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lecture at UWA May 14th, 2002
WRITTEN BY: Lorenzo
Edited by: Wendy
May 14th, 2002
short perusal of the concept of "future", its ambiguous relationship
with the present. Feed-back and feed-forwards. The craving for certainty
and the answer of religions, insurance companies, business, statistical
projections, game theory and scenarios.
A tentative proposal for a "structure of the future": continuity,
The future of the city as the necessary but (un)predictable outcome of
its present culture, the "urban mirror". How everyday life and
everyday choices actually shape the future of the city. The three main
challenges ahead: air, water, energy, and their consequences on ther urban
Methods and techniques for long range forecasting, a new way to perceive
the future: A-Societies.
Perth: Future Perth scenarios and their implications on the structure
of the city.
The next twenty years
twenty years time two thirds of the World population will live in cities.
The energy crunch and the transition to the "non-oil" era will
make the challenge even more demanding, crucial and "interesting".
Whatever actually materialises, (the rosy picture of Amory Lovins' Natural
Capitalism, or the gloomy one of Jay Hanson's site dieoff.org, New Renaissance
City or Blade Runner City) will, most probably, to a large extent, be
a result of what we are able to think and set out in the coming five to
ten years. Each geopolitical situation will require specific vision, tools,
strategies and technologies. Different cultures will be confronted with
the same basic challenge.
Large cities in the World already have serious environmental, social and
management problems and none of them is even nearly "sustainable":
Their ecological "footprints" cover entire regions and, in many
areas, the environmental damage is irreversible. Energy, transportation,
water, solid waste, sewage, air pollution and climate pathology, social
tensions and conflicts - all of which have already reached near catastrophic
proportions - will demand strong management and innovative technological
responses. The assumption is that only a consistent, comprehensive set
of design professions will be able to meet the challenge, bridging the
gap between vision and practice.
The problems have historical roots and planetary repercussions, but they
require keen local attention and specific political, social, and technical
solutions. Whereas technologies may be available to cope with most of
the problems, what seems to be dramatically lacking is cultural and political
awareness and credible political leadership. The present interpretation
of "democracy" will be challenged: in fact a challenge which
is long overdue.
The most serious limitation is the lack of an economic paradigm to represent,
and deal with environmental assets, values and exchanges. Currently established
macro-economic disciplines and procedures ignore environmental costing
and accounting. Worse still, the value of the environment is neglected
as an "externality" by current economic practice: a situation
that is responsible for the present deadlock.
The United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the
European Union, the United States and many other Institutions and Governments
have been promoting awareness and consciousness of the problem of the
"city" for decades. The debate and discussions originated in
academic and scientific communities have produced some of the most commendable
literature and compelling suggestions for the interested professions and
political responsibilities. Apparently with very scarce practical consequences
beings have always been fascinated by the future: the tools and the ability
to predict future events and the consequences of present actions have
always been sought and dearly paid for. Humans want to know the future
because they crave certainty: insurance companies make money selling certainty
in this world, religions draw their power by offering certainty in the
It is a general assumption that the present is better controlled if you
have a good vision of the future. This is not necessarily true and is
sometimes also dangerous. The reverse is another interesting truism: the
future is better controlled if one has a good knowledge of the present.
A strong vision of a given future may cause a lot of frustration and chaos
in the present, whereas a deep involvement in the knowledge of the present
may not necessarily be conducive to a clear vision of the future.
Present and future are connected by an ambiguous system of feedbacks and
feedforwards: the roots of the future are indeed in the present, while
the present is in many ways informed or deformed by the futures that we
Since the time of ancient oracles and fortune-tellers, the art of predicting
the future has progressed, with models and scenarios based on probabilities,
game theory and their sophisticated mathematical algorythms fed to extremely
powerful electronic data processing tools.
Not much progress, in fact, and deceitful if we consider the continuous,
surprises that we are confronted with on a daily basis.
The future is a deceptive genius. It is always and repeatedly the most
logical and banal development of the present situation, but the consequential
logic connecting the events appears clearly only after the events have
actually taken place.
It is probably true that, even if we were given a precise sequence of
future events by some divine entity or by an incredibly powerful computer,
our vision of the future would be different but arguably any better than
the perception we have now. Our rationality is strongly biased. We have
a tendency to discard or underestimate the "data" that we do
not like or are not prepared to accept and we introduce values which are
influenced by our personal feelings.
In fact, the perception we have of the future is dominated by the present
and by personal contingencies. It is related to culture, to feelings,
to social and individual behavioural patterns.
Thus our behaviour will always be guided by the vision of the future that
we can comprehend and by the reaction to it that our brain is capable
of. Our reaction capability is our only effective ability to make consistent
decisions and to act in order to control events and guide them within
the scope of our vision. Models and scenarios help our assessment of the
vision of the future, but they are not sufficient. Sometimes they can
be a hindrance. This is why we can say that the "future" is
a political matter.
Our ability to plan and make decisions is limited to the future that we
are able to perceive, and our reaction to events placed in a future beyond
that range of perception will be severely biased by contingent pressures.
In some instances, the reactive capability of our brain is limited by
our direct participation in an event and we remove from our mind conditions
that imply our destruction. What is true for individual behavioural patterns,
seems to be also true for collective patterns of conduct. This may very
well be the reason for the difficulty in setting up a responsible course
of action to check the ongoing environmental catastrophe or to control
the demographic time-bomb. The system "rationally"protects itself,
with catastrophic consequences, by completely dismissing the dangerous
issues: clearly a suicidal pattern of genetic conduct dominated by our
unique ability to rationalize. Qualitative and time categories define
our system of priorities, the weight of these two parameters being governed
by complex, social and psychological interactions, with time generally
dominating. Information may also change behavioural patterns. Our vision
of the future and social cultural awareness are influenced by information
in a whimsical manner. Hence the uncertainties and contradictions inherent
in our perception.
Vision of the future and ways of reacting to perceived future events may
be very different for individuals and for groups and they may also vary
with time, yielding different values, misunderstandings, conflicts and
The problem is to promote both the vision of the future and the conditions
for a cultural awareness of it. A vision of the future without consistent
social awareness is like a painting in a place where there are no eyes
to see it.
A possible "structure" of the future
organised mental approach to the future can be useful to systematic speculation:
with the obvious warning that the "organised" way of thinking
does not necessarily lead to a more reliable image of the future. It does,
however, lead to a more orderly way of thinking. If we assume the "present"
to be "A" and the future to be "B", the process that
develops "A" into "B" is generally characterised by:
That is to say: the future is the continuation of the present situation
with shifts that will eventually result in changes. Continuity: nothing "stops", there is no pause for "resetting".
Whatever will happen is by necessity a continuation of what is going on
now. So the first thing to do is to know and express in clear terms what
is going on now. Since what will change is what is going on, it must go
on in order to change: this is the inherent concept of continuity. What
is not actually happening cannot change. Shift: What is going on now also contains the germs of shift: it
is because its going on that it will change, it will shift because
of the ways and modes of its present deployment and because of the environmental
conditions that surround its happening. So the second thing to do is to
find and identify the seeds of shift in the present situation. The limits
that will influence the present operation, the internal or external conditions
that may steer, accelerate, contain or override the ongoing process are
hidden/related to its own operation. The seeds of shift are within: they
are a peculiarity of the present. They may either be the "weak"
elements that will yield or they may also be the "strong" elements
that shall induce the shift. Or any combination. Change: when the seeds of shift become limits to current operation
the "change" stage sets in. The process is equipped with the
appropriate changes to restore effective (or simply better) functioning.
No "change" can usually take place out of "continuity"
and in absence of "shift". But that can also be arguable.
The "changed" process or trend becomes the new continuity. U.S.W.
Warning: It is advisable to bear in mind that the three dynamics (continuity,
shift, change) are not necessarily a sequence in that order. Shifts can
take place accidentally or in a completely chaotic way. Even in the emergency
of accidental changes continuity is not disrupted: by definition of continuity.
(private conversation with Sik Ay Tan)
A few weeks after posting "City futures" on the website I was
reading a collection of essays by Karl Popper (1902-1994) where I found
these two bits from a lecture he gave in Bad Homburg in 1991 (Alles Leben
is Problemlösen). There seems to be some correspondence with things
I wrote in my paper and I think the reference could be useful to the reader: "The future is absolutely open. It relies on us, on all of us.
It depends from what we and others do and will do: today, tomorrow and
the day after tomorrow. And what we do and will do depends on what we
think, on our wishes, our hopes, our fears. It depends on how we see the
World and on how we perceive the great opportunities available in the
Instead of posing as prophets, we have to create our own destiny. Learn
how to do things in the best possible way, check our mistakes and learn
But this means that we have to change ourselves."
"All our actions have unintentional consequences. Some of them, perhaps,
could be foreseen, if money and work is spent in order to search and study.
Some of the consequences cannot be foreseen."
Karl Raimund Popper
Lecture in Bad Homburg 1991
forms, their actual function, and the ideas and the values that people
attach to them make up a single phenomenon." (Kevin Lynch)
The city has been, throughout time, the most important and complete expression
of the productive culture of a society, on the land and in the environment.
Nothing is comparable to the city in terms of power, permanence in time,
dynamic interactive provocation of its users and actors.
The city is Humankinds ultimate work of art.
The level, the extension, the intensity and the duration the involvement
with individual and social subjects are the exceptional and powerful peculiarities
of the city as a cultural expression. No other artefact, no work of art,
or product of human intelligence or technology provokes levels of involvement
anywhere near comparable: for hundreds of generations and for the length
of entire individual lives.
Yet "the city" is so pervasive and present in our daily life
that we do not detect its awesome cultural power. We feel the emotion
in front of an important piece of art, or an important monument, but the
"city" that contains them and that was probably the original
motivation for their conception is taken for granted. Such is the power
of everyday life patterns.
To understand why that happens, some speculation on the complex set of
relationships between the form of the city and the "culture"
that lives in it may be of interest.
It is an old story that form is related to the content of things by complex
and abstract interactions. Another reasonable assumption is that discussion
on this matter is worth the effort and the time. In fact, this is still
one of the main issues of our life and of any social organization. We
live comparing consistency between forms and values, fighting for it or
against, to understand it, overcome, defy, control or comprehend it. One
way to trace the action of our existence is to read it as dialogue between
forms and contents. The project of life is to design the way of living
which most responds to our values.
While we carry out this design we challenge others, ourselves, the places
and the moments in which the project develops and takes place. This notion
can be referred to single individuals, groups, social structures and even
to the entire nation and it is a field for continuous study and debate
of many disciplines.
The city and its growth, the relations between such development and the
cultures in the city itself, are a specific peculiar facet of the debate
on form and content, because the city is the place that embraces the lives
of millions for generations and for centuries.
The size of the investment absorbed by the city is not measured in terms
of money (economic or financial) but in terms of history. How much is
the life of a generation worth? This is why banks and financiers are not
qualified to make the decisions of the city and why their decisions are
To understand the city, we must listen to and comprehend the common social
will, or set of values, that is the prime mover of the complex dynamic
flow of actions and decisions that shape the city.
The time relationship of the two evolutionary processes, the shaping of
the city and the cultural values behind it, induce further complexity
and conflict. It is impossible to read it in terms of here and now, because
the development of cities takes place over generations and urban forms
remain for centuries, while we have only one short life.
Each one of us lives in the city that somebody else designed and designs
the city where somebody else shall live.
Thus the present form of the city is the subtle, but active way through
which the past continuously struggles with the present and with the project
of the future city. It is not simple to learn and understand this historic
commitment. We usually say "my city" and we mean by that something
much more involving and intimate than the simple possessive pronoun can
In fact, it is the city of my life. It is the city that, throughout its
history, feeds, supports or counters my values; that continuously, directly
or indirectly, induces my behaviours, actions and emotions.Methods
In order to build a vision of the future we can set up "scenarios"
with key-words and arrange them according to a specific goal or intention
gauging each "key-word" consistently.
A general unqualified "scenario" will then be described by a
set of key-words (the following sets are suggested as examples):
Population, Traffic, Income/wealth, Water, Energy, Jobs, Cultures, Welfare,
Drugs, Poverty, Climate, Pollution, Freedom, Education .
Each main category can be broken down into sub-categories which could
interact with other main key-words i.e.:
Age groups, Gender, Rate of Increment, Income, Education, Jobless, Drugs
The system can reach a high degree of complexity and the algorithms to
simulate the whole picture may challenge even a very powerful computational
A lot of work has been done in assessing the future, projecting the present
trends with more or less sophisticated mathematical models. The projections
may be "critical" and contain correcting functions in order
to represent limits or assumed feed-back.
So the number of cars will be limited by the availability of space, the
demographic increment will be limited by the availability of food or by
increased mortality due to epidemics, etc. The conditions are, by necessity,
a result of subjective evaluation and assessment. Sometimes there is a
subtle loop because the conditions are already a "feedback"
from the future as perceived by the institution or individuals responsible
for the projection.
The danger of future mathematical modeling is in its intrinsic "deterministic"
character. The present moves towards the predicted future as if this was
a "program". The will of the people and of the political decision-making
process is almost hypnotised. The future is almost "dictating"
its own happening to the present. The "course" of the future
is taken for granted and any alternative is neglected or unseen.
The strategy becomes fixed and the possibility of guiding the development
is highly impaired.
It is difficult to integrate into such a model the "cultural"
values that motivate a society: the dreams, the tensions, the fears. These
can become extremely powerful and, in fact, can change the course of the
conformist projections. This is why it can be said that "it is the
dreamers that change the world".
Any model can be totally disrupted by surprise events: a typical and tragic
example is the September 11 WTC attack.
Scenarios can also be the result of sophisticated panel debates: experts
are called upon or interviewed and their "visions" are cross
checked in an organized discussion scheme that eventually yields an overall
picture where the different visions are mutually moderated or enhanced.
It is amazing to see the results of this process that, if properly organized,
can be a very powerful tool. Clearly the personalities of the operators,
as informed or mature as they may be, will never cover the complexity
of the real world.
A new way to perceive the future
C. Schelling in the late sixties, following his interest in segregated
communities, started a research/game that consisted of defining a very
simple A-society (Artificial Society) - say a population of red and blue
coins simulating persons (agents) and organizing them on a board according
to very simple rules: i.e.each agent is happy only if its four nearest
neighbors on the board include at least a certain number of agents of
his own colour.
What happens after a certain number of "runs" is always segregation,
no matter what the given condition is: even when the initial assumption
is the most integrated and open (i.e. only two neighbors of the same colour)
running the shifts according to the individual preferences leads to a
collective outcome indistinguishable from outright racism. As Thomas Schelling
put it in his paper (1969): "The interplay of individual choices,
where unorganized segregation is concerned, is a complex system with collective
results that bear no close relationship to the individual intent."
A lot of work has been carried out on A-Societies since the early experiences
of Thomas Schelling and his method has been applied to other situations
(notably by Rob Axtell). The overall conclusion of the various tests was
that: "Societies are like sand piles: complex systems whose next
perturbation is unpredictable, but whose behaviour, viewed on a large
scale and over time, follows certain patterns patterns that the
individual actors in the system (grains of sand or human beings) are quite
unaware of generating."
The unawareness of "agents" and the specific unpredictability
are the meaningful indications of this type of speculation.
So on one hand there is a consolidated science of forecasting or "futurology"
based on mathematical simulation, projections, game theories while on
the other we have this more vague theory that tells us that the general
behavioural pattern of a system can be predicted, but the details within
are not foreseeable and that individual actions can actually give way
to unpredictable developments without any specific will or design of those
responsible for them. Apparently a much more interesting future.
Ministry of Planning has a specific Office systematically dealing with
the Future of Perth: Future Perth Project.
I list in the appendix the documents published: a remarkable example of
Governmental sensitivity to long range planning and "future thinking".
One of the documents published in November 2000 is particularly interesting:
Scenarios of our Future: Challenges for Western Australian Society.
Four "scenarios" have been defined through a sophisticated research
and I report here the summary description of them. A full account is given
in the document published by the Future Perth project in November 2000.
Prof. Peter Newman (Murdoch University) a world-wide renown expert on
"sustainable cities" and on urban transportation systems is
now the special advisor of the WA Premier for the "environment":
it may be quite possible that WA becomes in the near future a "reference"
for "sustainable strategies".
Scenario A: future making.
This is a future based on zest and smart thinking. Co-operative, proactive
partnerships among community, commerce, industry, professional organisations,
research Institutes and Government generated a sustainable and vibrant
West Australian society with excellent prospects for the future.
ð a strong global economy and high levels of activity in the mining sector
place Australia on a favourable economic footing.
ð National and international calls to redress social inequities including
indigenous issues are addressed by a government responsive to electorate
ð State government establishes centres of excellence in environmental
management and remediation.
ð The global shift towards a knowledge economy prompt Perth Metropolitan
Region and the South West to review traditional economic activities and
environmental management methods.
ð Working patterns move to a "partnership mentality".
ð Quality of life generally improves.
Scenario B: Carpe diem.
This is a scenario of pressure on Perth from a series of external shocks
such as volatile fuel prices and unrest in the Asia Pacific region. In
response, rising but managed immigration levels and relaxed environmental
restrictions on fuel production bring about short term economic benefits
to Perth but also long-term social and environmental challenges.
ð high levels of immigration generate economic growth but also contribute
to problems with urban sprawl and excessive car use.
ð Australia lags behind in moving towards a technology based economy,
changing work patterns lead to growing unemployment.
ð A business led alliance is formed to establish WA as a "global
economy" by focusing on its distinctive competencies and supporting
local industries and innovations.
ð Social inequalities not addressed.
ð Uncoordinated economic growth slows development of distinctive competencies.
ð Quality of life diminishes.
Scenario C: Phoenix
The economic vulnerability of Perth and the South West to international
influences is emphasised in this scenario. Global political and economic
crises impact severely on the sustainable development of the region. While
WAs natural resource wealth initially affords some protection from
the downturn elsewhere, this is not a long term solution. The boom-bust
economic cycle reflects the need for a strong, proactive response to identifying
new and sustainable means of wealth generation.
ð Highly volatile world oil prices and protectionism cause widespread
ð Share markets collapse and unemployment increases.
ð Crime levels increase in the Perth Metropolitan Region and the Southwest.
ð Perth Metropolitan Region and the Southwest acknowledge their vulnerability
to international trends and seek new market opportunities.
ð The development of world-class alternative energy and specialist IT
industries along with medical and bio-technologies provide Western Australia
with a growing export income and reputation.
ð Improving commodity prices supplemented by new industries, lead to an
economic recovery for Perth and the South West,
D: Rural Revival
In this scenario consistent and widespread economic environmental and
social development leads to full integration of Perth Metropolitan Region
and the South West as a strong player in the global economy. The area
moves toward becoming a global region that bases its economic wealth on
technological advances and development while using these developments
to enhance traditional areas of expertise such as mining and agriculture.
ð Strong global economy.
ð Substantial population growth in the South West sees that area increasing
in importance within the region.
ð Rural development based on growth of new technologies in regional locations
refocuses Perth as a service centre, with increased integration between
Perth Metropolitan Region and the South West to create a vibrant, integrated
ð Climatic change to a cooler wetter climate.
ð Government provides a long term perspective that enables short- term
industry-driven projects to operate within a synergetic framework.
ð Focus on specific environmental issues brings about highly positive
ð A balanced approach towards globalisation produces high levels of sustainability
The four scenarios are quite interesting and it may be worth while discussing
in detail each one of them. They may seem a bit too "sterilised"
and "clean": not so if you think at the tough implications of
some of the statements. I would propose a fifth scenario which could be
assembled by taking bits from each of the ones proposed by the "Future
It is of great interest to notice that the Commission is actually worried
by the impending energy crunch/transition: this is, to my knowledge, the
only official document in which a public Authority of WA acknowledges
the coming oil depletion and the subsequent "transition" stage
in clear and explicit words.
The scenarios could be further speculated to focus their "fallout"
on the city form and structure. The energy transition will radically change
the technologies and the pattern of urban mobility and of the "causes"
of urban mobility: not too far away into the future, just within ten years
A possible Fifth scenario:
ð The global economy will have to face the energy crunch/transition: heavily
energy-dependent countries will suffer more than the less developed or
the self sufficient ones.
ð The US will face a dire crises, Europe will be able to manage better
because is already paying energy much more than the US. Australia could
be self sufficient shifting to natural gas and setting out alternative
energy sources that could be operational within ten to fifteen years (wind,
ð Perth shall adapt to a new mobility pattern: the suburban structures
will become more independent for jobs and services from the CBD. The CBD
will quickly become much more "residential".
ð Commuting by car will be for the very few, trains and busses will bear
80% of the mobility load. Many innovative solutions will become a habit:
massive car-pooling, mini-busses, e-card hitch-hiking.
ð Water will become a very scarce commodity: rain-water tanks and all
the related accessories (pumps, filters etc.) will have a huge market
ð Retrofitting existing houses for solar heating and passive solar heating/cooling
will become a huge market with a great employment potential.
ð Powerful shift of jobs and services towards the local economy, powerful
shift of jobs to home- computer workers.
ð Delivery of goods will induce interesting changes in everyday life.
ð Every household will change towards "self-sufficiency": maintenance,
cleaning, gardening etc.
ð Wind generators will become part of the urban landscape.
ð Sustainability and austerity will reshape the social values: less consumerism
and social solidarity will help to face the challenge of the long environmental
What is going to change
main reasons why the present day city (Perth specifically) is not sustainable
in the future can be listed as follows:
ð petrol shortages/price will cut private car commuting (5 years)
ð water shortages will induce rain-water tank retrofit of existing houses
ð energy shortages/price will promote wind and PV generators on existing
houses (6-8 years)
ð large sectors of existing city residential suburbs will be rebuilt at
higher density (8-16 years)
ð new developments (none after 2010) will be at high-very high density
ð home/computer will allow great reduction of daily commuting (starting
ð e.commerce will deal 90% of daily grocery shopping: delivery of groceries
to homes will be an interesting problem (6-8 years)
ð biking and walking will be the main transportation means for distances
below 2 k: above 2 k minibuses and e.card hitch-hiking will solve most
of the mobility demand. (8-12 years)
Future Perth Project was launched in June 1999 for the initiative
of the Western Australian Planning Commission and has produced a remarkable
set of papers on the different issues. This is the "ground work"
that identifies the trends and that conveys them to the political decision
The following is a list of the papers produced by Future Perth.
Can Perth be more creative? (darft W.P. n. 12) January 2002
Perth Metropolitan Region
Utility Infrastructure (Draft W.P. n. 4) October 2001
Perth Metropolitan Region, Peel Sector
The sustainable City (Draft W.P. n. 10) October 2001
Perth Metropolitan Region
Transport (Draft W.P. n. 7) December 2001
Perth Metropolitan Region
Environment (Draft W.P. n. 6) December 2001
Perth Metropolitan Region
Population (Draft W.P. n. 5) Sept. 2001
Perth Metropolitan RegionCost of Urban Form (Draft W.P. n. 2) September
Perth Metropolitan Region
Planning Context (Draft W.P. n.1) September 2001
Perth Metropolitan Region
Metropolitan Development Options Workshop
18 and 19 July 2001
Rydges Hotel, Perth
Metropolitan Development Options Workshop
Final Report (August 2001) Held on July 18/19th 2001
Scenarios of our Future: challenges for Western Australian Society. November
South-West Urban System Economic Study (November 2000)
Whats important to the Community November 2000
Focus Group Outcomes
Economy, October 25th, 1999
A joint conference by the Western Australian Planning Commission, Committee
for Economic Development of Western Australia and supported by the Ministry
Indicators (June 1999)