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Icon for: David Iwaniec


Arizona State University


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Envisioning Future Desirable States: Participatory Modeling of Urban Systems

One of the critical hurdles for sustainability research is addressing the uncertainty and complexity of the long-term future. How do we craft a shared vision with rich heterogeneity and cultural diversity? How do we rigorously analyze the long-term future and connect long-term goals to practical action? This research focuses on these questions through the development and collaborative implementation of a sustainability visioning process in Phoenix, AZ, USA. Our research goals focus on: bringing visioning into the fold of rigorous methods to analyze future desirable states; incorporating systems thinking and sustainability core concepts into the visioning process; and applying a sustainability visioning framework, based on participatory modeling, to shape and analyze the long-term future of urban systems.

Our research addresses shortcomings and gaps in current visioning approaches by integrating sustainability principles into the visioning process. This creates useable goals that address the nuances of complex social-ecological relationships and dynamics, heterogeneity of needs and values, and high uncertainty. Envisioned future states are crafted and evaluated by incorporating participatory modeling and backcasting approaches and analyses.

We present the sustainability visioning process in Phoenix, AZ, USA as a case study and highlight a broader collaborative sustainability endeavor between Arizona State University and the city of Phoenix. We present participatory components of the visioning process, which include community forums to identify community values and preferences and visioning workshops which were used to further clarify and develop coherent systems maps of sustainable visions. Throughout the participatory process we have included approaches that emphases heterogeneity and embrace complexity. Navigating sustainability challenges requires more than just following the coarse from current problems to future solutions, but also requires an anticipatory vision of the long-term future.