A vision of the future? A medium density "community balanced" scenario

We can cut city carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2040, but the way we do it will profoundly alter how our cities look and operate, according to research led by the University of Melbourne’s Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab.

The Visions and Pathways 2040 project is a four-year project funded by the CRC for Low Carbon Living, with participation from the University of Melbourne, University of NSW, Swinburne and a number of private sector companies and local governments.

The project, which began in 2013, combines research and creative stakeholder engagement processes to develop visions for Australian cities in 2040, and has culminated in the creation of four distinct “scenarios” that could play out based on whether solutions are top-down, bottom-up, for-profit or for social benefit – Clean-Tech Corporate Living; Planned Regulated Living;Networked Entrepreneurial Living; and Community Balanced Living.

The research team on Thursday released a video on the process to date, launched at the Sustainable Communities National Summit.

Research fellow Dr Seona Candy said the video was a great way to share the message of hope and action with governments working on climate change solutions.

“Our research has found that there are numerous ways for Australian cities to dramatically reduce their emissions,”  Dr Candy said. “It’s really positive to see local and state governments showing leadership on such a critical issue.”

More than 250 experts from government, academia and industry contributed their ideas on the most plausible visions of future cities, with researchers then distilling them into scenarios and working with designers to visualise them.

The four scenarios are:

  • Clean-Tech Corporate Living: a city of clean and efficient production driven by a corporate market economy that has focused innovation on triple-bottom-line success and adopted circular economy production and product design practices
  • Planned Regulated Living: a city of planned order where a democratic consensus has concluded that the challenges posed by a carbon and resource constrained world are best addressed through public planning, public investment in green infrastructures and tighter regulations that limit behaviour and practices to an acceptable environmental norm
  • Networked Entrepreneurial Living: a city where large corporations and government are less in influential but where the economy has developed around nimble, self organised entrepreneurial activity, particularly for the sharing and exploitation of excess capacities of various assets. It is a future characterised by a dynamically changing economy, experimentation and innovation and the development of networked platforms that are open source and open data
  • Community Balanced Living: a city of low consumption, that promotes a socially and environmentally meaningful life including shared wellbeing, liveability and (face to face) social interaction and where there are a diverse set of alternative forms of enterprises, including cooperatives and B-corps

Each living scenario contains a variety of pros and cons, which are also dependent on the level of density built into the city.

Utopia? A high-density “clean tech corporate living” scenario

“These scenarios are not predictive, they are possible futures that would reduce Australian cities’ emissions,” Dr Candy said.

“Naturally, the future will include elements from each of them, but projects such as this help us design the type of future we want, which allows us to make the decisions needed to get us there.”