A Walk with the Future: the long-term in planning
Dijk, Jaimy van
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The sustainability challenges of the 21st century, like climate change and biodiversity loss, require a long-term future perspective. By definition, planners are concerned with the future, or at least they should be. Observable pressing challenges in the present currently dominate over the sustainability challenges for which the effects are reflected in the long-term future. A planner can engage with the future with different methods, like visioning or scenario planning. The time horizon of these methods is often focused on 30 years into the future in line with policy goals, like the Paris Climate Agreement (2050). However, the effects of current sustainability challenges encompass beyond a lifetime. Although the future is inherently uncertain, planners need to anticipate on it. For that purpose, I explored how planners can engage with the long-term future, that covers at least 100 years. I used an action- research approach for the design of an intervention. The result is the empirical case, called the Soggy Paths. The Soggy Paths is a walk through time in which the changing paths of the Dutch living environment are explored. In close collaboration with practitioners, I experimented with the design in three different contexts. The first context was the creative environment of Springtij Forum where the focus was on facilitation of procedural and substantive interventions to stimulate the imagination. The second context of the learning environment of the Mixed Classroom explored the substantive interventions more in-depth with an additional focus on learning. Combining the insights of the previous two experiments, led to the experimentation in an actual planning context, a policy process with a wicked problem at stake: the Transitional areas. With these three experimentations I deepened and refined the design and at the same time demonstrated how the design worked in different contexts. From the three experiments I learned that the most important value of the Soggy Paths time walk is the facilitation of a different conversation about the long-term future. The soft space allows to discuss and learn from the different perspectives. The interactive element is a crucial design feature in that sense. With the comparison of the three cases, I made four reflections that can contribute to an improvement of the design and inspire other procedural undertakings for an engagement with the long-term future. The first reflection was to leave the script as open as possible; the second to facilitate a conversation about a desirable future; the third relates to the facilitation of the reflection and the fourth reflection emphasized the importance of an immersive experience. The impact of these kinds of intervention is often questioned. A better understanding of the indicated learning outcomes is object for future research. More importantly, more research should be directed to how to use these kind of interventions in actual planning cases, in order for a better sustainable future to arise.