Exploring urban futures for climate resilient cities

Uncertainties arising from the climate crisis and socioeconomic challenges are a key issue for urban planners in terms of future sustainability and wellbeing.  Climate change adaptation planning and practice have gained more attention in the past decade, and many cities around the world, including the cities in the Czech Republic, have adopted climate change adaptation strategies to cope with the challenges. Although adaptation planning should be prospective, requiring long-term, future-oriented approaches, current planning and practice is oriented on short- to mid-term goals (usually no more than 10 years). Taking the momentum of adaptation efforts and related struggles, such as partial achievements in implementing adaptation goals on the ground, or the absence of deeper insights on future uncertainties, we have developed a combined methodological approach for delivering spatially explicit future land use/land cover (LULC) scenarios that illustrate possible trajectories of urban developments.

In our recent paper Collaborative scenario building: Engaging stakeholders to unravel opportunities for urban adaptation planning, we apply the methodological approach to three major Czech cities: Prague, Brno, and Ostrava. Building on Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs), which represent a variety of global socio-economic scenarios and their relation to climate change mitigation and adaptation, on the collaborative process with key city stakeholders, and on land use and land cover modeling, we deliver a set of spatially explicit LULC scenarios with the corresponding socioeconomic narratives. While the collaborative process collects the experience and perceptions of needs, challenges, and opportunities as seen by city stakeholders, and therefore contextualizes local specifics, spatial modeling of LULC changes allows for an easy-to-read visualization of the plausible futures. The scenarios are nested in the SSPs, meaning they are consistent with global socioeconomic trends.

Scenarios for the cities in the Czech Republic

Together with the stakeholders from different city departments, we have co-developed two scenarios for each pilot city nested in global SSPs, respectively in SSP1 and SSP2. UCZ-SSP1 (urban Czech SSP1) represents a radical shift in the recent trends towards a sustainable urban future, characterized by a stabilized urban population, with urban planning emphasizing the development of city-owned and affordable housing predominantly in the broader city centres. These two trends are essential for reducing inequality and enhancing social cohesion as well as for reversing suburbanization processes. Furthermore, there is a shift in the governance structure, allowing for participation of a wide range of stakeholders. The new environmental policy agenda includes ambitious regulations for adaptation and mitigation measures, resulting in improved environment and overall human wellbeing. Economic growth is driven by the transition towards renewable energy resources and green technologies and innovations, allowing the cities to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

On the contrary, UCZ-SSP2 (urban Czech SSP2) shows possible future developments that are in line with recent trends, without any signs of a strong transition towards sustainability. Urban development is only moderately regulated; new housing estates continue to be unaffordable or unavailable for the majority of the population. Cities slowly depopulate due to relatively rapid suburbanization processes. The institutional setting stays almost unchanged; therefore, the emphasis on environmental policy is rather low, especially in terms of regulation of adaptation and mitigation measures. Environmental degradation is accompanied by decreasing human wellbeing, among others, due to low standards for public spaces. Such future trends lead to increasing inequality, further social stratification, and rapid green gentrification. Rapid economic growth is driven by persistently high consumption of goods, services, and materials. The transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy is slow and insignificant in terms of greenhouse emissions reduction.

Scenarios of future urban land use/land cover for Prague, Czech Republic

The maps above are showing spatially expressed UCZ-SSP1 and UCZ-SSP2 LULC scenarios for Prague compared to its current land use plan. The aim of these scenarios is to demonstrate: (1) the future developments of land use in cities, departing from the current land use plans of the pilot cities; and (2) the future land cover changes, expressing the spatial potential for the implementation of adaptation measures that consist of technical and nature-based solutions.

Use of scenarios in urban adaptation planning

Now you might be asking what the purpose of our LULC scenarios is and how they can contribute to sustainable urban planning. In one of our previous blog posts, we have already explained the importance of collaborative scenario building and now it is time to take a closer look at their practical use. Simply said: scenarios help us to understand possible future trajectories, which is a very useful piece of information for strategic planning. There are usually at least two scenarios (co)developed in order to demonstrate two different directions in which future might unfold. Why? Exploring not only the desirable future but also the one for which we do not hope helps us to better understand the actions that need to be taken towards achieving our visions and goals. In this respect, showing two different directions of spatial and socio-economic future developments of a city might help planners to come up with strategies that reflect the needs of urban population. Since LULC scenarios depart from the urban plans of the three cities, they might also support urban planners in leading their cities towards just transformation towards sustainable future. Also, additional impact assessment of the LULC scenarios may serve as a basis for identification of urban areas prone to negative climate change impacts, fostering thinking on which adaptation measures, to what extent, and where these should be implemented to reinforce urban climate resilience.

The blog post is based on the following paper: Suchá, L., Vaňo, S., Jančovič, M., Aubrechtová, T., Bašta, P., Duchková, H. and Krkoška Lorencová E. 2022. Collaborative scenario building: Engaging stakeholders to unravel opportunities for urban adaptation planning. Urban Climate 45, paper no. 101277. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.uclim.2022.101277

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