An Overview of ‘Scenario Planning for Cities and Regions’

I’ve mentioned that my new book is forthcoming soon–sometime in March–but I haven’t said much about what it contains. Now that I have completed my review of the proofs, I thought I would share an informal summary of its contents. The book contains 11 chapters organized into four parts.

Part 1, “Foundations,” provides the basic theoretical framework for the entire book. The first chapter, which emerged during the writing process, discusses two theories which I think underlie urban scenario planning: complex systems and collaborative planning theory. In essence, as I told some collaborators in the fall, this is my “what is a city” chapter. Chapter 2 jumps right into the scenario planning literature, providing the key definitions and ideas. At one point this chapter was later on, but Anthony Townsend suggested I move it up — after all, scenario planning is the topic of the book so readers will want to know what it is right away! Chapter 3 shifts to four planning styles from urban planning which scenario planning practice is drawing from to a certain extent: forecasting, visioning, consensus building, and strategic planning. I’ve found the material from this chapter is really useful to clarify what scenario planning is to urban professionals, since it situates the idea within other approaches they are typically familiar with.

Part 2, “Urban Scenario Planning Practice” is the heart of the book. Chapter 4 discusses when scenario planning should be used for long-term urban plans, and also presents a detailed typology and project categories, illustrated by several case studies, including the Sahuarita Exploratory Scenario Project, Futures 2040 MTP for Central New Mexico, and the Austin Sustainable Places Project. As an aside, I studied the New Mexico case several years ago but never published anything about it until now, when I realized it would be an excellent case of the use of scenarios for regional transportation and climate resilience planning! Chapter 5, on the digital tools used to create urban scenarios, reviews all the different types of computer models and GIS tools used for urban scenario planning. Chapter 6 discusses the qualities of effective urban scenario planning projects, like the number and qualities of the scenarios created, how to conduct participation and collaboration, and the use of indicators and digital tools. In this chapter I work in a synthesis of the planning support system literature on the most effective ways to use tools for workshops, within projects, and as an infrastructure.

Part 3, “Project Outcomes and Evaluation,” tackles the issue of how urban scenario planning projects should be evaluated. I imagine PhD students studying this section carefully while practitioners may be tempted to skip over it, but I think it has something to offer all types of readers! In Chapter 7 I delve into the debate about planning evaluation, and come out strongly in favor of a “performance” versus only a “conformance” approach (e.g., the purpose of scenario planning is to improve decisions, not spell out everything that should be done). Chapter 8 contains a scoping review of all of the existing evaluations of scenario projects I could find, a total of 21 studies from the urban planning, environment, and management fields. Having mapped out a group of very diverse studies, Chapter 9 presents a framework for all the different outcomes that evaluation studies can consider, and presents original empirical work where I called up planners involved in three cases to collect evidence of the different outcomes to validate the framework.

Part 4, “Transformation and Conclusions,” brings the work to a close. Chapter 10 was inspired by a comment by one of the reviewers of an earlier draft that the existing projects may not show the potential I believe the method has for our field, so I am somewhat limited by the state of current practice. Therefore, this chapter discusses how scenario planning can be used in more transformative ways, discussing the issue of racial equity touching on topics like opportunity mapping. Chapter 11 concludes with some comments about planning research and pedagogy.

The book contains 23 figures (unfortunately all in grayscale), 16 tables, and short bullet synopses of each chapter. However, my favorite additional feature are eight boxes with short asides that didn’t quite fit into the main narrative. These include boxes on digital sketch planning tools, scenario studies for automated vehicles, the cost of scenario planning projects, and a case study where activists proposed their own equity scenario to the San Francisco Bay Area region. The one thing that I could have included for readers totally unfamiliar with scenario planning is a much more detailed example of what an urban scenario may look like. However, my thinking is that in 2020, the readers who want these examples can easily look up online the full project reports for the many different examples I cite.

Overall, it was satisfying to be able to tie together different aspects of my research, as well as make arguments that don’t easily fit within the journal article format. I’m looking forward to seeing how it is received, and welcome you comments below or via a review for an online outlet or scholarly journal!

Scenario Planning for Cities and Regions is available for pre-order (expected publication before April 1, 2020) from, the publisher the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, or your preferred bookseller.

Author: Rob Goodspeed