Scenario City


Scenario City
Exhibition, Los Angeles, California
2000 > 2020

What is Scenario Planning ?

“The future is too important to be ignored….Instead of forecasting, scenarios are a set of ‘stories’ about alternative possible futures. These stories promote a discussion of possibilities other than the ‘most likely’ one and encourage the consideration of ‘what if’ questions. Although scenarios deal with the future, they are essentially ways of structuring the present.  One of the most important uses for this structure is to help us recognize more of what is going on around, including early weak signals of change.”

Adam Kahane, Long Range Planning Journal
Scenario planning is a projective method for learning about possible futures by understanding the nature and impact of the most uncertain and important driving forces affecting our future. It is an interactive group process that encourages knowledge exchange and development of mutual deeper understanding of shaping issues important to the future of your business. Our goal is to craft a number of diverging stories by extrapolating uncertain and heavily influencing driving forces already nacient in the urban environment. They span from cultural phoenomena to scientific and technological. We watch for tipping points, where one practice dies and a new ecology of trends vie for influence. The stories together with the work getting there has the dual purpose of increasing the knowledge of the urban environment and widen both the receiver’s and participant’s perception of possible future events. We imagine Scenario Planning/Learning as a power tool, developed as a check and   used as a strategic management tool, enabling innovation and risk in strategic urban planning.

Cities, Planning and Change
The growth and behavior of cities today are often wild, unpredictable and unplanned. Single-point forecasts of the future, often manifest in the form of master plans, do not perform well under the pressures of unpredictable and constant change. Forecasts are based on a series of assumptions that tomorrow’s city will behave much like today’s. This basic weakness fails to anticipate major shifts and unpredictable trends in the urban environment which can often render entire plans obsolete long before they are ever realized. The way out of this mind-set is not to look for better forecasts nor to rely on more accurate data; the complexity of the driving forces at work, both at global and local levels, is virtually impossible to predict.

Planning Within an Uncertain and Dynamic Environment: Los Angeles 2020
City planners must eliminate certainty from their mindset. At the dawn of the new millennium, Los Angeles occupies the position of the seventh largest metropolitan area in the world, second only to New York in the United States. Eleven million people dwell and work within a sixty mile diameter circle whose center is marked by the downtown central business district (by 2025 the population of the Los Angeles region is projected to grow by 6 million, equal to two Chicagos). An essentially horizontal metropolis that imitates the desert in its vastness, Los Angeles has sought from its outset to defy conventional notions of uni-centric growth, density, coherence and congestion (it is perhaps only upon descent into the airport from a window seat of a DC-10 that one can attain the omniscience necessary to decode the groundscape). Moving about the city by automobile lacks clear definitions and is perhaps more accurately characterized by successive intrusions into a changing landscape composed of layers of activity; it is an ethereal and unstable space surrounding a finite number of destinations, making for a time-sensitive/distance-insensitive conception of its constituent parts.A description of Los Angeles is becoming a description of many major cities around the world, liberated from the constraints of proximity, defense and boundaries by transportation and communication technologies. Paris, Seoul or Mexico City have almost identical symptoms of suburban expansion. Tokyo and Los Angeles are versions of the same phenomenon, the only differences lying in degrees of density and the sophistication of their construction technologies. In both, buildings rise and fall with a certain indifference to qualitative judgments. As a post-city, the thin layered horizontality that constitutes the morphology of Los Angeles promotes a generic quality, a kind of placelessness that is progressively becoming a condition of landscape as much as urbanism. Like a corporation without a strategic plan, addressing needs only after they become desperate, Los Angeles is for the most part reactive and tactical. The golden age of a city of loosely related regions has decayed into a kind of Balkanized territory of competing communities and constituencies. At the same time it clings to planning models that attempt to (for varying reasons) maintain a structure of federated communities orbiting around a city center. The result is a city that fails to realize its distinctive competencies, unable to deal with larger economic and cultural shifts while fostering a destructive sense of competition among its parts. Scenario Planning is a tool that allows us to think outside of the box, constructing in time a series of possible futures. In contrast to the myopic end condition produced by forecasting, Scenario Planning seeks instead to describe value-neutral territories that are the product of the interaction of forces called critical uncertainties. Each scenario is a region where, dependent on the relationship between these critical uncertainties, a terrain robust in its range of both concerns and effects is produced. The goal of Scenario Planning lies in the feedback from ALL of the possible futures it produces, using change as a driver to constantly assess and formulate strategic planning. In the end what distinguishes Scenario Planning from more conventional notions of planning is that it is a method without an endpoint and that can be employed at any time to produce feedback into a continuously evolving urban strategy.

Project credits:
Russell Thomsen, Eric Kahn, Ron Golan, Jerome Christensen.

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About Russell Thomsen

A founding partner in the award winning Central Office of Architecture (COA, 1987-2008) and IDEA Office (2009-2014), Russell Thomsen formed RNThomsen Architecture in 2015. He has been a licensed architect since 1989. The office provides a full range of architectural services. In addition to directing the practice, Russell is also a senior design studio faculty member at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in downtown Los Angeles. The work of the office has been internationally recognized, exhibited and published. The office has received several awards including the Architectural League Prize and Emerging Voices, both from the Architectural League of New York, and the Best In American Architecture Award for the Saitama Residence.