation, or why Progressive Farmer listed it as the number one place to live in the nation? Progessive Farmer, by the way, is less about farming than it is about rural living, which Mr. Risse thinks should be stopped.

    According to Mr. Risse, “Citizens settle for lower-value places because they cannot afford better.” Again he is missing the point between price and value. Although many people agree with him and have maintained and expanded the urban core, many more have decided to vote with their pocketbook. Consider a prefabricated modular home of 2300 sq. ft. readily available for purchase for around $75,000. Its value in terms of space and material is determined before it leaves the factory. If you then locate the house in Fairfax its assessed value becomes $225,000 not including the lot or lot improvements such as foundation, water, sewer, and power. If you bring a Chevrolet to Fairfax, does it triple in “value”? Of course not. Regardless of what commuting costs are, you can commute for a long time for that kind of money.

    If you consider that you are going to own a car anyway, and you are likely to work in several different jobs and locations during the time you live in your house, then what you consider to be dysfunctional living is completely rational. I deliberately started my career living and working on the same street. Because of job changes since then, I have commuted the wrong direction, moved closer to my job, commuted to three different suburbs, telecommuted, and commuted inward. There is no conceivable way that changing location four more times would have been less expensive than driving. As crazy as our current system superficially appears, it is still a lot better than Mr. Risse’s concept, which, if it occurs, will take two or three hundred years anyway.

    In Montgomery County, one third of the land area is protected. Of the remaining area 80% is developed. Mr. Risse would point to the remaining 20% and claim that there is plenty of urban room to develop high value places. Just so, but those areas have not been developed for a reason, which might be access, zoning, title problems, liability issues, or owner preference. Again, the market determines this only under the constraints of zoning. Montgomery County is also facing one of the largest increases in assessments around and wholesale flight of its lesser paid workers to the far suburbs, with the result that its zoning rules are ripe for review.

    Mr. Risse would propose putting a hard edge around the developed areas in order to protect the undeveloped areas. He points to feudal walled cities to support the idea that this is a genetic condition, as if it had any relevance to todays problems. I see no evidence of a hard edge anywhere, except for cities that abut water, and even that may be subject to development. We can’t even define sprawl adequately, let alone draw a ring around it.

    How is that not imposing your vision? What if a guy in town wants to keep his extra half-acre in spite of the fact it is dysfunctional and cost ineffective? Maybe he keeps racing pigeons there. Meanwhile, out in the “protected” area you have a guy whose acre of land can bring him $75.00 a year in soybeans – before labor, land, and machinery costs – if he is lucky. (These figures are from the agricultural extension office.) He might actively wish to create and expand a potential high-quality, high-market-value place to work, live, seek services and participate in leisure activities, but he is prevented in doing so in favor of protecting uneconomical “prime” farmland.

    Unfortunately for him, someone else’s vision is being imposed on him because he is zoned agricultural only. Even though government statistics show that our poorest areas are agricultural we inhibit development “for the public good”. Even though 95% of farms require outside income to exist, every avenue for gaining that income is prevented by various forms of imposition – except commuting to work. On top of that, the county has the unmitigated gall to tell him that they have to keep the farms because farms are paying $3 in tax for every $1 in services.

    Only 2% of the population lives on farms. Six percent of them make 95% of profits of which 80% or so are in the form of price supports. 40% of what we grow is exported. Altogether this suggests that we need 5 ten thousandths of the population in farming. Who is going to maintain our agricultural vistas and how are they going to be paid? It’s not coming out of agricultural money, yet the Chesapeake bay foundation admits that their plans to clean up the bay are going to cost farmers $2 billion.

    A free market solution to preserving open space would be to buy it and this was also recently proposed in a major article in the Post. As far as I’m concerned anyone who wants to have a farm or open space should be free to buy fifty house lots and do what he likes.

    In Maine a conservationist recently purchased 20,000 acres of woodland and posted it off limits to commercial activities that had proceeded there for generations. When the locals complained at a well attended “public input” meeting the owner declared “It’s my land I can do what I want.” It seems to me that she is correct, within reason. This was a private instance, but the public can buy and preserve land too, if they are willing to afford it, however recent events suggest they are not so willing. They would rather have a lesser value place, it seems.

    Oregon has been facing this problem for years and Oregon is far more conducive to profitable farming than Piedmont Virginia. Oregon was in the vanguard of conservation oriented land use laws which, like Montgomery County and other places are now being re-thought. Here are a couple of quotes from recent news:

    ” Metro’s decision, and their years of planning, were invalidated in a one-hour hearing before the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.” … “land that clearly should be within the urban growth boundary by any measure that makes sense and because of political pressure it is not. It’s not productive farmland. It’s vacant land, but it’s not productive farmland. It’s in a prime development area and by any reasonable person’s standards “

    And another.

    “ More than 30 local government officials and business leaders pleaded with Gov. Ted Kulongoski this morning for a relaxation of state land-use planning laws, saying more flexibility would mean a better economy for Eastern Oregon.

    John Wilcox, general manager for the Blue Mountain Growers Co-op in Milton-Freewater, said his own son bought 10 acres of land in Walla Walla, Wash., in order to build a house because he couldn’t find land in Oregon he could build on.”

    Perhaps Mr. Risse and Mr. Bacon would care to explain how free market principles apply to this poor citizen. The fact that Montgomery County is a “high value” place to live is quite beside the point if you can’t afford it and have no need to. In fact, it is a “high value” place to live precisely because more urbanized areas are less efficient at providing what we need. It is all very well to pontificate about higher order needs, but it all boils down to individual problems that have to be addressed individually, the system is too complex to allow for any other workable solution.

    Ray Hyde
    Delaplane VA

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    I apologize for lumping Mr. Bacon and Mr. Risse in with the Smart Growth crowd. We have had that conversation previously and I slipped into a bad habit -again. I do recognize that your position is different is some respects from the Smart Growth crowd. I also apologize for my previous comment being posted twice.

    I agree completely that since government is in the road building and zoning business a certain amount of planning is required. I don’t see that that translates into $80,000 traffic lights that take years to install. I don’t see that it translates into a six year plan to repair an intersection where people get killed. I don’t see that translates into a 20 month exercise in order to get a building permit for a single family home – on a lot where street water and sewer are already available. I don’t see where any of that should result in a 30% premium on home prices just because the government can’t or won’t do its job. In this view of things, our settlement patterns happen for valid reasons – it is government that is dysfunctional.

    I don’t believe that I said there is little/no connection between land use and congestion, I believe there is a connection, but it is not the one so often repeated. There are two types of congestion – wanted congestion and unwanted congestion. Wanted congestion is associated with highly popular activities, whether that be jobs or football games. Unwanted congestion is what happens when our transportation system fails to get us to the area of desired congestion. The smaller and more disperse the latter areas are, the less likely the former are to occur. At any given time we have plenty of unused roadways, and the way to make best use of them is to spread out.

    Neither am I alone in this line of thinking; I can provide references to studies that show that the increase in suburb to suburb travel makes better use of highways than the radial travel that so frequently leads to traffic bottlenecks. Other studies show that rural travel is faster and less costly than urban travel.

    What is true is that government has been slow to act on providing the roads needed for this new development in settlement patterns. Even though Metro was constructed in the 1970’s after burb to burb travel patterns were becoming obvious, Metro and our major highways were constructed as a radial system, which does next to nothing to meet our current needs. At the same time activists were successfully defeating planned roadways and bridges which have subsequently proved necessary.

    What is true is that the theory of induced traffic (if you build them they will come) has largely been dismissed by professionals even though it is still widely repeated. Instead, induced traffic is seen as a reallocation of traffic that was previously constricted elsewhere, and as due to growth in housing and commerce that would have occurred anyway.

    Regardless of how you plan your community, the idea that you can increase density and reduce congestion or reduce infrastructure costs is simply folly that has nowhere been proven by facts on the ground. Neither is that idea supported by the market, except as already noted.

    Traffic goes up faster than population. If you could magically double the population density of an area and at the same time cut the per person travel distance in half, the traffic density and related congestion would still go up. City congestion is higher than rural congestion and contrary to common assumptions often repeated by Mr. Risse transportation costs, and time consumed in travel, and associated pollution, is higher for urban residents than for rural residents.

    These are documented facts provided by the PA Dept. of agriculture, noted transportation engineers and other sources. They are also transparently evident to many people in the market place. That is why somewhere between 70 and 90% of population growth has occurred in suburban areas. At the same time, your views are supported by the conjoined fact that in spite of this suburban growth, the cities have densified as well, with the result that the % of urban population to the whole has remained stable over the last fifty years in spite of massive suburban growth.

    This implies that suburban growth and urban growth are proceeding more or less to meet market requirements. Urban people have been fleeing to less congested areas and the jobs have been following them for over fifty years now. A recent article in the post declared that it is time to stop fighting sprawl and start making it beautiful. It is also the reason that people who already live in less congested areas, like Mr. Risse, are raising barriers to anyone else coming out and bringing their congestion with them.

    Mr. Risse has pointed out that ” Citizens, families, enterprises, institutions and agencies are taking actions that systematically thwart the creation and expansion of potential high-quality, high-market-value places to work, live, seek services and participate in leisure activities.” To this I would respond that high-quality is subjective, and the fact that so many people are trying to move out of congested areas supports that idea. I don’t deny that places like Georgetown are high-vlaue places to live and work. Mr. Risse and Mr. Bacon are correct in pointing out that the price to live there is evidence of this fact. So are country club communities, airpark communities, and marina communities and many other planned developments. It is for exactly this reason that Rural Fauquier County is home to many of our nation’s wealthiest individuals. In fact, the Michigan Land Institute has commented that Fauquier’s conservation successes have largely been due to the influence of a few wealthy individuals.

    These places are only desirable to those who wish to, and can afford, to live there. There are two elements to price: one is the availability of the product and the other is the willingness to pay. Certain products are only available, and only useful to, those with an overabundant willingness and ability to pay. Those who pay exorbitant amounts to live in Georgetown or join expensive country clubs do so precisely because of the lack of diversity it provides: they are paying to be associated with others of their kind.

    Many other people have entirely different utility functions. For them value is largely inversely related to price, given relatively similar products. No matter what the price Georgetown is not a suitable environment for someone whose hobby is playing the bagpipes, building boats, or riding horses, and neither are an awful lot of other places. No matter how low the price some people would not choose to live in Georgetown. Wal-Mart did not get to be where it is by having the highest price items. Therefore I find that it is Mr. Bacon’s arguments that are beside the point. Perhaps he can explain why it is that rural Fauquier County is home to some of the wealthiest people in the nation, or why Progressive Farmer listed it as the number one place to live in the nation? Progessive Farmer by the way is less about farming than it is about rural living.

    According to Mr. Risse, “Citizens settle for lower-value places because they cannot afford better.” Again he is missing the point between price and value. Although many people agree with him and have maintained and expanded the urban core, many more have decided to vote with their pocketbook. Consider a prefabricated modular home of 2300 sq. ft. readily available for purchase for around $75,000. Its value in terms of space and material is determined before it leaves the factory. If you then locate the house in Fairfax its assessed value becomes $225,000 not including the lot or lot improvements such as foundation, water, sewer, and power. If you bring a Chevrolet to Fairfax, does it triple in “value”? Of course not. Regardless of what commuting costs are, you can commute for a long time for that kind of money.

    In the exampl
    e noted, the lot itself increased in value from $5000 to $89,000, as a function of having the house placed on it: the lot did not move. Meanwhile the value of the house increased solely as a function of the location of the lot on which it is placed. Since the location is an inherent condition of the lot and not the house, the locational value should reside in the land. The example shows that this is not true and the homeowner is being taxed for his locational decision twice.

    Where does this sudden increase in value come from, and where does it go? It is of no use to the homeowner until he sells. The county has artificially created this value through restricting housing. There is no other explanation because the identical house can be purchased for the same price tomorrow. The house has no more living utility, and probably less yet the owner pays more for having made an urbanized living decision.

    If you consider that you are going to own a car anyway, and you are likely to work in several different jobs and locations during the time you live in your house, then what you consider to be dysfunctional living is completely rational. I deliberately started my career living and working on the same street. Because of job changes, since then I have commuted the wrong direction, moved closer to my job, commuted to three different suburbs, telecommuted, and commuted inward. There is no conceivable way that changing location four more times would have been less expensive than driving. As crazy as our current system superficially appears, it is still a lot better than Mr. Risse’s concept, which, if it occurs, will take two or three hundred years anyway.

    In Montgomery County, one third of the land area is protected. Of the remaining area 80% is developed. Mr. Risse would point to the remaining 20% and claim that there is plenty of urban room to develop high value places. Just so, but those areas have not been developed for a reason, which might be access, zoning, title problems, liability issues, or owner preference. Again, the market determines this only under the constraints of zoning. Montgomery County is also facing one of the largest increases in assessments around and wholesale flight of its lesser paid workers to the far suburbs.

    Mr. Risse would propose putting a hard edge around the developed areas in order to protect the undeveloped areas. How is that not imposing your vision? What if a guy in town wants to keep his extra half-acre in spite of the fact it is dysfunctional and cost ineffective? Maybe he keeps racing pigeons there. Meanwhile, out in the “protected” area you have a guy whose acre of land can bring him $75.00 a year in soybeans – before labor, land, and machinery costs – if he is lucky. (These figures are from the agricultural extension office.) He might actively wish to create and expand a potential high-quality, high-market-value place to work, live, seek services and participate in leisure activities, but he is prevented in doing so in favor of protecting uneconomical “prime” farmland.

    Unfortunately for him, someone else’s vision is being imposed on him because he is zoned agricultural only. Even though government statistics show that our poorest areas are agricultural and that 95% of farms require outside income to exist, every avenue for gaining that income is prevented by various forms of imposition – except commuting to work. On top of that, the county has the unmitigated gall to tell him that they have to keep the farms because farms are paying $3 in tax for every $1 in services.

    A free market solution to preserving open space would be to buy it and this was also recently proposed in a major article in the Post. As far as I’m concerned anyone who wants to have a farm or open space should be free to buy fifty house lots and do what he likes. In Maine a conservationist recently purchased 20,000 acres of woodland and posted it off limits to commercial activities that had proceeded there for generations. When the locals complained at a well attended “public input” meeting the owner declared “It’s my land I can do what I want.” This was a private instance, but the public can buy and preserve land too, if they are willing to afford it, however recent events suggest they are not so willing. They would rather have a lesser value place, it seems.

    Oregon has been facing this problem for years and Oregon is far more conducive to profitable farming than Piedmont Virginia. Oregon was in the vanguard of conservation oriented land use law which, like Montgomery County and other places are being re-thought. Here are a couple of quotes from recent news:

    ” Metro’s decision, and their years of planning, were invalidated in a one-hour hearing before the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.” … “land that clearly should be within the urban growth boundary by any measure that makes sense and because of political pressure it is not. It’s not productive farmland. It’s vacant land, but it’s not productive farmland. It’s in a prime development area and by any reasonable person’s standards “

    And another.

    “ More than 30 local government officials and business leaders pleaded with Gov. Ted Kulongoski this morning for a relaxation of state land-use planning laws, saying more flexibility would mean a better economy for Eastern Oregon.

    John Wilcox, general manager for the Blue Mountain Growers Co-op in Milton-Freewater, said his own son bought 10 acres of land in Walla Walla, Wash., in order to build a house because he couldn’t find land in Oregon he could build on.”

    Perhaps Mr. Risse and Mr. Bacon would care to explain how free market principles apply to this poor citizen. The fact that Montgomery County is a “high value” place to live is quite beside the point if you can’t afford it and have no need to. In fact, it is a “high value” place to live precisely because more urbanized areas are less efficient at providing what we need.

    Ray Hyde
    Delaplane VA

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