Good to have you back. I did not pay attention and did not realize how far north you were going. 200 miles west of Ft Simpson is just a few miles from the end of the earth. I suspect the forest fires have not gotten up there yet.

While you were gone Groveton asked a question about retrofitting Great Falls to be a functional Village. We are working on a column on that topic that will address the questions your about “traditional village development” on greenfield sites.


You may have seen this but today’s WaPo on B2 there is a “Virginia Briefing” item “Group of Independents to Make Endorsements” by Sandhya Somashekhr.

Also see note on your Great Falls question above.

Mr. Leahy:

Glad to see your “Castles in the Sand” column on settlement pattern issues. Keep up the good work.


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12 responses to “NOTES”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Fort Simpson is not the fartherest North settlement by any stretch but it is way the heck “up there”.

    It is a traditional grid-streeted town of about 1000 people with absolutely no economy at all save the 400 or so folks who every year fly in to the Nahanni River.. and in the process pay for the float planes, restaurants, single motel, and single Northern Food Store.

    They produce “nothing” in Fort Simpson. They have no product – no services – save for each other.

    The government provides almost all of the jobs and the balance are Candadian version of native Americans (called First Nation)who receive benefits.

    They are literally cut off from the rest of the world (physically) in the late fall and early spring when the Liard River freezes over and the ferry no longer runs.

    After freeze-up – an ice road is built and access is restored until Spring thaw… at which point they must wait until the ice subsides enough to deploy their ferry again.

    Yellowknife, by the way – to the East – is a significant city… which DOES have an economy (mostly oil and gas interests and spin-off jobs).

    So .. what comes to mind with respect to Fort Simpson … is the other end of the stick with respect to”balanced communities”.

    It has no problem with housing (although it is not plentiful) because there are only a certain number of jobs to start with – and no prospects to speak of for signifigant new jobs.

    I think it is safe to say that Fort Simpson would go from not so good to much, much worse if the Canadian government chose to no longer subsidize the town with governmentworkers and school teachers.

    In no way, shape or form.. would I be able to say that Fort Simpson is a “balanced community”.

    As bad as it is… places like Fort Liard are even worse.

    but then, get this. Fort Nelson … further South.. is a vibrant boom town…. with most every fast food brand … known…

    go figure…

    p.s. did I say that the Ford 250 pickup is THE preferred vehicle?

    did I say that many of those trucks sport Sat Phones…. like … we have cell phones…

    did I say that we paid $1.30 a LITER for gasoline? OUCH OUCH OUCH.

    When you are travelling “up there” – you don’t ask the price of gasoline.. you’re just glad that they are open and have gas… and you whip out your credit card – which promptly gets hit with about a $100 dollars….

    anyone … who ruminates about settlement patterns, locational costs, sprawl, et al .. might have to re-think some things once they visted Fort Simpson and environs…

  2. E M Risse Avatar

    Larry said:

    “anyone … who ruminates about settlement patterns, locational costs, sprawl, et al .. might have to re-think some things once they visted Fort Simpson and environs…”

    EMR said:

    Larry, I read your notes and did not find anything unexpected or anything that conflicts with our view of human settlement patterns.

    You will recall that, while much farther South … I looked at a map and Ft. Simpson is indeed way up there…, the place I grew up was also a one season economy but for the government.

    Like the beach resorts explored in Jim Bacon’s Bicycle Heven” string of 24 August, these places can be windows on, and provide a clear view of a number of economic, social and physical realities.

    No one says they are “just like X” but the inhabitants have the same number of legs and the same genetic history.

    Give us a for instance of what you have heard us say about New Urban Regions, Urban Support Regions or Balanced Communities that needs to be rethought.


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Ok, so which is worse, government subsidized jobs in Fort Simpson, or subsidized Volkswagen in Fairfax?


  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: rethink

    well … 2 things to start…

    1. – why is Fort Simpson where it is?

    2. – if there used to be an economic reason at one time, that reason apparently is no longer….

    so .. what comes first – the jobs or the community?

    and is a community “balanced” if it does not produce anything and requires government help to survive?

    if jobs come and go… do balanced communities that lose their jobs – remain or go away?

    some of these questions may not make much sense but one of my questions when visit a new place is to ask: “why is this place here”?

  5. E M Risse Avatar


    Thank you for the questions.

    They show two things:

    One: You do not yet have your arms around the major elements of the New Urban Region Conceptual Framework,

    Two: I have not made them clear enough yet.

    Here are some points that may help:


    Balanced Communities are a necessity in the Core of New Urban Regions. That is because about 85% of the population of the US of A lives in New Urban Regions. (The percentage is a little lower in Cananda but not much.)

    Within New Urban Regions most (95 % +) citizens derive their livehood from urban activities. If intelligently located, those activities can be carried out best (lowest energy consumption per capita, highest values per capita, most fun per capita, etc. etc.) in Balanced Communites.

    New Urban Regions (NURs) become more and more sustainable as the percentage of citizens and Households living in Balanced Communities within those NURs goes up.

    Urban Support Regions (USRs) are a different story. They are by definition “unbalanced” but that is OK because of the resources (support) they supply to two or more New Urban Regions. See definition of USRs in GLOSSARY.

    (By the way we are always talking about “reletive” Balance not absolute Balance at the Community or Regional scale. We are now a global society and even in Fort Simpson I will bet you could find some products made in the last 12 months in China and India.)

    Fort Simpson is a Beta Village scale place in an USR.

    (If Fort Simpson were 100 miles from the Centroid of the Edmonton New Urban Region it would be a Beta Neighborhood scale place because the critial mass necessary to create an organic component of human settlement decreases with the distance from a centroid of a NUR (or a large urban agglomeration in a USR.) Think of this relationship as being similar to the gravitational pull in celestrial mechanics.

    So now to our questions:

    “1. – why is Fort Simpson where it is?”

    Since it is called “Fort” I suspect it was located as a defense outpost / mounted police substation / trading post at some point.

    There may be other reasons but I do not have enough information to suggest what they might be. Much of the native population survived on subsistance hunting, fishing, gathering and fur trading until roads, airplanes and other technology changed their economic, social and physical context.

    2. – if there used to be an economic reason at one time, that reason apparently is no longer….

    Ah, you — and folks like you who like to float down the river — are a main reason Fort Simpson is not a ghost town. You bring in Yankee Dollars that bounce around Fort Simpson for months after you leave.

    Those who had a reason to be there before stayed around for a lot of reasons.

    If there was no reason to stay, they Fort Simpson would be a ghost town like thousands of other places between there and the Gulf of Mexico.

    There is another reason why it is not a ghost town. The folks in Ottawa learned long ago it is cheaper to help the good citizens of Fort Simpson take in one anothers laundry, entice you to come up and swat misquios, etc. by providing mail service, police service, schools, etc. than to support these same Households in the Core of New Urban Regions.

    “so .. what comes first – the jobs or the community?”

    Even in small urban agglomerations in a USR there must be some jobs but taking in one anothers laundry, especially with do it your self / sweat equity goods and services it does not take much from “outside.”

    It is not just Jobs but also Services, Recreation and Amenity that need to be present. The big reason many do not leave is shelter (Housing), here they have a place to get in out of the cold, even if covered with tar paper or flattened tin cans.

    Going some place else they may not.

    “and is a community “balanced” if it does not produce anything and requires government help to survive?”

    The issue of “Balanced Communty” is not a critical one in these urban enclaves in the USRs.

    “if jobs come and go… do balanced communities that lose their jobs – remain or go away?”

    It all depends on location. The key is NUR or USR, distance to other urban enclaves and what of the H / S / R / A complex needed for life is left.

    “Some of these questions may not make much sense but one of my questions when visit a new place is to ask: “why is this place here”?

    I asked the “why” question in Tonapah, NV in 1947. My mother said: “They used to mine silver here, now they take in one another’s laundry.”

    If there is a nice river or a sea shore, then urban folks will come and that outside money goes a long way but looking for Balance at this scale is not a fruitful venture.

    Not understanding the difference between NURs and USRs is a big reason some were at sea in the “Bicycle Heven” string.


  6. E M Risse Avatar

    With Gabrielle building off the NC / Sc coast Mr. Leahy’s sand castles may have shorter lives than he thought.


  7. Anonymous Avatar

    The sky can’t fall soon enough in Risseland.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Anonymous (5:33 pm) –


  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Fort Simpson.. as well as Fort Liard and Fort Nelson as well as a host of other “Fort” towns in Canada (and the US), I suspect, where towns that sprung up after the Fort was established.

    In the case of Canada, many of these communities have a Northern store which is a direct descendant of the Northwest Company that fostered the first real commerce of Canada and the Western US – based on fur trading.

    Indeed, Lewis and Clark – did not truly “explore” as much as they followed maps handed down from fur traders and voyagers who preceded them in the quest for furs – and the Northwest Company deployed “stores” to buy the furs and, in turn, sell supplies to the trappers.

    The “Forts”, I suspect were the government attempting to help Northwest keep their footholds – especially when they were multiple parties claiming ownership of the land.

    But .. many questions about the scope, scale, purpose, function of USRs and their role – relative or absolute with respect to Balanced Communities and New Urban Regions.

    There are many Fort Simpsons in Canada that do not benefit from tourism – Fort Liard is an example.

    The “Fort” is long gone as well as the reason for the fort although Northwest Companies still have a Northern Store there that is quite well stocked.

    While there.. I observed that Fort Liard and the Northern Store do not have water/sewer.

    Instead, a tanker truck pulls up to the store and pumps into a tank (in the interior)… and I suspect a drainfield receives the effluent.

    At any rate – this is absolutely no economy in Ft. Liard save for the government positions – to serve the needs of the native population.

    Indeed, we ran into some constructions workers who were building .. no .. not a water/sewer system… but a skateboard park… for the locals – Canadian tax dollars at work!

    go figure.

    I DID google USR “Urban support regions” and got one hit – from BR and do wish there was an opportunity to further educate myself – online – about the concept.

  10. E M Risse Avatar


    Try the GLOSSARY that came out on BR while you were gone.


  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Ed, I couldn’t help thinking about you when I read todays article in the Post on invented languages.

    Apparently you reside in the same rarified atmosphere of authors such as JRR Tolkien, among others.


  12. Anonymous Avatar

    Anon 1:03

    Your comments would be more useful if you read the material more carefully.

    The WaPo story was about “invented languages.”

    Dr. Risse has not attempted to invent a language, he has crafted a few dozen words so those concerned with settlement patterns have a more effective vocabulary.

    Anon Zoro and Zora

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