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E M Risse, superhero, on transitioning to carfree

These are some quick notes and excerpts on/from the columns of E M Risse.

Added by colin #442 on 2005-03-07. Last modified 2005-03-08 01:23. Originally created 2005-03-07. F0 License: Attribution
Location: World, United States, Virginia
Topics: media campaign \ propaganda, media: op-ed column, media: periodical, recommended reading, transitioning to carfree, urban planning, Vision, worldviews, the car cannot be fixed

He has a vision of how to get us to where we want to be, and he's looking at all or most of the angles: media, governance, inertia, and how we got in this mess.

His name is E M Risse. The online magazine where he's published is Bacon's Rebellion.

His website is Synergy/Planning.

In his article, the myths that blind us he says:

There appear to be three overarching obstacles in coming to intelligent public judgment about fundamental change:

  • Lack of time and opportunity necessary to thoughtfully consider important issues
  • No understanding of the need for fundamentally restructuring governance
  • Absence of a comprehensive collective worldview—a conceptual framework and vocabulary—with which to discuss the issues


Achieving fundamental change in human settlement patterns requires a change in governance structure.

From wild abandonment, on a way to know what a good place looks like:

The craft fair images depict quiet, tree-lined streets with venerable buildings that are well maintained. The buildings are usually small in scale with interesting textures and designs. The images often portray people enjoying themselves.
It is also easy to document characteristics that quality places do not possess:

  • They are not dominated by asphalt, wide roadways and parking lots for automobiles.
  • They are not set in the middle of what was a pasture, cornfield or desert last year.
  • Buildings do not have unadorned concrete, vinyl or glass surfaces.

The titles of his pieces remind me of A pattern language.

I can't label him carfree or horse-free though in out of chaos he gets at that:

The core problem with private-vehicle-based mobility (aka, automobility) in an urban society is a matter of geometry and physics, not public policy. Length x width x height = volume for each vehicle. This quantity plus the width x length x headroom of roadways = the space required for automobility. This is space that is consigned to automobility even if there are no automobiles using the space. Based on this geometry, physics determines the parameters of traffic congestion. (See the PowerPoint presentation “The Physics of Gridlock” by SYNERGY/Planning, April 2003.)

Each standard-size private vehicle occupies 200 +/- times more space to park and from 400 to 4,000 times the space to drive as a person requires to stand and walk. Collectively, the space occupied by a mobility system relying on automobiles has disaggregated the origins and destinations of trips in contemporary society to such an extent that the pattern of land use is not amenable or convenient for human use unless they resort to a vehicle. (One way to come to an understanding about the role of automobiles in human settlement patterns is to understand the place of horses in urban areas over the past 6,000 years.

and from the carriageless horse:
When humans have used the automobile for as long as they have used the horse, citizens will find the auto, like the horse, serves civilization in much more limited ways than it is currently imagined by auto manufacturers or most citizens who do not yet realize there is a choice.
The pattern of human settlement that accommodated the wide-spread use of the horse proved, over time, to be less desirable than an alternative pattern which forsakes a horse for every adult. Humans found it better to live in settlement patterns where citizens did not need to use the extended range and speed of the horse in order to carry out their everyday activities.
In his writing about the fundamental changes that are necessary, he quotes a Richmond planner on what will happen to the New Urban Region if no changes are made:
The Richmond NUR is going to continue to go to hell in the trunk of a car built by GM, powered by EXXON on roads paved by VDOT.

He and his approach have a depth and breadth, connections and background that few in the carfree movement have.

As I sit back and wonder, as I sometimes do, if I will end up helping this cause or just watching as it (perhaps) inevitably happens, I am happy to have found another superhero.

His column was mentioned in Planetizen's email newsletter.

Colin Leath <>    

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