Scary thought! On the positive side, 2020 has to end at the regularly scheduled time. But there is always the possibility that the future could get worse! Or not.
People that do regional planning for a living face a lot of challenges. It used to be that planners could get away with charting a trend that had been developing over the previous decade or so, taking a straight edge to the trend line, and drawing the trend line into the next decade. Of course, that methodology didn’t always work out, but at least it had some plausibility to it. What do you do in today’s crazy world of continually unprecedented events? (As someone asked recently on Twitter, will we ever get back to “precedented” again?)
Enter “exploratory scenario planning.”
This is the approach that DVRPC (the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the metropolitan planning organization for the greater Philadelphia region in Pennsylvania and New Jersey) is taking in trying to find a logical framework for its next long-range plan.
DVRPC has convened a Futures Working Group (full disclosure: I am a member of this outstanding group) to work through all the forces potentially affecting the region’s future and ultimately organizing the possibilities into four broad scenarios. The goal isn’t so much to predict the future as it is to structure our thinking about the future in ways that allow us to formulate policies and actions that seem to make sense.
DVRPC’s latest report, “Dispatches from Alternate Futures: Exploratory scenarios for Greater Philadelphia” (available here), lays out four possible scenarios in a delightful, easy-to-read format. Yes, there is some methodology here – forces, focus areas, signposts, collaborative decision making, etc. – which serious planners should read. The heart of the paper, however, is a collection of “news stories” from the future that vividly illustrate possible outcomes. Some of the possible future headlines: “Climate Refugees Compound Crisis on Southern Border,” “Hedge Funds Become World’s Largest Landlord,” “Heat-Related Deaths in Philadelphia Reach an All-Time High,” “American Bumblebee Officially Extinct,” and, on a more optimistic note, “Major Legislation Gives Hope against Climate Change” and “Economists Struggling to Adapt Theories to Growing Abundance.” On the transportation side, we have such headlines as “Transit Renaissance Continues as SEPTA Regional Rail Returns to West Chester,” “Robotic ‘Road Butlers’ Coming to Crash-Prone North Philly,” and “Push for Programmable Roads as Carbon Tax Dwindles.”
It’s all good fun, but also very serious. This approach really helps us to do the thought exercises we need to perform to prepare ourselves for an unpredictable future.
Kudos to DVRPC for grappling with the serious issues and advancing the practice of regional planning.