A baseline scenario tells a story of how regions and communities may change over time if current policies and practices continue: think of a baseline scenario as conducting business as usual.
There are many ways to develop a baseline scenario. Often, a baseline simply projects the development patterns of the recent past into the future. A baseline provides a point of reference to compare alternative ideas that the public is interested in exploring.
A baselines projection helps participants in a visioning process ask themselves if the community is heading toward its desired future, or if some changes are in order. The projection acts as a control scenario—helping residents to understand the relative advantages and disadvantages of alternative scenarios that are developed in the next phase of the process.
The impacts of continuing in a business as usual manner are measurable as a baseline is analyzed. A community could measure myriad indicators tied to community concerns and issues: acres developed, average lot sizes and housing characteristics, housing costs, employment trends, air quality indicators, levels of traffic congestion, miles traveled per person, water consumption, water/waste water infrastructure requirements, or the impact of real estate development on property and sales taxes.
A Closer Look: Developing and Visualizing the Cache Valley Baseline
What could Cache Valley, Utah, be like in 2040? In 2009, conservative estimates predicted that by 2040 Cache Valley's population of about 125,000 people would almost double, to reach nearly a quarter million residents by 2040. It was helpful to examine recent development patterns to discover what life might be like if the valley continues growing as it has. The baseline scenario for the Envision Cache Valley process was created by analyzing demographic and landuse trends from the last decade to understand both where recent growth happened and in which development patterns, including average lot sizes, it occurred. These trends were projected to create a picture of the future of each Cache Valley community if development trends were to continue. In all, the region would see about 50 square miles of new
residential growth, equivalent in land area to adding about three new Logans (the region's largest city) to the valley by 2040.
Is the 2040 baseline the most likely future? No. It's simply a projection of recent trends. There is no speculation about demographic shifts, economic opportunities, or changes to land-use plans. While it is not necessarily the most likely future, it does provide a sense of where the valley may be headed if recent trends were to continue. It provides the baseline to which other ideas generated from public input can be compared.