It’s Time to Choose Our Own Adventure for Future Ready Cities

Our city leaders are increasingly adopting a ‘vision and validate’ approach to planning for rapid growth.

“They are realising that more-of-the-same ‘predict and provide’ planning is not up to the job for building future ready cities,” explains Graham Pointer, Key Account Manager at WSP and Chartered Geographer. “It’s time to choose our own adventure.”


The change in approach recognises that relying on past trends to predict the future is increasingly becoming untenable. It fails to harness innovation and exacerbates challenges, resulting in poor outcomes for our people and places. To this end, WSP has identified 12 key megatrends that should be considered as we plan and design our cities.



“The vision and validate approach draws on our understanding of what the future could hold and what can be done to make it real,” explains Mr Pointer. “We then must test our performance against achieving the vision, leaving enough room for tweaks that adapt to the unknown.”


The WSP Cities Index highlighted the implementation of Copenhagen’s vision-led planning framework introduced in 1949 as key to its strong liveability outcomes. Other cities worldwide are increasingly adopting this approach with Sydney achieving vision-led integrated transport and land use strategies for the first time in 2018, while Auckland, Seoul, Melbourne and London are cities with robust long-term strategic plans.


The Path to Visioning and Validating

Breaking out of a predict and provide planning mindset can be challenging for city leaders and practitioners to realise – the path we take will differ depending on who you ask. “What is clear is that we need to stretch beyond our comfort zone,” adds Mr Pointer. “Here are some options to consider:



Exploring ‘What If?’

Techniques such as scenario planning are becoming popular again in bringing meaning to possible futures. Scenario Planning  is an evidence-led methodology to explore alternative futures. It can help you to think outside of the box to identify potential strategies and actions. 


Streamlining Approvals

Realising a future ready vision is likely to entail large-scale land use changes and new infrastructure. Having responsive approval pathways in place to achieve that is crucial. The NSW Government in Australia is leading the way on a Special Activation Precinct  program in regional cities to unlock economic development potential on a large scale. WSP is supporting this through strategic planning advice and several technical studies.


Brave Infrastructure Decisions

Traditional economic appraisal methods generally support a more-of-the-same approach to growing our cities and regions. The strongest economic arguments can be made for infrastructure that serves existing customers. Using lower discount rates and assessing the impact of placemaking can help.


Measuring Progress to Make Changes as You Go

In an age of rapid technological change, anything that happens in a city can be measured and analysed to create meaning. This can help to chart progress towards meeting the vision and identify where intervention is required to get a program ‘back on track'. The Melbourne Liveability Monitor is an example of a combined Internet-of-Things and data management platform that WSP has developed that ingests real time data from a variety of different sensors and outputs personalised dashboards. 


Getting Local

People understandably really care about their local community and environment. As such, a broad strategic vision must be anchored in place to resonate with people. Local engagement and capturing the local character is an important ingredient to placemaking. Precinct masterplanning in Westmead, Australia  and Old Oak Common, United Kingdom show what is possible.


“Choosing our own adventure to set a vision for our cities is harder than extrapolating what we have done in the past. It means getting out of our comfort zone to plan and design future ready cities.”


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