Designing and planning urban ecosystems

Towards a circular city
Ulrik Wieme

In their interesting talk at the Disruptive Innovation Festival, Gerard Roemers and Nadine Galle shared their vision on circular cities. They outlined the barriers that could be in the way, and they revealed the challenges that we need to face in order to create truly circular cities.

While cities occupy only three percent of the earth’s surface area, they house more than half of the world’s population, consume over 75% of the global resources and are responsible for 60-80% of greenhouse emissions. Yet, environmental challenges and urbanization opportunities are inherently interconnected. As cities are also the major engine for economic growth, they can lead the way towards a circular economy by transforming the built environment.

How to become a circular city?

Currently, cities are governed by money and short term gains; cities are not adaptive or resilient by design; and urban dwellers behave in unsustainable ways.
The solution: move from consumers of energy and generators of waste to an urban environment where resources are cycled infinitely and at high value.
The key factor can be found in evolving the city with decentralized planning and adaptive design; this means more decentralized flows of material and energy (e.g. fit waste water treatment and energy production in the city itself, to actively engage with it, rather than sending them far away). Democratization of technology to take back the city is a key factor. If you can monitor your own renewable energy production, you will use 15% less.

3 key challenges

  1. Open the black box of the urban metabolic pattern to create closed cycled systems. We actually don’t understand how cities function and how the material and energy flows go through. The urban metabolism is the sum of the technical and socio-economic processes that occur in cities, resulting in growth and the production of energy, materials and waste.
  2. Engage and empower citizens. E.g. create communities that are managing energy flows together.
  3. Context is key. There is no silver bullet solution, no typical blueprint for a circular city. For each individual case, you have to look what fits, given physical conditions and types of infrastructure and connect to that.

 3 keys to success

  1. Look at spatial factors in the neighborhood. Some areas are more a “natural candidate” for a circular area than others.
  2. Energize and engage the community, try to engage with everybody.
  3. Use the approach of a living lab and use the best practices: designate areas for innovation, create space for experiments and use an iterative process. The living lab at De Ceuvel in Amsterdam is a nice best practice example. Buiksloterham, the northern part of Amsterdam, will become a circular area in coming years, supported by more than 20 organizations.

The full talk can be found on the DIF channel.

What is the Disruptive Innovation Festival (DIF)?

The Disruptive Innovation Festival (DIF) is a global online festival bringing together entrepreneurs, designers, industry, makers, learners and doers to explore and respond to the changing economy. This festival of ideas is related to this one question ‘what if we could redesign everything?’

Thanks for reading

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Ulrik Wieme