Publication Date

July 2017

Achieving multiple goals rather than trading one goal off for another is the essence of sustainability. Visualizing alternative futures in a participatory planning process helps disentangle complex planning issues particularly when stakeholders may perceive key goals as imposing potential tradeoffs, such as increased housing for a growing population and availability of green space. This study explored the effects of using visualization and scenarios as planning tools in a workshop with stakeholders in the Boston Metro Area, Massachusetts (USA), in achieving multiple benefits of sustainable future growth of the region. We applied mixed methods sequential explanatory design and a survey instrument with a landscape preference survey designed to garner stakeholders' preference and acceptability of perceived urban density versus urban greening in four future growth scenarios reflecting multiple goals in sustainability. The results of the landscape preference survey demonstrated that increasing tree canopy appears to ameliorate the low ratings of high-rise buildings for the region's urban development. In addition, the scenario planning process, especially the use of small group discussions, represented an effective tool in facilitating stakeholders' discussion about achieving the multiple benefits of the three goals of sustainability: Environment, Economy, Equity. This study provided theoretical and applied insights for planners in the use of visualization and scenario planning methodologies to engage stakeholders in the participatory planning process. It revealed the potential for a policy decision shift among stakeholders in the Boston region, namely that higher density urban development would likely be more acceptable to them when combined with a simultaneous increase in tree canopy cover. Through practices like these, stakeholders are more likely to consider policies and designs that embrace a variety of goals for their community’s future instead of simplistically placing one goal in opposition to another or trading them off against each other.