Pathways and scenarios

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The use of pathways and scenarios is a tool for envisioning transitions.

This page is part of an ongoing, open-ended online collaborative database, which collects relevant approaches that can be used by city-makers to tackle unsustainability and injustice in cities. It is based mainly on knowledge generated in EU-funded projects and touches on fast changing fields. As such, this page makes no claims of authoritative completeness and welcomes your suggestions. All citations are from project websites/reports if not otherwise marked.

General introduction to approach

Pathways and scenario building is a tool to envision what we want our cities to look like in the future. With this goal in mind, it develops an action plan on how to get there. The tool can be applied to a diverse range of themes and topics, from climate action plans, to mobility scenarios and economic development concepts. Pathways and scenario building is supposed to provide a guideline or inspiration on how long-term plans or possible scenarios may be developed for your own city. Ideally, these plans should help create a more sustainable and just city.

In general, the history of scenario building can be described in three generations. The first generation extrapolated trends using econometric and quantitative methods in order to predict the future as accurately as possible. The second generation recognised the difficulty of predicting certain events and shifted the focus from "Will something happen" to "What will we do if something happens". The third generation wants to shift the focus to "What do we want the future to look like" by reflecting on the structural and societal changes that are required to pursue sustainability.[1]

Shapes, sizes and applications

Examples of pathways and scenario building, include:

Policy scenarios innovation that foster social cohesion:[2] This is about developing trajectories for growth, innovation and competitiveness in the context of fostering social cohesion in Central and Eastern Europe.

Envisioning & Pathways (co-creative) for low-carbon and resilient cities: [3] The focus is on developing visions and innovation pathways for creating thriving Australian cities that are low-carbon and resilient, adaptable in the context of change and robust under the physical and social challenges predicted with a changing climate.

Future mobility scenarios for older people: [4] The goal was the development of an action plan that aimed to offer innovative solutions to solving transport needs of older people in the near future (in the European Community) by advising future research in the field. The action plan consists of a thorough review and interpretation of existing knowledge, future scenario assessments, taking into account societal, technological and other developments, stakeholder consultation, and recommendation for further research.

Climate Justice Pathway: [5] The goal was to further develop the “contraction and convergence” framework. Contraction and convergence is a proposed framework that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide in order to combat climate change. From both the perspective of linking sustainability and justice, the “Climate justice pathway” is very promising. It is about bringing the field of environment and development together. The premise is that this will ultimately lead to equity across and within all nations and generations, while remaining within the capacity of the planet.

Finger Prints/Scenario building methodology: [6] “Finger prints” is part of a project (SECOA) which wants to understand and deal with the complex and dynamic problems that coastal city environments face. “Finger prints” is a tool which explains the interrelationships between components of the conflicts in relation to time (the evolution of the process of conflict), and space (the hierarchy of the geographic dimension). The modelling has been carried out in continuity with the previous phase of data organization, taxonomy, and through the use of Feed-Forward Neural Networks (FFNN).

Knowledge integration for climate mitigation: [7] Involving practitioners from different scientific disciplines to work with each other and with external stakeholders will lead to more successful outcomes in this case for climate mitigation issues.

Relation to UrbanA themes: Cities, sustainability, and justice

Envisioning pathways/development plans of whatever kind is applicable to urban contexts. Finding pathways to a "better" future is almost always targeting the realm of sustainability and plays an important role doing so. “Climate justice pathway” definitely addresses sustainability issues, mainly the emission of greenhouse gases, and is working in response to develop solutions to these issues globally.

“Climate Justice pathway” and “Transport for elderly people” are inherently linked to concerns of justice aspects. “Transport for elderly people” pays respect to “interactional equity or justice as recognition” whereas “Climate Justice” is its own type of justice that links countries that emit lots of greenhouse gases with countries that suffer the most from those emissions. In general - no matter which topic is touched upon - if a city wide envisioning process is done with or by a diverse community paying close attention to economic possibilities, alongside issues age, gender, ethnicity etc., it greatly adds to "procedural justice" as well as "justice as recognition". and has huge transformative potential.This has huge transformative potential.

If this is of interest to you; you may also find this wiki page interesting: Policies and practices for inclusion of disadvantaged groups

The link between sustainability and justice varies a lot. “Climate justice pathway” again clearly links both dimensions as argued in transformative potential.In addition, the technique of “envisioning” is likely to generate more positive outcomes (e.g economical, justice, sustainability) than not “envisioning” - unless obstructed by partial interests of powerful groups.

Narrative of change

If we understand modern scenario building as a process of thinking about "What do we want the future to look like" it helps with creating commonly shared goals and community identities.

The most modest assumption about this kind of scenario - building is that it will tell us more about the present than the future. Even if we follow this assumption envisioning a positive future helps to identify injustices in the present that need to be tackled.

Transformative potential

Concerning power relations, just the “envisioning” (of future scenarios) itself has huge transformative potentials as it inherently means thinking about change and alternatives to the present.

A potential problem points to the question of “who” should actually envisions future scenarios. If we start off with the simple observation that “official” future scenarios are typically developed by people in and with power (city planners/thinkers/politicians), a major challenge within the envisionment of future scenarios emerges: Do planners/politicians even want participation? If yes: How can they ensure that different parts of the society get to participate (e.g. language barriers; age barriers; gender barriers; or even just the knowledge that one can participate). Admittedly, this might be very difficult to achieve and oftentimes only certain groups of people actually get to participate. This again might lead to the reproduction of power relations (people in power develop future scenarios which potentially does not pay respect to the needs of people without power.)

To give an example: A concept that wants to make the city more just (e.g. wants to find solutions for social housing) is not necessarily envisioned by people who experience unjust living conditions (e.g have no money for good housing). Therefore, it might be hard to tackle these problems as the people in power may not know about the potential problems, given that they have not experienced these problems firsthand. These thoughts hold true for all kinds of future scenarios (e.g low-carbon cities; mobility concepts) but especially to those scenarios/pathways which are inherently about justice.

“Climate Justice pathway” This is very transformative technique as it wants to change multiple paradigms concerning “who” has to “pay” for damages done to the environment. The goal is to change power relations concerning greenhouse gas emissions: Globally, the countries that are affected the most by greenhouse gas emissions (e.g rising sea level; hurricanes) are most of the times not the countries with the lowest emissions. On a national/more local level companies produce a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, but they can not be accounted for the damages caused to the environment; the whole society has to pay that price through taxes or even their health (externalisation of costs). Furthermore, low-income communities are more vulnerable to consequences of climate change than high-income communities as they mostly have less adaptive resources, while also having less political influence. This approach is at its core about justice and equality. The ultimate goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This can be done through global/national/local action plans to reduce emissions (which can provide incentives to lower emissions) or through holding the emitters accountable for their actions (e.g legally - which has happened several times in the last years [8])

Illustration of approach

Visions and Pathways 2040 (VP2040)[9][which is the research project behind the envisioning & pathways approach] is a four-year research and engagement project funded by the Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living (CRC LCL). Three universities are involved in this project. They are University of Melbourne, University of NSW and Swinburne University of Technology. Many industry and government partners are also involved. The project aims to develop innovations, visions and policy pathways for transforming Australian cities with the goal of rapid decarbonisation and increased resilience in the face of climate change. Through its engagement program the project will gather stakeholder views on the dynamics of change and the possible future morphology of cities, such as their built infrastructure, systems of provision and lifestyles.