Create a comprehensive vision of change

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Create a Comprehensive Vision of Change

General ambition

A comprehensive vision of change is most influential when developed at multiple levels of governance, ranging from municipality-level visions to local visions for communities. While these visions encompass different scales and sectors, their convergence is important for supporting positive change. Visioning can include both abstract, deliberative processes about big questions, as well as practical details about specific projects.

  1. Broad, Integrated Visions: A comprehensive vision of change towards sustainability and justice for an entire city can be built by integrating several small-scale interventions from different sectors. This can manifest itself in policies and laws. Key to this enabling governance arrangement is therefore the interaction between different scales of urban planning and policy making.
  2. Bottom-up, Community Visions: Community-based organizations can generate grassroots visions of change based on collecting residents’ goals, ambitions, and images of the future.


Addressing the dimension 1.

Superblocks, Barcelona

When creating and implementing so-called “Superblocks” in the city, Barcelona embedded them in multiple city-level policies. Very important, for example, was the “Citizen Commitment for Sustainability” which was first signed in 2002 by over 800 public, private and civil-society organisations. Superblocks are one of the several actions that are defined in the document and consequently, experience public support. In general, Superblocks are connected to different policies e.g the Municipal Action Plan, the Barcelona Mobility Pact (1998), the Urban Mobility Plan of Barcelona (2013-2018), the city’s Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Plan (until 2020) or the Barcelona Commitment to Climate, which creates synergies and gives the city a vision for comprehensive change, including Superblocks as one of the many means of reaching that change (Q18).

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Addressing the dimension 2.

Vauban neighborhood, Freibrug

Vauban’s prospective residents as well as project proponents developed a shared vision on how to live in a more sustainable way i.e. parking free areas, sustainable mobility, affordable and inclusive housing etc. (Q14). This shared vision was possible because of a convergence between municipal priorities and community aspirations for the new district (Q13).

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Carnisse neighborhood, Rotterdam

In workshops organized by local organizations, residents were invited to develop a shared vision of the district redevelopment and establish an agenda for transformative and experimental actions e.g. create a community center, a shared garden etc. (Q14).

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Relation to justice in urban sustainability governance

Broad, integrated visions may overcome injustices caused by Unfit institutional structures and Uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration. Unfit institutional structures as a driver of injustice refers to those aspects or functions of organizations, public offices, administrations and authorities that deal with urban governance and stand in the way of achieving just outcomes in urban sustainability. Uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration as a driver of injustice refers to the ways in which new urban developments might force trade-offs between the social and environmental goals of urban sustainability projects. It involves public efforts to improve a neighbourhood’s physical structure and boost its economy by attracting investment, usually in the sectors of real estate and tourism. In this enabling governance arrangement, finding a balance between ecological sustainability, social and economical goals of a city is especially important, as a comprehensive vision built on integrated planning should guide the city in balancing these goals.

Community organizations that actively work in a certain neighbourhood may be better positioned to include voices of underrepresented groups in their area than a municipality-led participatory process. Expressing a vision of the future through different types of exercises (e.g. drawing) can empower certain groups (e.g children or people not speaking the same language) that otherwise might not have the ability to express themselves in other types of settings. Thinking about how you want your personal future to look like and how a project can help to reach that future has a huge potential in connecting individuals to one another, in fostering a sense of belonging and in generating momentum.

Critical reflection

A potential barrier to benefitting from a previously developed comprehensive vision of change lies in its actual implementation in small scale interventions. There is sometimes a gap between what is happening in smaller-scale-projects and with bigger visions (and policies) as economic considerations often dominate the design and implementation of even sustainability-oriented small-scale projects, leading to ecologically unsustainable or unjust outcomes, also on a city-wide level. The challenge then is not only the development of a comprehensive vision of change, but to also empower it to actually shape small-scale interventions.

Additionally, developing a comprehensive vision of change is a significant task that community projects take upon themselves. It requires investing resources that can not at the same time go directly into changes in the project itself. Talking about where to go with a project in the longer term at the cost of working less towards tangible improvements also requires commitment, effort and belief. Especially community projects that completely rely on voluntary work might not have the capacity to do this. Projects therefore need to find a good balance between thinking about a vision for their project and actively working to achieve tangible results.

In some cases, different stakeholders may have conflicting visions of an area, or initiative. There is even a risk, for example, for conflicting visions to create tension between social and ecological priorities. In such a case, project managers would be required to avoid a zero-sum game situation and instead work towards a solution that addresses social priorities without compromising ecological sustainability.


Collserola Natural Park, Barcelona, Barcelona

Striking a balance between dual goals of biodiversity protection and fulfilling local citizens' demand for greater access to green spaces and recreational activities was very important for the Park. The Special Plan for the Protection of the Natural Environment and Landscape of Collserola Mountain (PepNat) responded to the challenge of preserving biodiversity while providing much needed recreational ecosystem services, especially in relation to the high density of population in surrounding areas (Q9).

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Covid-19 connection/How does this enabling arrangement play out under the conditions of a pandemic?

Under social distancing regulations, community projects cannot meet as normal and face restrictions when doing so. Online formats may not offer a good substitute especially considering the spirit that some community projects rely upon as well, thus making the development of a comprehensive vision of change harder.