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192 9 Scenarios Imagining the Possible This chapter links science with imagination in thinking about the future. It explores how, by navigating through time, we can uncover our biases about what we know and explore new ways to integrate uncertainty into decision-making. I suggest that we can learn from the future, and to demonstrate this, I ask how the imaginary futures presented in chapter 1 challenge the assumptions of urban design and planning paradigms. Using a hypothetical example of the planning process that a city might employ to adapt to climate change, the chapter draws a road map and highlights key elements of a creative process for strategic foresight. The Power of Surprise Surprises happen in the present and change the way we think about the future. It is when an unexpected event shifts the focus of our attention and rearranges our priorities that we typically become most creative in solving problems. When we encounter unexpected circumstances, both as individuals and as communities, we tend to engage in creative actions, see a greater range of opportunities, and gain the ability to rapidly determine the most effective response. Although this capacity is widely experienced on an individual level in the setting of extraordinary events, if we look closely, we see that everyday life events in cities are also extra­ ordinary and that creative capacity is a crucial element in the way that humans operating in uncertain conditions make decisions. The key here Imagining the Possible 193 is the unexpected. Under such circumstances, we release both our thinking and our capacity to act from the long-held expectations and inevitable biases that bind them—and that constrain our imaginations. Key qualities that surprise brings to life include a sudden change of viewpoint and the realization that there may be many viewpoints and temporal scales that redefine our priorities and options for action. Other qualities include curiosity, perception, and intuition. Surprise leads people to access underutilized sensors and untapped resources and to try a new focus, to narrow down the problem and figure out possible solutions. When faced with unexpected circumstances, we tend to be more open to envisioning opportunities than we might otherwise be; we are more adept at identifying multiple solutions to novel problems. In a recent study, Stahl and Feigenson (2015) found that surprise plays a critical role in infant learning. Infants selectively explore and learn from objects that violate their prior beliefs by engaging in hypothesis testing that specifically reflects the observed violations. Here I suggest that novelty is the fundamental element of surprise that allows for change: it prompts instability but is also a key ingredient of innovation and renewal. Faced with novel conditions, humans and other organisms learn, evolve, and adapt. Learning from the Future It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that surprise is a key ingredient of effective planning. Yet the best way to test a plan is to see how it helps communities deal with surprise. So why not incorporate surprise into planning from the outset? Why not intentionally harness the intuitive power elicited by confronting the unexpected? How to best introduce uncertainty and surprise into strategic planning and decision-making is our next challenge. I started this book with the suggestion that through imagining the future, we can transform the way we live in the present. What do the four hypothetical futures visited by Max, the subway rider in chapter 1, teach us about planning? In Glacial City, we see that change may occur as a dramatic shift in what a city has experienced since its birth, but we also see that climatic regime shifts do not necessarily imply the end of life. Some species may adapt successfully, and novel species may emerge. This view suggests 194 Chapter 9 that human agency may play a more subtle role in the future of Earth than either of the two archetypical and opposing possibilities of resilience and collapse, which may oversimplify and fall short of what is possible and desirable for the planet and the human species. At one extreme, they reflect both our fears and our overconfidence that we have the capacity to control nature; at the other, they reflect a naïvely optimistic vision of what technology and science might achieve. They do speak clearly about the limits of our collective imagination. Glacial City proposes that humans have the opportunity to lead transformation toward a desirable co-evolutionary outcome. Empty City is an important dominant archetype in the history of planning, one that...


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MARC Record
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