Urban social-ecological systems are increasingly threatened by changing climate and extreme events, but also face challenges of current day vulnerabilities. Urban sustainability and resilience are useful frameworks for guiding future urban development visions. Yet, long-term sustainability and resilience planning can be difficult for local municipalities who must use their resources to address current vulnerabilities and may lack the capacity to plan for complex, long range future challenges. Through the Urban Resilience to Extreme Climatic Events Sustainability Research Network (UREx SRN), we engage with local stakeholders in cities across North and Latin America to envision alternative desirable, plausible, and resilient future cities. Through a series of workshops with local partners, we examine current and future hazards and vulnerabilities and co-develop scenarios to explore future urban sustainability solutions. We also develop future scenarios based on existing goals of each city from municipal policies. We then evaluate social, ecological, and technological outcomes and tradeoffs among future scenarios. As a case study here, we present current and future sustainability challenges for Valdivia, Chile and examine co-developed future scenarios and visions to address the challenges. As a decision support tool, we assess tradeoffs among scenarios using ecosystem service indicators.
Valdivia, a medium sized city in a biodiversity hotpot, receives >1800mm annual precipitation and has a high proportion of urban wetlands that are important for flood regulation and habitat. However, rapid development and a lack of development regulations are leading to significant wetland loss and increased flood risk in low-lying neighborhoods. We assessed tradeoffs of ecosystem service provisioning in three future scenarios of Valdivia based on existing (i.e., business as usual) development strategies and future sustainability goals from the municipal Sustainability Plan (e.g., protecting wetlands and “smart city” growth). Comparing indicators of temperature and flood regulation, habitat area, and carbon sequestration in multi-criteria assessments, we found the optimal “smart city” development scenario may provide greater thermal regulation, carbon storage, and habitat area than other futures, but have lower flood regulation potential. In addition, we examined tradeoffs and co-developed additional scenarios with local government and community leaders to address these challenges. Co-developed sustainability scenarios address large transformational and adaptive changes for equitable redistribution of services. Our results highlight the need to intentionally engage local decision-makers and integrate tradeoff assessments into future planning. We demonstrate that transdisciplinary co-production and visioning of future pathways can improve capacity for long-term sustainability and resilience planning.