Scenarios, Sensitivity and Resilience in Regional Planning

I started thinking about this post following the Regional Transportation Plan scoping workshop that occurred last week, which others have written about. But it really jelled for me yesterday after another workshop with Metro’s panel of economic advisers (engaged to help validate the models for the 20 year forecasts).

During the breakout session for the RTP workshop, I pushed for the idea of using scenario analysis to evaluate potential transportation system designs. What kind of transportation network would be optimal if gas is at $5/gallon? $10/gallon? Or if we decide we need to cap the output of greenhouse gases, what kind of transportation system would work best?

Sensitivity analysis is the process of looking at a variety of inputs and the scenarios they create, then comparing these to work back to how those inputs affect the outcomes that we care about. So we could do a sensitivity analysis for how our region’s economy and livability vary with varying energy costs.

[By the way, the current assumption set for the regional models has oil settling back to $35-40/barrel, before going back to a curve where it rises more or less at the rate of inflation. Does this make anyone else very nervous?]

The concept I brought up in yesterday’s workshop is resilience, which is the idea of minimizing our sensitivity to certain scenarios. If we agree on a set of desirable outcomes (robust economy, maintaining air quality, providing open spaces, just as examples), how can we design the land use and transportation system for our region to maximize these outcomes against different external forces (like energy costs or climate changes)? I hope we can build a ‘resilient’ region that helps defend us against what the economists called ‘abrupt changes’ (a major earthquake, or the shutdown of the gulf stream, is an ‘abrupt change’).

What do you think would make our region more resilient against potential external forces for the next 20-50 years?

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