New article: How do planners think about the future?

Zack Taylor, Joanne Fitzgibbons, & Carrie L. Mitchell. 2020. “Finding the future in policy discourse: an analysis of city resilience plans.” Regional Studies.

Managing future uncertainty is the essence of planning. How planners conceptualize the future therefore has important practical and normative implications as contemporary decisions have long-term impacts that may be irreversible and distribute costs and benefits across society.

In a new article published in Regional Studies, I worked with the University of Waterloo’s Carrie Mitchell and UBC’s Joanne Fitzgibbons to investigate how planners think about the future.

We conducted a discourse analysis of strategies prepared under the 100 Resilient Cities programme. We found that while the strategies and the processes that produced them are ostensibly forward-looking and cognizant of uncertainty, most presume a knowable future (epistemic certainty) and focus on well-understood or recently experienced risks.

Few acknowledge the future’s inherent unknowability (ontic uncertainty). Those that do emphasize community self-help; others describe top-down, government-led initiatives. Most strategies also present an image of societal consensus, downplaying the potential for legitimate disagreement over means and ends (discursive uncertainty).

These findings suggest that new conceptualizations of future uncertainty have had limited impacts on planning practice.