Create a comprehensive vision of change

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Create a Comprehensive Vision of Change

❖ “We need more storytellers to inspire and gather people to build a shared vision of change.” ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021)

❖ “People in power have to be challenged in the construction of a vision of real change.” ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021)

General ambition

A comprehensive vision guides individual initiatives and often highlights links with others to create a wider perspective of change. Visioning can include abstract processes to address fundamental questions, as well as working out practical details. A shared vision is necessary for an initiative’s success ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021). A shared vision can be developed at multiple levels of governance, ranging from community to municipality level. While these visions encompass different scales and sectors, positive change is most likely when they overlap and complement each other.

City-wide visions are built by integrating several small-scale interventions from different sectors. Interaction between different scales of urban planning and policy making is key. The comprehensive vision can be reflected in policy and law. Small, tangible successes in the short term can also maintain engagement and motivation for achieving long-term overarching visions ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021). Community-based organizations generate grassroots visions of change by collecting residents’ ambitions and images of the future. This process fosters personal connections and generates momentum towards positive change.

As guides for the future of our cities, visions need to include as many voices as possible. Inclusive, safe spaces allow for different groups to collectively express their ideas and wishes ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021). The arts can help create such spaces and overcome language and education barriers ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021).

The process of creating a shared vision can be used as a tool for tackling injustice, for example by integrating diverse voices and equity concerns in urban sustainability planning ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021). Although different stakeholders may have conflicting visions of an area, or initiative, it is important to avoid zero-sum game situations. Instead, work towards a solution that addresses social priorities without compromising ecological sustainability. At its core, visioning is about balancing different topics and needs of people in creating sustainable and just cities.


Superblocks, Barcelona

When creating and implementing “superblocks”, Barcelona embedded the concept in multiple city-wide policies. For example, the “Citizen Commitment for Sustainability”, signed by over 800 public, private and civil-society organisations, defines superblocks as an action, thus gaining public support. Otherwise, superblocks are connected to different policies e.g the Municipal Action Plan, the Barcelona Mobility Pact (1998), the Urban Mobility Plan of Barcelona (2013-2018), the city’s current Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Plan, and the Barcelona Commitment to Climate, which includes superblocks as one way to fulfil their vision of change (Q18).

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Vauban neighborhood, Freibrug

Vauban’s prospective residents as well as project proponents developed a shared vision on how to live in a more sustainable way i.e. parking free areas, sustainable mobility, affordable and inclusive housing etc. (Q14). This shared vision was possible because of a convergence between municipal priorities and community aspirations for the new district (Q13).

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Carnisse neighborhood, Rotterdam

In workshops organized by local organizations, residents were invited to develop a shared vision of the district redevelopment and establish an agenda for transformative and experimental actions e.g. create a community center, a shared garden etc. (Q14).

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Some action idea(s), examples, and resources from UrbanA’s "Berlin" Arena (03.21)

➔ Use science-fiction in a project with young people to make them imagine a future world (300 years from now).

➔ Digital diaries, such as this art-based diary of imagination, capture collective visions of the future:

➔ Sets of principles, like the Fab City’s, set out a vision of urban sustainability and livability:

That is not all! Additional insights from the “Berlin” Arena are included throughout this Enabling Governance Arrangement.

Relation to justice in urban sustainability governance

Broad, integrated visions may overcome injustices caused by Unfit institutional structures and Uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration.

‘Unfit institutional structures’ refers to the strict top-down approaches which limit knowledge generation and exchange, and rigid bureaucracies and regulatory barriers that fail to address the realities of vulnerable residents. ‘Uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration’ refers to the ways in which new urban sustainability developments might force trade-offs between the social and environmental goals.

A comprehensive vision built on integrated planning should help overcome siloed thinking and guide a city in balancing its environmental, social and economic goals. Furthermore, community organizations are particularly well-positioned to include voices of underrepresented groups in their area which are unable to express themselves in other settings.

Critical reflection

Implementing visions is challenging. Especially with broader visions, there may be a gap between their big ambitions and what is being implemented on the ground. Economic considerations often dominate the design and implementation of small-scale sustainability projects, possibly leading to unfavourable justice outcomes. The task then is to not only develop a comprehensive vision of change, but to also consistently empower it to actually shape small-scale interventions and honour the interlinkages between sustainability and justice ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021).

Additionally, developing a comprehensive vision of change is a significant task for community-led organizations. Since it requires investing often scarce financial and time resources, visioning processes require commitment, effort and belief in their value. Community projects that rely on voluntary work might not have the capacity to do this.

As a more fundamental concern, some people believe that current narratives and economic models limit our abilities to develop truly alternative, “out of the box” visions ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021).

Covid-19 connection

On one hand, collaboratively developing a vision of change can be more difficult under social distancing regulations. Online formats may not offer a good substitute for the spirit cultivated by in-person visioning sessions. On the other hand, Covid-19 provides an opportunity to imagine something new. For instance, a green and just recovery and a realignment of priorities towards more green space and community supports in cities.