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Recap - Circular Cities: Strategies, Challenges and Knowledge Gaps

As part of our Lunchtime Lecture series in the Urban Innovation Centre, we hosted Dr Joanna Williams, Senior Lecturer from The Bartlett School of Planning at University College London.

According to the Circular Cities Hub, a circular city is designed to tackle the consumption of resources “by creating circularity in resource flows in urban systems both throughout a city’s life-cycle (or the life-cycle of its inhabitants) and within the city-region”. Land is the most valuable asset within a city as well as infrastructure provision. Policymakers need to consider how to make cities more adaptable and view space in a more critical manner.

The aim of the Circular Cities Network is to create an international network of experts to inform and support cities and address the existing knowledge gap. The network includes cities, universities, think-tanks, consultants, industries and business.

The Circular Cities Hub’s model is based around seven key principles – localise, loop, optimise, adapt, share, regenerate and substitute. Dr Williams presented several case studies of exemplar circular city strategies based in European cities – Amsterdam, Bristol, London, Peterborough, Paris and Stockholm. Each city excels at a different principle of the circular city model which gives its own individual identification of excellence. For example Bristol excels at ‘resilience’ and has focused on localised productions of energy, food and other key utilities.

The challenges to implementing circular cities are usually due to political, cultural, regulatory, institutional and economic barriers with the latter two the most restricting on progress. Inflexibility of institutions form an enormous barrier to development of circular strategies. In addition, the privatisation of services makes it difficult to create more integrated responses. A lack of involvement from citizens can also prove problematic as it is difficult to gauge what people value without their feedback.

Dr Williams discussed how the restructuring of our macro economy to a more localised structural economy has raised its own set of questions on how circular cities can be implemented. What services or amenities can we realistically localise?

The research conducted at the Circular Cities Hub has drawn on schools of thought from urban resilience and localism, as well as the work that Ellen McCarthur has done on defining Circular City guides. However, Dr Williams cautions that this definition was developed for business operating at international level but not for cities.

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