Models for business innovation, bike superhighways, solar roads, shared backyards growing food and buildings as living systems are among the concepts the Visions and Pathways 2040 project is exploring for transitioning Australia’s cities to a low-carbon and resilient future.
Visions and Pathways 2040 is a four year long research and engagement project funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Low-carbon Living led by the Victorian Eco-innovation Lab at the University of Melbourne, in collaboration with researchers from University of New South Wales and Swinburne University. The project aims to develop visions and scenarios for desirable, resilient and low-carbon urban futures in Australia, and innovation and policy pathways to achieve these futures.
Earlier this year the project team held three visioning workshops in Melbourne and Sydney with the participation of around 100 expert-citizens; experts in areas relevant to cities and citizens of the cities for which they envisioned futures. The participants involved researchers and representatives of partnering businesses including Hassell, Aurecon, Brookfield Multiplex and AECOM, local governments including City of Melbourne and City of Sydney, non-governmental and not-for-profit organisations including 350, Beyond Zero Emissions and Environment Victoria, and social entrepreneurs.
The project team took the participants through a unique visioning process, the premise of which was to enable participants to conceptualise cities as dynamic socio-technical systems consisting of people, support systems and the built environment.
The visioning process was based on earlier work of VEIL and further developed by the project team to suit specific characteristics of the project. A number of professional designers also attended the workshop, after which they worked in collaboration with the researchers to visualise glimpses of these visions.
These glimpses reflect the result if the potentially disruptive technological, social, organizational and institutional innovations currently brewing in society that can aid in transitioning to low-carbon futures in Australia took off and [were] widely adopted.
The project team and designers licensed these glimpses with Creative Commons licences to enable their sharing and use for non-commercial purposes to inspire communities, educators and innovators working in the field of climate change adaptation and mitigation and low-carbon transitions.
The innovations identified by participants of the visioning workshops as disruptive and potential enablers of low-carbon transitions in cities covered new business models, socio-cultural and behavioural changes, new technologies especially in the area of renewable energy and manufacturing, new modes of organising, and alternative uses of existing space.
The specific innovations included:
- proliferation of sharing economy businesses and practices
- adoption of closed loop production systems
- distributed renewable energy systems, roads that are “living” and looked after by the surrounding community
- a proliferation of micro service businesses
- cool hubs for communities to gather during heat waves
- repurposing of infrastructure which is likely to become redundant with increasing temperatures as spaces to grow food or heatwave shelters
- repurposing of garages and other excess space in suburban houses as small local businesses or community gathering spaces
- increased urban canopy as a mitigation and adaptation measure as well as to increase biodiversity in urban areas
- an index that measures personal social contribution
- biodomes for growing food
- energy bartering
- carbon brokery
See the project website for more.
As a result of these visioning workshops the project team was able to identify some themes that point to a grand, emerging narrative on how people think desirable low-carbon futures should be.
These themes include distributed and networked systems of provision, flourishing local economies, emergence of a third space – shared space – in addition to public and private space, increasing community centredness, and the requirement for new forms of city governance. The researchers also identified areas of tension; differences in perspectives on how the required major change can occur.
This predominantly reflects different value sets and worldviews the workshop participants held. These areas of tension include the appropriate technological intensity for achieving low-carbon futures (low tech or high tech futures), suitability of market economy and reformed capitalism to achieve these transitions, the level of cultural readiness in Australian society to adopt sharing of space as a norm, effectiveness of regulatory versus motivational incentives, desirability of serviced or productive life styles, and requirement of an increase in efficiency versus decrease in consumption.
The researchers do not see these areas of tension as conflicts needing to be resolved but as manifestation of the political nature of participatory futures inquiry; further reflecting different worldviews and values held by the participants on what is desirable and acceptable.
A common question that results from exploring these glimpses is, “we can imagine these futures collectively but can we also achieve them?”
Looking at these “dreams” from our waking mind it could be said that, “no, it is impossible for these futures to emerge from the present political and social context”.
However, the project team argues differently and plays with the concepts of discontinuity and disruption; concepts that are used in innovation and futures studies to explore how non-linear change can happen so that futures that are not projections of the present can emerge.
In order to explore to what extent and how these futures might be achieved, the project team is preparing for the next phase of the project. In this phase, the project team will work with an extended group of experts to develop coherent, plausible yet distinct scenarios of low-carbon and resilient futures and test them.
The themes and areas of tension identified as a result of the visioning process will inform these scenarios. The final phase of the project will involve back-casting from these scenarios to develop policy and innovation pathways necessary to realize these desirable, low-carbon, resilient futures in Australia.
Extracts from the project website
“In facing the challenge of creating a more sustainable built environment, business plays a double faceted role. On the one hand, business and related activities are at the centre of the production–consumption system that is the major cause of our sustainability problems. On the other hand, the dynamism of modern business and its ability to innovate and generate solutions to current and emerging problems, including those related to sustainability, promises to be one of the primary sources of new ideas and strategies to tackle the sustainability challenges we face.” – Emerging Approaches in Business Model Innovation Relevant to Sustainability and Low-Carbon Transitions by Idil Gaziulusoy & Paul Twomey
“In our research, we identified nine emerging approaches used in developing business models that are relevant to sustainability and low-carbon transitions. These nine approaches are product–service systems, open innovation, peer-to-peer innovation, closed-loop production, crowdfunding, sharing economy, social enterprises and benefit corporations, gift economy, and business models enabled by the emerging manufacturing paradigm.” – Emerging Approaches in Business Model Innovation Relevant to Sustainability and Low-Carbon Transitions by Idil Gaziulusoy & Paul Twomey
“…the overall suite of technological and policy priorities needed to achieve a just and sustainable zero-carbon economy is now widely understood: rapid replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy; rapid reduction in energy consumption (through improved efficiency and reduced demand); significant reduction of emissions from agricultural activity and improvement in role of land use in carbon sequestration…
“…Energy efficiency priorities in relation to the building sector include: retrofitting and insulating existing buildings; a wide roll-out of passive solar, combined heat and power and decentralised heating and cooling systems; and improving efficiency of all heating, cooling, lighting and appliances.” – Pathways to a Zero-Carbon Economy by Professor John Wiseman
Bio for Dr Idil Gaziulusoy
Dr Idil Gaziulusoy is principal researcher at Victorian Eco-innovation Lab, Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning, University of Melbourne. She has worked as a consultant and lecturer in Turkey and New Zealand and is a visiting researcher at the Design for Sustainability Research Group at the Technical University of Delft, The Netherlands.