Horizon Initiative: Complex Incubator for Plan Bay Area 2050

The Nine-County Coalition website has discussed the phenomenon of “mission creep” as it applies to government projects – often projects grow in scope and cost way beyond their stated initial objectives. September of 2018, we said the following in MTC/ABAG Horizon Initiative: Mission Creep Part II about the evolving iterations of Plan Bay Area,

Horizon is the latest development, and each development advances central planning and regionalism one notch above the previous development, leaving a solid trail of seemingly irreversible strategies. The Horizon Initiative intends to promote “the exploration of innovative strategies and solutions for issue areas that have been outside of the scope of past Plan Bay Area long-range planning processes.”

March 8, 2019, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments released Futures-Interim Report: Opportunities and Challenges. This report details how Horizon expanded the regional planning process to include simulation modeling that incorporates complex “external forces,” such as immigration and trade, national growth, national taxes and funding, national environmental policy, new technologies, and natural disasters. All these variables modeled under three distinct scenarios, but all scenarios contained the possibility of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

* Clean and Green – Immigration similar to today, higher national taxes and funding, national growth similar to today, housing more urban, jobs more dispersed, stricter national environmental policies, widespread new technologies.

* Rising Tides and Falling Fortunes – Reduced immigration and trade, lower national taxes and funding, limited national growth, housing more urban, job dispersion similar to today, relaxed environmental regulations, more limited technologies.

* Back to the Future – Increased immigration, national taxes and funding similar to today, rapid national growth, housing more dispersed, jobs more urban, national environmental policies similar to today, widespread technologies.


It would seem that for these complex scenarios to come close to reality at any point in time, regional planners would need to 1) be abreast of innumerable events occurring outside the region, 2) mix, separate, and combine these set of variables since nothing in life is set in stone, 3) find money to fund modeling at this level of complexity on an ongoing basis.

Assuming Horizon accomplishes 1), 2) and 3), we still need to be aware that any type of simulation modeling is as good as the model’s assumptions. There is such a thing as garbage in and garbage out! For example, are Horizon’s assumptions biased, are they designed to achieve a desired pre-determined outcome, and do they satisfactorily encompass possible scenarios?

Horizon’s three scenarios are constrained by the initiative’s Guiding Principles (affordability, diversity, regional transit connectivity, and conservation). Horizon’s objective is to achieve the best outcomes under any of the three scenarios given the initiative’s Guiding Principles. The Horizon Initiative will continue fine tuning its simulation modeling until June 2019.