We have all had about enough of government bashing concerning Katrina. However, there are lessons from the past two weeks concerning governance. A good place to start is to consider the issues raised on the Bacons Rebellion Blog.

Barnie D. is right that the feds have a lot for which to answer. Jim B. is right that there is plenty of apparent blame at the state and municipal levels too but that it is too early to have all the facts. Most of those pointing fingers and most of those arguing that “it” was someone else’s fault are partisans from the Elephant Tribe or Donkey Tribe trying to spin, score points or do damage control because of the prospect of an election looming in November. Today the headlines suggest many are jumping on the “bureaucracy-is-the-problem” band wagon.

James Atticus Bowden opened an important line of inquiry in a 3 September 2005 post with the heading “Bacon’s Rebellion” and subtitle “When Disasters Have Names.” Bowden clarified in a comment that this was a reprint of his September 2003 op ed concerning the impact of Hurricane Isabel on Poquoson, VA. Poquoson City is a village-scale municipality on the peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and the James River north of Hampton and east of Newport News.

Bowden highlighted the role and importance of cluster-scale, neighborhood-scale, village-scale and community-scale agencies and institutions. As we point out in “What You Can Do About Katrina” a fundamental problem is there is not effective governance structure at any of these levels. In the case of Poquoson there is a village scale municipality and a geography context (a peninsula on a peninsula) that reinforces the focus of both agencies and institutions.

“South of the James/Conaway” posted important points about the current condition of urban society and the roles of both agencies and institutions. Bowden, to his credit, graciously agreed. Conaway at first glance seems to undermine Bowden’s positions on cluster-scale through community-scale enterprises, agencies and institutions but in fact does not.

“Subparte” enters to suggest if the “government” is to take up the slack it will be hugely expensive. He is absolutely right if we rely on the current municipal / state / federal levels of government. If the current bureaucracy (“Subparte’s term) is any indication, it will not function regardless of cost.

“Conaway” reenters and says in para one that he does not think cost must go up. (See above note about cost.) but then in para two hits the nail on the head: Governance has not evolved to match society. He cites good examples. Also see “Where is Northern Virginia” 18 Aug 2003 at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com and the note on levels of governance in the post “What You Can Do About Katrina” from 3 September cite above.

A fundamental failure regarding Katrina was one of the governance structure that did not YET exist, not just failure of the governments that do exist.

The core issue is more than semantics but it starts with a failure of vocabulary. “Sub-urban” means less than urban. Humans cannot build and sustain an urban society with “sub-urban” settlement patterns. That is what the English thought when the word was coined in the 16th century. That is what we document in The Shape of the Future.

Just as important humans cannot build and sustain a civilization with a governance structure that does not match the settlement pattern. Mr. Bowden and Poquoson happen to be better off than most in this regard. The City of New Orleans and the adjacent Parishes are about as bad as it gets in the Untied States based on my experience there as noted in this weeks column “Down Memory Lane with Katrina” 6 Sept 2005 at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com Perhaps some sections of northern New Jersey are on a par. Those with experience in Greater Buffalo and Greater Detroit suggest there are other candidates. Our own work in Cleveland suggest they may be right.

Before someone reaches for the “Manhattan” red herring we must repeat that densities that range from 10 persons per acre to 100 persons to the acre at the Alpha (Balanced) Community scale are not “Manhattan.” “Manhattan” is not the alternative to “sub-urban,” Balanced Communities in a sustainable New Urban Region are the alternative. See our column of 23 Aug 2005 on that topic at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com

As long as the default setting of contemporary civilization is economic competition, the pattern and density will depend on the operation of the Third Law of Human Settlement Patterns: The “U” shaped cost of services (and goods) curve. The application varies by scale of the settlement pattern component and the nature of the good or service. With a fair allocation of all location variable costs there are many alternatives but none of them are “sub-urban.”

Balanced Community “costs” include the cost of time and energy which we hope will be the subject of our next column. We will get to the issue of the “U” shaped curve in a future column.

We have noted often that no one ever said that creating functional human settlement pattern would be cheap. In fact the cost of functional governance of functional human settlement patterns will be less for just the reasons that Bowden suggests.

Citizens cannot afford dysfunctional settlement patterns. Compare the cost of the strategies RBA suggested in 1973 with the cost of “recovery” in 2005.


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  1. Barnie Day Avatar

    EM, this is a good, solid, important post and I, for one, am appreciative.

  2. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    EM. Thanks. Have you got a model with a graphic display that shows this development you offer? I’d like to see the independent variables, the math, the graphics and how it compares to reality – where and when. Sorry if this sounds wonkish, but, hey, nerds do what nerds do.

  3. Climate change, crumbling infrastructure and petroleum-based foreign policy linked as Greens call for an investigation into the preventable deaths of thousands in New Orleans. Greens also prepared for Distrust Your Government Day on Sept. 13 to collect disaster relief aid for flood survivors.

  4. Even I will weigh in on your side on this one. Bashing government over Katrina is probably not helping the problem at hand. At least we can be sure government won’t name a storm Katrina again in our lifetimes.

    I still have some problems, though.

    As I understand your arguments, you think fundamental change includes something like four or five new levels of government, to correspond with your idea of societal and developmet structure.

    I come from New England, where the basic form of government is the town: the county and anything above that is almost nonexistent. That form of government has become corrupted because the towns have grown so large that a “representative town meeting” has been adopted.

    For those that are not familiar, the town meeting is both familial and brutal. Every item of expenditure is brought up to the public and voted on.

    I recall a Corporal on the police department who was up for a raise. A little lady sttod up in the back and reported that the police cruiser was frequently parked behind Sally Smiths house all night. When the vote was taken, no raise.

    I can’t see that four or five more levels of government is good for anything more than more control, more power, and more expense.

    I can’t agree with your deinition uf sub-urban. Looking up the word I find many definitions, but none that match yours as in less than urban. the closest I found was “The meaning of ‘sub’ is, falling nearly in the category of, that is, not quite urban; missing some of the important components to be defined as urban.” Which is still far different from your imputed meaning. The earliest reference I found was “Not ferre out of the toun In a subarbe callyd Rysbygate.” dated from 1433 in Dictionary laborLaw.com. This is far earlier than your definition but both imply that suburbanization has been going on for a long time. DOE defines suburbs as simply “Those parts of the MSA that are not designated as central city.”

    Considering the antiquity of the term, maybe you should include the tendency to suburbanize it in your “Natural Laws”.

    Your argument or hypothesis is that humans cannot build and sustain a civilization without the governance structure that does not match the settlement pattern. History shows us that settlement patterns change faster than government, which has a vested self interest in preservation. To the extent your hypothesis is correct, it is probably doomed to continued failure: history shows not a single civilization that has been maintained over sufficient time to fail.

    I’m not going to bite the Manhattan red herring. The fact that you raise the issue suggests that there is something amiss at the far left side of the U curve. But consider your statement that we need 10 to 100 residents per acre. That means something like three to thirty-five residences per acre. The low end of that doesn’t even leave room for my wife’s flowers, let alone my patch of corn, the vegetable garden, or room for the dog to run, or parking for the RV or boat. There is widespread evidence that some people choose not to live at such densities. There is further evidence that the scale of living and propensity for trip-making is more closely related to age and socioeconomic class than it is to patterns of development.

    I have argued that the U shaped curve indicates there is a happy medium between high density and low density where the costs of sprawl and distributed sevices reacha minimum value. Too close in and the costs go up, too far out and the costs go up. I sincerely hope your future column will elucidate this matter.

    Twice, in recent posts, you have stated the idea that “…no one ever said that creating functional human settlement pattern would be cheap.” and “No one ever said quality urban environments were cheap…”

    And this is really the crux of the argument you and I have processed on these pages. If your arguments are to be held correct, you will need to show that uncheap quality urban environments really cost less than rural sprawl.

    However, these two statement amount to agreemnt (at some level) that urban environments are expensive. Every effort to curb urban congestion will make them still more expensive.

    It seems to me, and scientific data suppor the idea, that the cost gradient is the main driver to sprawl.

    Some people will choose to live in dense environments and are willling to pay the required premium. Your argument is that 95% of the population should live in such places and the rest should pay a premium to avoid the conditions you think we ought to plan.

    Economically, there is little incentive to live in urban areas. Therefore, in order to achieve your 95% goal, either we will need to provide incentive or we will resort to coercion of some sort.

    If 95% of the population is incentivized to live in urban areas, who will pay the incentives? Even the ultra-rich five% who live in the country, paying a premium to avoid the conditions you think we should plan cannot afford such a price.

    That leaves us coercion of some sort or another. To me, this seems to be your prefferred mode, and i reference your frequent objection against peoples “rights” as in the right to live where they choose, or rights to subdivide or otherwise use rural property. In this post you even decry the fact of economic competition.

    Frankly, it sounds to me like you are still beating the long since discredited socialist tom-toms of the 1930’s. This is just an opinion on your ideas as I perceive them, it is not a personal attack.

    Finally, if you can explain how we will pay the incentives for people to accept what is widely perceived as an inferior environment at higher cost, or coerce them to accept such conditions without many more, or more remote forms of government bureaucracy,

    There is, of course, another alternative. If you spend enough money the urban environment will no longer be perceived as diseconomic, violent, ugly, dirty, congested, and inconvenient.

    Have you got that much money? If not, how do you propose to get it? Who do you think will pay, and how much?

  5. E M Risse Avatar

    Thank you Barnie.

    James Atticus Bowden in responce to your question:

    There are no simple formulas. Every component of every New Urban Region and every Urban Support Region will march to their own drummer.

    There are underlying principles laid out by Friends of Virginia’s Future 14 years ago which will be given an airing and reconsideration via PROPERTY DYNAMICS.

    There are five “Natural Laws of Human Settlement my students and I derived from what has actually been built in the Untied States, Canada and Western Europe over the last 50 years.

    Some are irrefutable (e.g. A= Pi R sq) and the radius analysis that is applied in “Five Critical Realities the Shape the Future” (15 Dec 2003)

    No one has seriously challenged the other Natural Laws because they are derived from what is on the ground. The proofs are in The Shape of the Future. (We plan to get a PDF version up for sale at Bacons Rebellion “soon.”)

    If location related costs are fairly allocated, these Natural Laws and a free, informed market will result in functional and sustainable settlement patterns.

    The settlement patterns that are most highly valued in the market today are remarkably similar to the best of those created over the past 400 years.

    What is important is the democratic process to choose future settlement patterns (and the economic and social activities within that physical framework) to make citizens happy and safe (Aristotle’s criteria).

    Society must come to trust enlightened citizens not pandering politicians.

    There must be a governance structure that matches the organic components of human settlement patterns.

    Direct democracy is possible at the cluster scale, nested representative democracy above that.

    The level of decision must be focused at the level of impact.

    Much of what we see wrong in South Louisiana and elsewhere is the government decision level is not related to the impact level.

    That is a start.

    Stay tuned, join the PROPERTY DYNAMICS process by contacting Professor Freeman at josephfreeman@msn.com

  6. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    EM, thanks. I just fell off your turnip wagon. If there is a pattern over 400 years,etc etc then this theory could be modeled. Apparently, it isn’t modeled.

    Math is not a simple formula, it’s the language of science. If you ever get the theory in a model, I’d like to see it. I can read prose too, but the modeling really gives definition to the extent and limits of knowledge over any phenomena.

    I am an enlightened citizen, truly a son of the Enlightenment. Yet, unless the Commonwealth places all trust in me personally, I am not buying putting trust in enlightened citizens over politicians. If the enlightened citizens are not subject to my vote as the Soveriegn of the Commonwealth, then I do not allocate any of my authority or power to them.

    8 generations ago, John Bowden and his four brothers left their farms in Isle of Wight County and fought the Brits to establish me as the Soveriegn of the Commonwealth and the United States of America. The People are Soveriegn.

    I intend to keep it that way. So do my children.

    Still, I look forward to reading what your theories are if it can be found in one place.

  7. Thank you JAB.

    In three paragraphs you summarized all the complaints I have tried to file. As I see it EMR theories will require that all citizens be enlightened to his standards and either an impossible amount of money (taxes) or coercion of some sort.

    None of these are likely, so we need to figure what we actually have to work with and deal with that.

    So far, scientists can’t even agree on how to measure sprawl, congestion, or the costs of civilization, let alone determine value judgements based on the results.We have no idea how to control these things or what the unexpected results of attempting to do so will be – if that is what we decide we want to do.

    I have worked in modeling and simulation. Much of what we now believe about sprawl is based on models, not actual measurements in the real world. Much as in writing, some models are assembled to “prove” a certain point. But until we have models that can be validated by measurement and comparison, they are nothing more than elaborate guesses.

    I have pointed out in previous writings that those who do go out and try to measure actual societal conditions find no evidence that I can see supports EMR’s theories.

  8. SouthoftheJames.com Avatar

    EMR: since I haven’t seen your work, yet, what follows should not be interpreted as a specific dig at you.

    From my experience, a key fault line of human settlement modelling and the like is that there is a significant disconnect between “enlightened” human settlement thinkers/academicians and the reality of American democratic governance and market capitalism. In addition to JAB’s commentary on the people as sovereign, many of the hypothetical debates over the meaning of sprawl, smart growth, new urbanism, and the efficacy of European/Asian central planning models ignore the political economy of human settlement.

    In the US, many of the major “movements” in urban/suburban/exurban [sorry about the lingo] theory/models have really been “new products” developed by entrepreneurial real estate developers, financiers and investors. Government – at all levels – has worked in tandem as the direct enabler (railroad creation, creation of the secondary mortgage market, GI Bill, Interstate System, etc) or indirect catalyst (urban renewal, civil rights gains that drove White flight, Supreme Court decisions, etc).

    Until The People [enlightened or not] as citizens in the political realm and consumers in the economic realm vote for a particular outcome to occur, it will not happen, and any entity that offers a particular model or theory as the “best” manner of driving human settlement for all of The People should be, at best, viewed with skepticism. While voter and consumer behavior can be influenced with good information – approaching but never truly reaching “full information” status – it cannot and should not be coerced. These are the great lessons that planning/human settlement academics and thinkers often dismiss as quaint notions.

    — Conaway

  9. E M Risse Avatar


    I suspect we would agree on the details of much of what you state if we had the opportunity to sort out the vocabulary.

    James Atticus Bowden:

    Sorry you fell off the turnip wagon, hope you did not sprain anything. Not to worry, you are always welcome to hop back on.

    It is a big wagon. Along with turnips and rutabagas there are cabbages and kings and everything in between.

    I will offer one short response and an overarching observation on critiques over the years as we have been working to evolve a unified field theory of human settlement patterns.

    I have an undergraduate degree in mathematics and like a good model as well as the next fellow. In 1965 I became involved with a program applying the first complex model of roadway transportation created for Nelson’s cutting edge NY DOT. Almost 30 years later I served on a special committee of the Transportation Research Board (National Academe of Sciences) advising universities around the country on regional transportation models. I have kept my ear to the ground since.

    The failure of exiting models to portray the complexity of land use / transport interactions was a driving force in my developing the work outlined in the earlier response to your request for further detail. A major issue is the “political” context which we define in “Spinning Data, Spinning Wheels,” 20 Sept 2004 at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com .

    I am sure it would be possible to create a useful model. First there needs to be agreement on the conceptual framework (the focus of our work) and then data needs to be gathered on a components of organic human settlement patterns. Wm. Lucy and Dave Phillip’s new book Metromorphosis will make it obvious why this is important as does our use of radial analysis.

    If you know where there is $5mil to get started on model building, let me know. For now the modeling money in this field is going to justify building something that will make money in a hurry for those who support the party in power as noted in the “Spinning Data … ” column cited above. Oops we have a bashing moratorium, sorry .

    On existing land use / transport models in general, as we note in The Shape of the Future, there are two types:

    Those that simple enough to run on existing data but turn out to be so simple that they do not reflect reality, and, those complex enough to start to reflect reality but for which there is not data. This is a variation on the theme outlined by Conaway.

    Other than that…

    The larger observation is this:

    We have identified two spheres of negative response to our work:

    The first is rooted in a failure to understand what we are saying – the vocabulary issue noted in our original post.

    The second sphere of negative feedback is rooted in a belief that, whither we are right or not, widespread agreement with us is not in the short term economic interest of the critic.

    This stance is not limited to land developers. (You will not find successful large-scale developers disagreeing with us, they just wish we would go away and stop rocking the boat.)

    Second sphere negative feedback is especially prevalent among political party partisans (like those bashing and unbashing agencies over Katrina) but also extends to academics who have just written a book and to True Believers of all stripes. (One of my heros from law school days was Eric Hoffer who I had the opportunity to get to know in the early 60s.)

    Some of the most obstinate True Believers are those who are sure the world would be great if those other folks would just stop doing what they are doing. (Of course, those “other folks” believe they are acting is in their own best interest.)

    As you know from our earlier response, we rely on the market and enlightened self interest to sort out those issues rather than telling citizens what plan they should follow.

    A special class of the second sphere “critics” are armature land speculators – folks who what to scatter urban land uses across the Countryside – they will go to any length (literally), twist any fact or cite any irrelevant observation, experience or insight to make a systematic, science based approach to human settlement patterns seem trivial, or impossible. This description may sound familiar to regular readers of Bacon’s Rebellion Blog.

    So there you have it. Sorry you did not like our attempt to respond to your question. As noted above you are welcome back on the big wagon with a big tent any time. At my age it is, however, tempting to quote Boon in Wm. Faulkner’s “The Bear”: “Gets on the god damn wagon or gets out the god damn way.” We have a long ways to go and not long to get there.


  10. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    EMR: Body language and tone of voice fail in email. Don’t misinterpret that I don’t ‘like’ your whatever.

    1. I don’t want experts making my decisions for me when it come to issues of representation – public policy government decisions.

    2. I’d like to read what you have. If you don’t have a model or the $5m to make one (ask the GA and new Gov) to do it through a consortium of VA Universities, then do you have a book or two to read?

    3. I read Eric Hoffer’s stuff in the late 60s. Great influence on my thinking.

  11. So far we agree on two things at least. Building, creating and maintaining functional urban patterns is going to take a lot of money.

    And we don’t have the data or measurements to support a model complex enough (which we also don’t have) to support your (or anyone’s) theories on costs of various forms of development and transport.

    Those are the only points I have been trying to make these many months.

    Absent the money and the knowlege I don’t see how we can make any further headway on your theories.

    Scientific method is based on the process of falsifying theories (proving they are wrong or likely to be wrong with a given certainty). The way you advance a theory is to submit it to test – as long as it doesn’t fail, it is still open to further test. Therefore, you should welcome negative feedback as a means of strengthening your theories.

    Where we part company is that I see your theories couched as absolutes (“Natural Law” for example) in invented vocabulary (see above) which you then defend by saying people don’t understand and based on your own expertise.

    I don’t claim to be an expert, I just raise some simple fundamental questions like show me the money or show me the data. Other times I may point out obvious inconsistencies like your claim to rely on the market and enlightened self interest contrasted with your claim that people don’t have (or shouldn’t have, or shouldn’t think they have) the right to live and work where they think is finacially best. Your claim to rely on the market seems to me to fly in the face of your frequent objection to short term economic interests.

    You seem to think that such fundamental objections are trivial or silly. I see them a directly related to Bacon’s objectives concerning disourse on politics, policy, and economic development.

    I fail to see how we get to the long term without the short term: its a case of losing on each itemand making it up on volume.

    I fail to see how the common good can depend on everyone giving up something. Who do we give it to and what do they do with it?

    I think there are levels of proof:
    1) Hypothesis testing with prospective randomized cohorts.
    2) Hypothesis testing with retrospective randomized cohorts
    3) Hypothesis testing based on studies of previous studies.
    4) Hypothesis testing using validated models
    5)Expert Opinion

    Like JAB I look forward to seeing your theories if they can be found in one place, and if I don’t have to learn yet another invented language to read them. I hope they come with a testable hypothesis and null hypothesis.

    Until then I see little science and a lot of dogma in your approach to human settlement patterns.

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