Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools and a Changing Planning Paradigm

Having come off of a really great APA 2012 in Los Angeles, I’m very excited about the energy and momentum building for some of the topics I’ve devoted a lot of my professional and personal energy to.  One of my main roles at PlaceMatters is to open up the tools available in planning by supporting and building a community around tool development, use and experimentation.

While we’ll still build and experiment with tools at PlaceMatters in our on the ground work, we are turning things inside-out here and making tool development an exploratory and collaborative process as much as we can.  We’ve started this through our involvement with the Open Source Planning Tools group, which has regular monthly calls and, so far, 2 annual workshops [join our discussion on Google Groups] supported by a joint partnership of the Lincoln Institute and Sonoran Institute.  While I am excited about the tools we can build together as a community, my ultimate passion lies in the possibility for paradigm shifts and transformations about how we think of planning and the mechanisms we have for implementation.  The scenario tools that we want to open access to are a means and not just an end for me.

You can see a little preview of where all this is heading in the Lincoln Policy Focus Report Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools [download] [and read more about the report herehere and here].  The final recommendation addresses “advancing new concepts to address future challenges.”  Maybe a bit vague and open ended at this point, but this is where the exciting transformations could occur if we move this conversation.  This recommendation speaks to the conundrum we have if we are successful at making scenario planning tools more adaptive and flexible and yet have static implementation mechanisms like zoning and subdivision ordinances that do not reflect emerging realities captured in our explorations of many possible futures.  Tools and ways of thinking are now catching up to the pace of change in our dynamic world.  We stand at a milestone in a conversation that arguably traces back to Christopher Alexander and early systems thinking, where technology, research and policy can converge to give us a regulatory system that is more adaptive and responsive to the needs and challenges of modern cities [see also: earlier blog post on a Pattern Language].

We haven’t formalized this discussion yet, but you can track it at  Ray Quay, who has many more intelligent insights into this topic, will help us shepherd this conversation into something more robust over the coming years and I’ll be prodding us along as much as I can in my role at PlaceMatters.  This is an important and exciting conversation to have and I think it will bring a number of folks together from many fields and interests.  It will also bring about a number of challenges we’ll have to figure out together as a community and profession like:

  1. What does a planning education look like in the future?
  2. What does the planning profession look like in the future? How should it change?  What are the unwavering core skills of the profession?
  3. What’s the right amount of flexibility in planning regulations (for example, some of the inflexibility is by design to save us from externalities of rapid and overwhelming development; what inflexibility can we cede if we have better systems for tracking change?)
  4. What are the challenges in fitting this into a democratic, representative decision-making process?
  5. How do we keep the process of planning and city-making human in light of these new tools and vast amounts of data?  Can we or should we avoid positivist approaches to planning and how can tool design keep us from marching down the path of metrics and data without human context?
  6. And many more…including more insight from Rob Goodspeed in this past blog post referencing E.S Savas’s 1970 Science Article Cybernetics in City Hall

Would you like to join us in the conversation and community building?  What other questions do we need to consider in this possible future?  Who are the early predecessors of this movement that we should bring out into the light again?  Help us shape the conversation.

Cross-posted on the PlaceMatters blog.

Comments are closed.