Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Imagining the Future City: A Rich Blend of Engaging Narrative and Rigorous Analysis Can Provide Decisionmakers with the Various Perspectives They Need When Making Choices with Long-Range Consequences for Cities around the World

Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Imagining the Future City: A Rich Blend of Engaging Narrative and Rigorous Analysis Can Provide Decisionmakers with the Various Perspectives They Need When Making Choices with Long-Range Consequences for Cities around the World

Article excerpt

An ashen sky gives way to streaks of magenta and lilac across the Phoenix cityscape in 2050. L'yan, one of millions of late-night Creators, walks slowly through the fields of grass growing in the elevated honeycomb transportation network on her way back from the late-night block party. L'yan has only a short trip to her pad in downtown Phoenix. She, along with 10,000,000 fellow Creators, has just beaten the challenge posted on the PATHWAY (Privileged Access--The Hacker WAY) challenge board. L'yan shivers, a cool breeze and the feeling of success washing over her. She had gained PA TH WAY access during her ninth year in the online Academy of Critically Adaptive trans-Disciplinary Engineering, Mathematics, Informatics, & Arts (ACADEMIA). She dropped out after achieving Creator status. Who needs a doctorate if you have access to PATHWA Ychallenges? Research funds are no longer tied up in disciplinary colleges and universities. In Phoenix, as in many innovation centers around the world, social stratification is not any longer determined by race, gender, or family wealth; instead, it is based on each person's skills in problem-solving and adaptive learning, their ability to construct and shape materials, and to write and decipher code. Phoenix embraces the ideals of individual freedom and creativity, and amended zoning in 2035 to allow pads (building sites) for Creators to build towers. Pads are the basis of innovation and are the foundation blocks for the complex network of interconnected corridors that hover above the aging city streets. Today, in 2050, the non-Creators, the squares, live in relics, detached houses, off-pad in the old (2010 era) suburbs at the periphery of the city center.

Science fiction uses personal narratives and vivid images to create immersive experiences for the audience. Scientific scenarios, on the other hand, most often rely on predictive models that capture the key variables of the system being projected into the future. These two forms of foresight--and the people who practice them--typically don't engage with one another, but they should.

Scientific scenarios are typically illustrated by an array of lines on a graph representing a range of possible futures; for example, possible changes in greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric temperatures over the next several decades. Although such a spectrum of lines may reflect the results of sophisticated climate models, it is unlikely to communicate the information decisionmakers need for strategizing and planning for the future. Even the most sophisticated models are simplifications of the forces influencing future outcomes. They present abstract findings, disconnected from local cultural, economic, or environmental conditions. A limited number of continuous lines on a graph also communicate a sense of control and order, suggesting that todays choices lead to predictable outcomes.

Science fiction stories, in contrast, can use rich and complex narratives to envision scenarios that are tangible and feel "real." Yet science fiction also has its obvious limits as a foresight tool. To be effective, it must be driven by narrative, not by science or the concerns of policymakers. Scenarios constructed through collaborations that draw from the strengths of science and science fiction can help decisionmakers and citizens envision, reflect, and plan for the future. Such rich and embedded scenarios can reveal assumptions, insights, and questions about societal values. They can explore a society's dependence on technology, its attitudes about the market, or its capacity to effect social change through policy choices. Scenarios can challenge linear cause-effect thinking or assumptions about rigid path dependencies. People are often ready for more complexity and have a greater appreciation of the intertwined forces shaping society after engaging with such scenarios. To illustrate this, we describe a recent project we directed aimed at helping decisionmakers think through the implications of emerging nanoscale science, technology, and innovation for cities. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.