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The Missoula, Montana Scenarios Project
David D. Chrislip

Population growth and its consequences challenges many communities in the Rocky Mountain region. Growth and development issues paralyze local political initiative as interest groups hamstring decision-making by public officials. Suburban sprawl and industrial development interfere with the desire for a more livable community. Private property rights conflict with broader community values. Tradeoffs between environmental amenities and new job creation become divisive. This multi-layered conflict is mired in decades of community history. Old patterns of development are difficult to change.

In the early 1990s, Missoula, Montana found itself in similar straits as bedroom communities and strip development threatened its spectacular mountain setting. Angry citizens and frustrated elected officials failed to cope with these challenges. Every citizen, it seemed, defined the problem of growth in different ways and fought for different solutions. Planning and development experts could not "solve" the problem for the community. Without the broad civic will to address these issues, there would be no political will to implement solutions.

In order to create civic will, Missoula used a new approach: collaborative scenario-based planning to develop and implement four strategies to guide the city's development. None of these actions would have been possible without the engagement of the stakeholders. Because of the nature of the process they had been through, the stakeholders represented a "constituency to act" crucial to the success of this effort. Elected officials now had the support they needed to move ahead in addressing growth management issues. They had commissioned the work, sat in on the stakeholder identification process and observed the work. They had become convinced the work of the stakeholders reflected the will of the community. They now had concrete well-conceived recommendations when nothing coherent existed before. With a credible group of stakeholders behind them, risky political action became possible. Missoula now had the impetus to control its own future.