Reflecting on the UREx SRN's World Café in Phoenix

World Cafe Blog Image The UREx SRN Scenario team is conducting scenario planning workshops in Phoenix, Baltimore and Hermosillo this year. Phoenix is in a unique position given that it has already developed a suite of regional-scale scenarios. Building off of the Sustainable Future Scenarios project developed under the auspices of the CAP LTER (and in collaboration with that project), the Phoenix UREx scenario workshop will zoom in to the village level. Thus, the researcher-practitioner team decided to make South Mountain Village the focus of the scenario workshops. The choice seems timely as  several research and planning initiatives are already underway in South Mountain Village, including Paul Coseo’s design course, the Nature Conservancy’s Nature’s Cooling Systems Project, Rio Salado 2.0, and the planned extension of the Light Rail into South Phoenix. South Mountain Village stretches between two landmarks, the Salt River to the North and the South Mountain Preserve to the South. With a rich agricultural past, South Mountain is home to the largest proportional populations of Latinos and African Americans in the valley. Environmental and social challenges of South Mountain include air pollution, public health risks, brownfields, excessive heat, and food deserts that are the result of historical segregation (see Bolin et al. 2005). To better understand these issues and to identify the futures that stakeholders can envision for their community, the the UREx Phoenix scenario team organized a World Café event to reach out to a broader community of stakeholders that live, work, or in some way identify with the South Mountain Village. On January 26th at a local community center in South Phoenix, a group of 30 stakeholders joined UREx and CAP researchers to reflect on the scenario themes previously identified by the Phoenix researcher-practitioner team. This broader group of stakeholders included local business owners, multiple Latino activist organizations, South Mountain Community College administrators and faculty members, representatives from the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County, and members of environmental and community health NGO’s. During the World Café activity, stakeholders had to choose to give input to five out of the seven teams previously identified as “Cooler Phoenix” (to consider urban heat island and urban form), “Extreme Heat and Health” (to consider health and equity implications of heat), “Friendly Phoenix” (focusing on shared resources), “Mountain to River” (to consider natural features, green infrastructure, and flooding), “Zero Waste” (focusing on reducing resource consumption and encouraging a circular economy), “Adaptive Vegetation and Food” (to consider drought and native edibles), and “Connected and Mobile” (strong focus on light rail expansion and gentrification). Each table was hosted by an ASU researcher - primarily UREx graduate students and postdocs - that maintained and facilitated the conversation between rounds. The tables that were best attended throughout the five rounds were “Friendly Phoenix” and “Extreme Heat and Health”. Some of the recurrent issues identified by participants (independent of the table theme) had to do with a strong sense of identity, cherishing the area’s agricultural past, and a focus on community-driven development and solutions. During the discussion, stakeholders added the idea of an “equity district” as a possible scenario that would be interesting to them. Given what we heard from stakeholders and ASU facilitators, we have modified and narrowed down the themes to the following:
  • Beat the Heat
  • Mountain to River
  • Friendly Phoenix Equity District
  • My Connected & Mobile Community
  • Just Green Enough
Thus, the World Café achieved the desired goal of vetting our scenario themes with the people to whom they are most relevant (and reducing the number of themes to a manageable five!). We were pleased to receive very positive feedback from participants, including several comments noting the salience of the proposed scenario themes. This type of checking in was relatively easy to organize and we suggest that other UREx cities consider conducting a similar activity in preparation for their scenario workshops. It was an effective way to ensure that our initial ideas were relevant to our stakeholders, which should be an important first step in co-producing knowledge. -By Melissa Davidson, Marta Berbes, and Nancy Grimm