Triple Access Planning

Shadow planning excercise in Nova Gorica, Slovenia – A step forward developing future scenarios as a part of SUMP development process

Luka Mladenovič, UIRS, January 2023

Nova Gorica is a mid-sized city on the western edge of Slovenia, right on the border with Italy. It is a young city, founded not more than 70 years ago. That is less than a person’s lifetime. But during this time, it has had an interesting history with several major changes in conditions for urban development – from post WW2 tension and being on the edge between east and west, to the thawing of relations in the nineties when Slovenia became an independent state. But perhaps one of the biggest changes happened just over a decade ago, when the border with Italy was finally completely removed and Nova Gorica merged with the neighbouring Italian city of Gorizia. Both cities now work together on common vision and initiatives, among other they will host the European capital of Europe in 2025. Administratively the two cities remain separated, planning for their common future in two different systems, but coordinating their vision and strategies.

Nova Gorica has a long tradition of sustainable urban mobility planning (SUMP). The city developed its first transport strategy in 2011 and a regional cross-border SUMP in 2015. The second generation of local SUMP was developed in 2017. Currently preparation activities take place for a new generation of the document, which should be developed in 2023/24. During these times the city managed to introduce a variety of new planning approaches to practice and it is very open to further innovation as it develops.

The exercise, carried out as a part of our project, was intended to help with the warming up of the development process for the new generation of SUMP but also support the city with developing a stronger role of future development scenarios. In previous SUMPs, the scenario development was a minor task that did not bring much added value to the SUMP development.

In case of Nova Gorica 2017 SUMP the three scenarios were the following:

Scenario 1: Development without new major interventions of any part of the transport system, considering 1% yearly growth of motorized traffic in next 20 years.

Scenario 2: Development of transport system considering building all infrastructure planned within the local spatial plan. Since the spatial plan provides long term reservations of space for any infrastructure which might be needed in future, this scenario drastically increases the availability of new infrastructure, mostly for motorized traffic.

Scenario 3: Focus on development of sustainable mobility and alternatives to motorized traffic.

The third scenario was identified as optimal, and all next steps of the SUMP built on development in this direction. A similar approach to scenario development was used in several cities in Slovenia and was considered as valid. But as we see, the first two scenarios, even though considered as a realistic future, could not be selected, since one of the basic commitments the concept builds on is to plan for sustainable mobility within an urban area.

The recent shadow planning exercise in Nova Gorica used the FUTURES Relay tool, developed within the project by UWE and Mott MacDonald. It was carried out as a set of two online workshops in November and December 2022. Experts from different departments of the city administration took part, as well as other stakeholders involved in the development of previous SUMPs. The process was led by the team from Mott MacDonald.

The tool leads the group of participants through 6 stages. Their commitment to sustainable development of the transport system was clear from the beginning, where preferred futures are identified. It was obvious here that the first two scenarios from the previous SUMP made no sense, but that there are various futures possible within the third scenario, which were previously not considered.

An important stage of the process is identification of important drivers of change. In most cases, when developing SUMPs in Slovenia, a very limited amount of data describing the trends in transport system was available. When considering the future development of the transport system, the available data is commonly used as the main indicator of what we can expect in future. But the exercise showed that, when considering not only transport related drivers, but also wider social, economic, political, technological, and ecological drivers, it is those that play a much bigger role in achieving the vision for future development of the transport system.

Participants of the workshop identified two drivers of the desired vision with potentially the biggest influence but also the greatest uncertainty as to whether they would arise, and in what form: political commitment to make a change and level of willingness in society to change our behaviour for the sake of the environment. As we can see, those two drivers originate from the social and political background and are most often not considered in transport planning.

Based on these two factors, a set of four new scenarios was built, reflecting possible futures with different combinations of low and high levels of influence of each of the two key driver. The new scenarios were the following:

Scenario 1: We do what we can but… Commitments regarding the CO2 emission reductions remain on a declarative level. Electric and hydrogen cars are replacing diesel cars, small changes take place regarding public transport and cycling in the city, but most activities remain as as they are.

Scenario 2: Youth takes over. Bottom-up initiatives manage to engage with wider city population. With strong influence as a result of local initiatives, awareness among residents is raised to the level where people start acting differently even without political, legal, or financial pressure.

Scenario 3: Politics leads the way. A strong environmentally oriented administration takes over.  Political decisions lead the way to change. Since the targets regarding CO2 emissions are set very high and not enough has been done in the past years to systematically achieve them, strong restrictions are needed.

Scenario 4: Partnership for change. The national government, local politicians and residents reach an agreement that change is needed. They join forces in making the change together. Ambitious policies are put in practice which influence the way we plan, build, and live in Nova Gorica to achieve the net-zero targets.

As we can see, the resulting scenarios are reflecting four different combinations of society and politics towards the change. All of them are realistic, and all of them support development of a more sustainable transport system, but to different extents.  For this reason, the last task within the shadow planning exercise was to test a limited number of different sustainable mobility measures against all scenarios. By doing so, we were able to identify more resilient measures – those which could work in different scenarios, not just one or two of them.

The shadow planning exercise in Nova Gorica helped local planners see a much wider picture of possible futures. Scenario development, which was already part of the existing methodology but previously used only as a minor task without much influence on SUMP development, was shown as a useful tool that can help with the decision-making process regarding the measures and activities that the SUMP proposes, in the context of different possible futures.