Friday, May 23, 2008

My Grandma Owned A Car - Melbourne Backcasting Future Planning

Backcasting can be thought of as the opposite of forecasting. Backcasting also happens to be one of several methods employed by the people of Melbourne, Australia to establish a new city model. As the Australians face the converging realities of peaking oil, the sustainability of population growth and climate change they have put together some impressive efforts to initiate the successful transition of their city to accommodate these rising challenges.

With a seriously participatory website behind them,, the city invites direct public contribution through the site's Wiki platform. They describe the site to be the first of its kind, and groundbreaking for the future of city planning. Melbournians can log on, follow progress of planning, participate in on-line discussion forums, contribute ideas and offer insight adapted to specific needs.

On the site, the city has posted the intense backcasting exercises entitled, My Grandma Owned a Car. In it they take a bold look at their current growth model compared to the needs of the city in the year 2030. It's growth forecasting Back To The Future style, and is so far one of the most honest and forward thinking group planning sessions we've seen to date.

My Grandma Owned a Car, is a documentary showcasing how leading transport and urban development thinkers envisage we might be living and working in a post- peak oil and climate change future.

Where will we live when petrol is too expensive for average income earners to buy? Will the electric car mean business as usual? Will our nature strips be filled with vegetable patches?

Will we just have to travel less? More working from home? Will we all be living in dense suburbs or apartments and relying on our feet, pedals and telecommuting to transport us?

Will our future grandchildren laugh at the absurdity of us having once owned a car?

The Australians are clearly getting it that oil costs are not going to come down and that continuing to attempt to run the city on the current model of simple road expansion is neither sustainable nor sane thinking. We post this for you as a clue to the kinds of conversations that must begin to happen here in the US before it's too late. We're hitting a wall at 4 bucks a gallon. It's time to get real.

As a side note - it's Memorial Day weekend. Lately, as the bus lumbers up the Arthur Ravenel Bridge to present the grande vista of Charleston's breathtaking harbour, it's become a favorite pasttime to count boats as an economic indicator before being delivered on the opposite side of the Cooper River. As gas prices have risen, you can imagine the number of personal watercraft has proportionately diminished (the good news is, maybe there will now be less trash in our waterways). Two years ago, the harbour was packed with all walks of life enjoying their personal pleasure craft to welcome summer's arrival. Up to forty or fifty boats could be within eyeshot. Yesterday afternoon? Exactly four, yes four, boats in the harbour! One giant Mersk ship was rounding the jeddies rolling toward open seas (this one really doesn't even count because we're talking personal craft, really), two SAILBOATS occupied the waters under the bridge and one small, lone outboard was way up the river headed toward us. That was obviously the one guy who decided to ditch his moral compass, syphon gas from his neighbor's Hummer and pay his personal Memorial Day weekend hommage to summer come hell or high water.

Around the world from Australia, Charleston will most likely have to revisit the uses of wind power in future shipping. Where we see boats now, they are typically of the wind sailing type, but the idea on a mass-scale is hardly yet a thought in the public mind. We feel it may become sheer necessity over the next fifty years as diesel fuel prices and availability will force economic contraction. Open forums such as exemplified by the Australians on the Future Melbourne project will probably help inspire further solution-based thinking plotted along a new model based not upon economic growth, but rather the ability to move people and goods for the sustainability, survival and prosperity of the city. There are certainly some great ideas wrapped into these sessions. Watch out for mention of the bike tube - we liked that one ;)

1 comment:

FutureMelbourne said...

Hi and thanks for your post on our Future Melbourne wiki.

As you noted in your post, this is the first time on this scale that a local government has used wiki technology to enable anyone to directly edit the content of a city plan.

In developing the Future Melbourne wiki, we were heavily influenced by the solid standards and procedures developed by Wikipedia. We consider our tagline "the city plan that anyone can edit" to be an almost obligatory 'tip of the hat' to what has grown to be the most influential wiki in the world.

Transport and in particular, public transport, have proved to be popular topics for editing and discussion throughout the public consultation period, which is scheduled to conclude on 14 June. Our Integrated and Effective Public Transport discussion continues to generate lively discussion.

Beyond the ability to undertake edits to the city's next 10 year plan, we're also attempting to build in additional functionality to encourage ongoing engagement. Features such as video and audio, as well as a creative 'Future Scenarios' section where members of the public can edit, discuss or write their own creative stories of the future.

Again, thanks for the mention.

Future Melbourne Team