Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Urban Edition

Why produce Future Scenarios in an Urban Edition?

The developed world is at a crossroad. The next 50 or so years will bring profound changes to our globally influenced society – climate change, population growth, food shortages, peak oil production, rationing of water and other key resources, re-localisation, and lifestyle simplification, perhaps? These are some of the more frequent keywords appearing on the Internet, in broadcast news, and in our conversations. They signal that significant changes may lie ahead. Our assumption, that urban development over the next half century will continue much as it has over the past century, will be significantly challenged.

As an 85% urbanised society, New Zealand will experience those challenges most acutely in our towns and cities – the places where most of us live and grow, work and play, fall in love and raise our families. The choices we make today about the design and form of our cities and smaller settlements will influence how they can function in the future. Ignoring the emerging possibilities of the future – that are faint signs today – could substantially impact on the sustainability, viability, and vitality of our urban settlements.

Urban form is flexible only in the longer term. Buildings, transportation networks, and utility systems are designed and built to last for decades. Changing them is not easy and it is expensive. Options exist to adapt to new circumstances, but each year decisions are made that bind land use or commit physical resources for decades ahead, particularly relating to energy. A systematic framework is needed to consider the sustainability of available options, and perhaps raise new options.

Future Scenarios – Urban Edition (from Landcare Research and University of Auckland) is an educational tool designed to help participants think about cities and their infrastructure, and how these would fare under different possible futures. Participants identify key drivers of urban change and then, working under four contrasting descriptions of possible futures, or 'scenarios', propose changes in urban form and land use planning for 'Central District' a imaginary district somewhere on New Zealand’s west coast. They evaluate the consequences their decisions have 20 or 50 years into the future, on a younger generation, as the different scenarios unfold and significant challenges arise from unexpected or random events ('wildcards') that may have far-reaching and broad-scale consequences. Wildcards illustrate aspects of current trends amplified or cumulatively passing thresholds, such as sudden geo-political or biological events. They show the need for flexibility and even redundancy in urban form to cope with stress, for example from rising rivers, falling power supplies or large population movements in short time frames.

Participants can then evaluate – in the comfort of the present – how well or how poorly their proposed decisions and planning actions might affect the well-being of those in the future. The four scenarios each have implications for sustainability and are designed to provide diversity, so each offers attractions to some sections of today's population, and problems for others (different winners and losers).

Ultimately, Future Scenarios – Urban Edition intends to create a discussion space where people can think, discuss, and debate more broadly, more laterally, creatively – and safely – and can also become familiar with the emerging tools of futuring, such as scenarios and back-casting, and the different way of thinking these require.

The game materials are published as PDF file downloads from the Landcare Research website. Future ScenariosUrban Edition is based on the first version of the game (Future Scenarios – NZ Classic Edition 2007) which was designed for a national audience and without specific focus on issues of urban form and function.