Scenario planning. Food and Architecture

Posted June 13, 2012 by Michka Mélo

When I rang the noisy doorbell it was just like any other visit to FoAM: I hadn’t a clue what was going to happen once I stepped through the door. Just in case, I brought some Resilients food – diverse, redundant, and distributed sources of nutrients in the shape of seeds – which would surely help us through the coming scenario planning experiment.

We put some tea, coffee, and Swedish chocolate horses on the table. We proceeded to cut out three big paper sheets and stick them to the wall. We were now ready to open the toolbox brought by Anna Maria and David. We would use these tools one after the other to shape potentially desirable futures from a challenging situation in the present.

We narrowed our focus to the exact region of Molenbeek in which the FoAM studio is located: a block delimited by Future and Prosperity streets, with the canal on one side and the Saint Jean-Baptiste square on the other. In a hypothetical 2015, we asked ourselves if community contact and engagement in this area could be improved through food. We were interested in opposing food diversity to waste, curiosity to intolerance, and finally distilled a scenario based on “food diversity and intolerance.” 

The narrative took shape. Nights are misty, streets are sludgy, and the atmosphere is heavy. Rats scuttle along the sidewalks, hiding in abandoned TVs and foraging in rotting waste. A system of food clubs has emerged, soaked in crime and corruption. These clubs are very selective, and entering them is almost impossible. You have to painfully demonstrate your devotion to their ideology if you ever want to get in. Scary bodyguards stand outside heavy closed doors. From the street, you can hear loud parties from behind the walls in closed courtyards, and sometimes catch a mouth-watering whiff of rotating roasting chicken. When members of opposing clubs come across one another on the street, the black looks they exchange tell of mutual animosity. 

Thanks to the panarchy model detailing the life cycle of complex systems, we saw this scenario as illustrating a situation on the verge of creative destruction. In this view, the overspecialised and un-resilient club system would quickly reach a point of crisis, allowing new dynamics to emerge. We defined three possible futures that might eventuate in this way.

1) The tension reaches a climax and leads to a giant food fight between groups, leaving a huge amount of waste in the streets. The neighbourhood is closed by police, and the food distribution network is blocked. Skywalks are built from building to building. Criminal networks set up and control food flows from the city, while solidarity networks struggle to rebuild the neighbourhood. Waste is slowly transformed in compost, and the streets into gardens.

2) Resource scarcity leads to the reduction of diversity and quality of the food clubs. As affordable food reemerges from the ruins of clubs deprived of their former pride, gentrification occurs and induces drastic changes in the environment.

3) With resource scarcity, the divide between rich and poor just continues to increase. Clubs become more and more selective, expensive and violent. Food is supplied to these groups by helicopters.

From these three scenarios, we finally tried to determine a normative position, or desirable aspects of each of these alternate futures. Clearly, the global knowledge about composting should be enhanced, as it is a key element in the revival of the neighbourhood. Something should also be done with the abandoned TVs…

If I use this toolbox the next time I'm about to ring FoAM's noisy doorbell, it may give me an insight about what will happen when I step inside. Although I don't need any toolbox to know that the journey will be unusual, and quite transformative.