The structure of the world has continuously been changing. It is time for another change – circular cities

Circular cities work completely following the principles of the circular economy. They eliminate waste while keeping goods and their ingredients in use. In that way, natural systems are regenerating.

Every year we see millions of people trying to find their way to big buzzing cities. While villages are dying slowly, cities are growing and becoming places where it is tough to live. Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. This percentage will be growing in the future and, according to some predictions it will reach two-thirds.

world's population

There must be something that we can do to make cities a better place for ourselves. How can we improve the cities’ livability? Another era is coming and the cities as we know them today must evolve into circular cities.

Why is it so important to make cities circular?

Except for being heavily populated, cities are the main motor of growth and development, innovations, and creativity. Carrying that baggage cities are our main chance for the future. Most of the ideas that “will save the world” are born in the cities. At the same time, cities are enormous consumers. They are already using around 75% of all the resources used on the planet. And that’s not everything. More than 50% of waste is created in the cities, and 60-80% of pollution comes from the cities.

Cities planned to host 1,000,000 people are now having 5, 6, 10 times more citizens. All of them should eat, sleep, drink, and circulate around. That is why cities are facing severe problems related to housing, transportation, and waste disposal.

If the circular economy or, more precisely, circular cities are the solution, what exactly we need to do?

In Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation, they talk about circular cities from the three main perspectives:

    1. buildings
    2. mobility
    3. products

Buildings

It is becoming a massive problem for urban citizens to solve their housing problems, and the prices are skyrocketing. According to some data, more than a third of the cities’ population struggles to secure decent accommodation.

There is another side of the story neglected by most of us. Did you know that more than 60% of office space is not used during working hours? That means that 60% of the materials and work are used just to build a space that nobody uses. Too spacious and still not practical – that’s how offices look today.

60% of office space is not used

It is a huge waste, especially if we consider the fact that the present construction sector is everything but green. 40% of solid waste comes from the construction sector, and this sector is consuming more than a third of global resources.

Buildings and their functionality are probably the fields in which reaction is necessary as soon as possible. It is so because buildings are in use much longer than any other product. The buildings we design and create today will remain with us for centuries.

How are the buildings in the circular cities different from the ones we know? 

First of all, we need to understand that we cannot destroy what we were building for centuries, so we need to adapt existing buildings to allow for the local and efficient circular flow of goods and materials. 

Nowadays, buildings are built for one single purpose. One is meant to be a mall, the other one a residential building, the third a place for the offices. And they will keep their role until the end of their existence. This approach is completely wrong. We need buildings that are more flexible and adaptable. New buildings should not remain forever what they are now. They should be able to adjust to our needs.

Their flexibility would allow for the development of the sharing system in residential and commercial buildings. Their design would increase the use of available space. All of this should be accomplished while taking care of the quality and reusability of the materials used.  

Mobility

Another important aspect of life in the cities is related to mobility. Cities are becoming extremely big and hard to go around. Many things are wrong about mobility in the cities today. One of the main problems is the traditional view of car ownership. And there is something fundamentally wrong with that. You probably never thought about the life of your car. Believe it or not, your car is probably spending around 92% of the time waiting for you at the parking. Is that why you bought your car?

The solution to this problem could be found in the sharing economy. The sharing economy gives another point of view on the products we use. Have you ever thought about paying just for the service and not for the ownership? What does it mean? You don’t need to own the car to use it. In the sharing economy, you will be paying for the car only when you need it.

car sharing

Car sharing partly solves the problem of the mobility in the cities. But there are serious problems that sharing system cannot solve. One of them is air pollution.

What are the other options?

Air pollution costs us shocking 8.4 millions of lives, every year. We are all affected and according to some estimations 90% of citizens in the urban areas are exposed to dangerous levels of pollution.  If we continue to use cars running on the fossil fuels, we will also continue to pollute the air our lungs inflate with every breath. It is time to change that.

There are many things we can do. Cities should be organized in a way that allows their citizens to use other ways of transportation more. An efficient underground system, electric buses, bicycles, and walking should take domination from the cars. Besides that, we all know fossil fuels are not the only solution for cars. So, let’s turn to electric cars more. Some cities promise that they will forbid cars running on fossil fuels by 2040. or 2050. Others are helping their community services to change their cars and start using electrical ones. Let’s be smarter than we were until now.

Products

Finally, there is one more crucial aspect of the cities that doesn’t work properly. Here we talk about consumer goods and the way they are processed after nobody needs them anymore. Cities need more efficient waste management, and that is what we all know. We often forget that with more rational consumption, there would be much less waste to handle and recycle. That is where the circular economy jumps in – reuse, repurpose, refresh, and only when all the other options are not suitable, think about recycling.

Before throwing away things, you think you don’t need anymore, try to imagine other ways of using the same product. A jar for pickles can become a pencil holder, an old pillow can become a bed for your cat, and your shoe can become a flowerpot. You just need to turn your creativity on. Only after all the options are exhausted leave your stuff for the recycling.

shoe flowerpot

Is sharing economy a solution?

The story of consumer goods is similar to the story of cars. Many of the products we have, like a washing machine or some kitchen utilities, are not used every day. In fact, on average, they are not used over 60% of the time. Sort of “Library of things where you can borrow what you need sounds like something suitable for the products that aren’t used too often. 

How many times a week you turn on your washing machine? Not too many, probably. Most of the time, your washing machine is taking precious space in the bathroom, kitchen, or basement. Have you ever thought about not having a washing machine? Instead of having one and blessing God that it will not start to leak again, you can rent it. You won’t be responsible for its functioning. If it gets broken – not your business. What an amazing world to live in. And it is possible; the world in which we are paying for the service and not the ownership is knocking on your door.

To solve this problem, we need new products to be designed differently. If you will be renting your washing machine, instead of having your own, that machine has to be different than the one you are having now. It should be able to wash itself and get ready for another person who wants to use it. It is the same for all the other products you can think of, like a drill or vacuum cleaner. They should undergo some changes to be suitable for the new way of use. That brings us to the conclusion that product design is vital for the circular economy and circular cities

Are there any circular cities?

Many cities made a step toward circularity, but there is no place where everything has been changed, where the circular economy is entirely implemented. That is so because building a circular city is not something we can do overnight. It is a process that requires a lot of work and determination and, more importantly, a collaboration of all of us – institutions, businesses and universities, government, innovators, etc. We all need to work hard to transform our cities into places where we will be living a better life.

In Amsterdam, they are trying to implement a sharing economy. Many cities already have sharing systems for electric cars, bicycles, or other products. But in Amsterdam, they made a step further and expanded the sharing system on other aspects of life, including food and other consumer goods. In Shenzhen, they are switching to electric mobility.

Others, like Austin, are more focused on waste management. In Austin, they have built an online platform that tends to minimize waste by giving another chance to materials and products and avoiding them to finish in the landfill. In some other cities, there are platforms that have the intention to save food, and they give their users information about the huge discounts they could get if they buy food close to their expiration date.

What will circular cities give us?

There are so many little things that we all can do to change the cities in which we are living. Some of them were already applied in some cities, and others are still to be found. But we have what matters the most. We have a plan for where we want to go. We have completely circular cities as the goal we want to reach. 

Circular cities will make a lot of new job opportunities, especially for high-skilled workers; they will reduce material costs and decrease pollution in the cities. There is also something unexpected that circular cities could give us – stronger social relationships in the communities, something that seems we lack in this informatic society.

How would you like your city to look in the future? Do you have some ideas on how to make our cities circle? Let us know in the comment section below. We would like to hear your thoughts.

If you are interested in finding out more about circular cities, you will get a chance soon. We are organizing a webinar where circular cities will be one of the main topics. Stay tuned!

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