Guest Editorial: Should we be thinking differently about how we plan for the future?
The Park Rag believes in Park City. We believe people throughout our community have great ideas that may not have been heard. With that in mind, here’s a guest editorial by Doug Engfer we hope you will consider…
Well, it seems as if there is a whole lot of planning going on, what with Park City Schools re-considering its budget parameters, the City and County looking at transportation, the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission working on its General Plan, and then there’s the Mountain Accord and One Wasatch and …
I attended the Transportation meeting at the Richins building on Tuesday, 30 September, which drew a large and engaged crowd. The hosting agencies and consultants put on a good show and shared quite a bit of useful information. In addition, they solicited and accepted public input in a number of ways: open discussion, comment cards, “voting” via red & green stickers, and the cool room-size map that one could mark up. The voting was nicely stratified between policy-level items and modality-dependent specific alternatives. This was all good, as far as it went.
However, I was left somewhat hungry (despite the great snacks!). Why? Because all of the information presented, and hence the feedback generated, came against a one-dimensional, linear view of the future. That view assumes that the population and economy will grow as forecasted by the state and that we have to deal with it. But what if population growth is different from that model? Or, what if climate change has a material impact on our tourism-based economy, reducing the number of local jobs? It’s not clear to me that the decision model and process, as explained at the meeting, take into account these uncertainties. Therefore I’m concerned that our resulting plans will not match the reality that unfolds – we may over- or under-build our infrastructure, at material cost to all of us.
My hope is that all of our planners, including the transportation folks, are using some form of scenario planning or robust decision-making. Boiled down, the planning team defines a set of scenarios that capture the primary drivers of uncertainty in the planning process (for our transportation plan, growth and climate change are likely drivers) and the community’s different visions of its future. The planning team then evaluates the available alternatives (or portfolios of alternatives) using the appropriate set of criteria, scales, ratings, and weightings, in the context of those various scenarios. Planners and the public can then see how well any given alternative (or set of alternatives) plays out in all of the scenarios. Based on that view, we can then pick the alternative(s) that best fit the range of probable futures. Perhaps more importantly, we can know and look for the trigger signals that indicate which scenario is unfolding, allowing us to adapt in a timely way.
I have had the good fortune to be introduced to and engage in scenario-based planning. The Santa Cruz Water Supply Advisory Committee is using a robust scenario-based decision model in its public process, incorporating 5 different scenarios (we have many sources of uncertainty relating to our water supply and community vision) and many criteria. I’ll admit that I was skeptical going in, but our consultants and facilitators made a strong case and thank goodness they did. I can’t imagine dealing with our complex decision ecosystem in any other way. Many companies and cities are also using scenario-based planning, with good success.
As I said, I hope that our planners are using such tools. But I couldn’t tell based on Tuesday’s meeting. The agencies certainly did not share any scenario-oriented information. If we are using such a process, then I encourage our agencies to share those scenarios, and the overall decision models, with the public, and to solicit public input on them. If we aren’t using these tools, I think we should be. As a wise man once said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”
– Doug Engfer
This editorial highlights some of the issues I personally have with the process used for many long term decisions. Often public bodies take input at a high level and the use that input for years to come.
Take the Mountain Accord, I’m hesitant to get involved in it at all. I assume they have done some research and are requesting input that will be used for the next 30 years of development. In the next 30 years, so much could change for me, the Wasatch, the economy, the population, the environment, etc. I don’t want my feelings from a Tuesday night in October 2014 to be used who-knows-how for 30 years.
There has to be a more flexible way. Scenario based planning seems like a viable alternative to whatever is being used now.
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