The next series of posts will be aimed at playing out a thought experiment and will be labeled as the World Planning Series (WPS).
Taking a global perspective, and thinking of the entire world as our "community," we will apply a standard planning process to help us understand where things may be headed, what if anything can be done to influence the course of events, evaluate the alternatives, and perhaps even guess at the direction our leaders may take us.
Keep in mind that in the grand scheme of planetary politics, I'm a very small actor. I don't have any special insight or access to the upper echelons of federal government, and I don't presume to know what the national-level planners at the very top have concluded regarding the things I write about here.
If I were to venture a guess based on my observations of the broader planning profession, I'd estimate that their conclusions are probably fairly mixed. About issues of natural resource extraction and availability, I imagine there is a good bit of knowledge and acceptance. Retrospectively considering the actions of US military, government, and corporate forces over the past 25+ years as they've waged wars, toppled governments, and jockeyed for access to resources, it's clear that there has been some very calculated strategic positioning taking place.
Regarding the environmental impacts of business as usual (BAU), I'm not so sure. On issues of Climate Change, the increasing rapidity and intensity of the onslaught of bad news might be enough to have convinced a few people. At the local level we've perhaps moved from "denial" to "bargaining" as we desperately seek ways to save the world while not substantially changing anything we do.
For now, we'll set aside some of these concerns about who knows what and assume a sort of third-party view of the world in order to work out this experiment.
Step One: Establishing the Vision
In a typical planning process, "Visioning" is often the first step, usually implemented concurrently or slightly ahead of the "Inventory of Existing Conditions" - so this seems like the logical place to start. The development of a vision usually begins by casting as wide a net as possible to collect the input of the community. The planning team tries to distill the diversity of messages into one or more sentences that describe the hopes and desires of the constituency, and this becomes the thing or things which the plan strives toward.
While the vision is intended to be aspirational, it isn't entirely detached from the reality of what is. The reason there is often a timeline overlap between Visioning and Existing Conditions is that the planning team wants to have at least a preliminary sense of the on-the-ground conditions (including political considerations) that might affect the feasibility of the Vision.
In this hypothetical exercise, defining a Vision Statement for the entire planet, our first question to address is: whose vision will be The Vision? There is a huge variation in living conditions on this planet and the vision of Hillary Clinton is certainly different from the vision of a penniless Somali peasant.
One preliminary conclusion we can draw is that the vision that matters the most is the vision of those with the most power. Political candidates, platforms, and legislation are vetted through one of the corporate parties, supported by huge amounts of money from the wealthiest people and institutions. A tiny minority of politically connected wealthy people decide which candidates and issues are even presented for public consideration and discourse. In shaping national policy, it's fair to say that the poorest among us have virtually no influence over the outcome while the richest have the most. On the international stage, a few powerful nations and corporations drive global trade and distribution of wealth.
So- the task at hand is to divine a Vision Statement to represent the perspective of the entrenched, the elite, the business and political interests that drive the action of industrial civilization.
In our local plans, what do we see in our vision statements? My experience is that universally, whether the plan is for a corridor, a neighborhood, or an entire city, the vision is just to have a "better," more wealthy, more advanced version of what already is. Here are some prime excerpts:
As you can see, lots of flowery language about dynamism, growth, vibrancy, being the best, being leaders, sense of community, and some sustainability for good measure.
The truth is, you don't really even need to visit any of these places. I could write a dozen vision statements for communities I know nothing about, and mostly get it right. So what is it at the heart of these statements that makes them applicable all across the country, or even the whole developed world?
I contend that the basic message is the same as our theoretical World Vision- the vision of the people and groups who wield the real power and control the direction of the future.
The Vision for our planet in the future is: "More. And Better."
Today we drive gas powered cars, but tomorrow we'll drive electric cars. Today we power computers and lights and TVs with coal-fired electricity, but tomorrow we'll power even cooler versions of these devices with solar panels and wind turbines. Today our technologies are energy intensive, environmentally destructive, and polluting, but tomorrow technology itself will find solutions to these problems and will become clean and sustainable. Today, the road carries 30,000 vehicles per day and is congested and dangerous, but tomorrow it will carry 40,000 self-driving vehicles and will be efficient and accident free. We will all have everything we have today and so much more in the shining city on the hill.
The reality is, this is where our leaders are leading us because this is ultimately where many of us want to go. We want more of what we have, and we want it to be even better than it is today. It's why the Jetsons looked, talked and acted exactly like the idealized family of the early 1960's only with mind-boggling technological awesomeness surrounding them. Implicit in this vision is that we don't even need to change anything that we do- our lives will just get more awesome through the unstoppable power of progress.
Do you see where this might become a problem? But there I go, passing judgement on the vision. Not really my place.
In the next post we will begin to explore some hard data and the best sources of information about the existing conditions of our world. This will form a foundation for projecting the future conditions on which we will attempt to impress this vision of "More. And Better."
How to Read This Blog
HOW TO READ THIS BLOG:
To get the most out of this blog, I recommend beginning with the earliest post and proceeding in chronological order. For the most part this blog, like a planning document, builds on data and rationale in a linear manner. You may find value in individual posts taken in isolation, but I suspect your experience will be richer if you follow the intended progression.