Guided visioning exercises have become popular in many fields as a way of defining and achieving a desirable future. Recent studies have shown that we are more likely to reach an objective if we can see it, and can imagine the steps to reach it. Visioning has become a familiar technique in sports. High-jumpers, for instance, regularly take the time to imagine themselves going through the steps of jumping higher than they have ever jumped before. Citizens can use visioning to create images that can help to guide change in the city.
In a typical visioning exercise a facilitator asks participants to close their eyes and imagine they are walking through their neighbourhood as it should be fifteen years into the future. What do they see? What do the buildings look like? Where do people gather? How do they make decisions? What are they eating? Where are they working? How are they travelling? What is happening on the street? Where is the centre of the neighbourhood? How does greenspace and water fit into the picture? What do you see when you walk around after dark? People record their visions in written or pictorial form; in diagrams, sketches, models, photographic montages, and in written briefs. Sometimes a professional illustrator helps turn mental images into drawings of the city that people can extend and modify.Many places use visioning techniques to arrive at a number of alternative futures for the city. Residents are then asked to vote for their favourite.
Sometimes visioning can lead to poor results because people can't want they don't know. After World War II, Londoners were simply asked what kind of housing they wanted. The results, based on their responses, were dreadful both from the point of view of residents, as well as architects and planners. Because people "can't want what they don't know" governments need to present a range of options each with a list of pros and cons. Once this has been done satisfactorily, people can then be asked, "What do you want?"