How ‘Scenario Planning for Cities and Regions’ Relates to Four Recent Books

Working on my book over the past few years, I’ve paid close attention to related books which have been published. Over that time four in particular struck me as particularly related, and I thought I would comment on them to draw attention to interesting related works, as well as further explain the contents of my book.

Urry, John. What Is the Future? Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2016.

I read this book a few years back, which was written by a sociologist who became interested in the role of the future in our culture late in his career (this was his last book). His basic argument is that the concept of the future deserves greater scholarly attention, given its importance in shaping the beliefs and expectations which shape people’s actions and decisions today. The book contains an interesting analysis of the prevalence of apocalyptic themes in popular culture, as well as a discussion of future trends in several areas. I agree with the general argument, but ultimately this is a work of scholarly discussion which lacks prescriptions for how to engage with the way people think about the future. Scenario planning clearly fulfills this role, helping to bridge the divide between the myriad of images of the future in our culture with a focus on specific decisions and evidence from today.

Harris, Michael. A Future for Planning : Taking Responsibility for Twenty-First Century Challenges. The RTPI Library Series. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2019.

This book synthesizes an extensive project launched by the Royal Town Planning Institute in the United Kingdom they called “Planning Horizons,” which involved commissioning whitepapers on a number of different topics to mark the organizations centenary in 2014. Former project coordinator Michael Harris ably knits together the project results together into this volume, which sets forth a defense of the importance of planning, a review of key challenges facing the field, and discussions of effective planning. I found myself nodding along to its cogent critique of New Right political ideas which have, in the author’s view, undermined intellectual support for planning in Britain. However, the book is weaker when it moves towards trying to provide specific professional recommendations. The author writes approvingly of Hopkins and Zapata’s Engaging the Future, the most similar book to my work and in many ways its direct predecessor. Therefore my book — which omits too much detail on the broader trends currently affecting planning, in lieu of a detailed analysis and discussion of professional methods, provides a complement and illustration for how to prepare plans which respond to the trends he highlights.

Klosterman, Richard E. et al. Planning Support Methods : Urban and Regional Analysis and Projection. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., 2018.

This is the only book where I initially feared there may be an overlap with mine in substance, but discovered upon reading it instead they are complements. Led by Richard Klosterman, an accomplished planning scholar whose work has influenced mine, the book’s focus is on technical planning methods, such as specific methods of quantitative projection and GIS analysis used in planning (and often to create scenarios). The book therefore goes to a level of technical detail I do not–including formulas and worked examples of specific projection techniques. Nonetheless the authors are well aware of the problems with uncritical applications of these methods by experts, and urge their readers to use them within the context of scenarios, but provide little discussion of the full details of scenario planning. Thus my book and this one are almost perfect complements–it provides technical details for methods which can be used within particular scenarios, whereas mine provides the broader conceptual and practice framework within which they can be effectively deployed.

Stein, Samuel. Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State. The Jacobin Series. Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2019.

At first glance it may seem that this book has little to do with mine. The book argues that the growth in economic importance of the real estate industry–and the persistence of a capitalist land and housing markets–has placed professional planners in a double-bind. They have a mandate to improve neighborhoods, but these improvements inevitably lead to housing cost burdens and displacement of some residents. The book, published in a series organized by the socialist magazine Jacobin, offers an interpretation of urban economics and politics inspired from the neomarxist urban studies literature. My book says very little about gentrification or capitalism, so what’s the connection? In my view, planners have long known about these tensions, hence our long involvement with public housing, community land trusts, cooperatives of other types, as well as deep knowledge and use of a myriad of market-related tools such as inclusionary zoning. From my book’s point of view, the capitalist economy is just another system in cities. That means, it is a system that can be analyzed, reformed, and potentially transformed. My book points out that these transformations require broad political support–which the book does acknowledge. However, aside from some gestures towards greater political involvement, Stein’s playbook for social change is vague and underdeveloped. Collaborative scenario planning, on the other hand, has a richly developed set of tools and practices for the disgruntled planner, regardless of their political persuasion.

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

Author: Rob Goodspeed

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