In a sense, building a circular city, that is, using resources more effectively to empower the entire provider-producer loop, and thereby, the whole system itself, is the foundation of any smart city. Thinking in terms of nature, a sustainable city might be designed that feeds and recycles itself. The city behaves like a living creature, fulfilling its basic needs. It requires raw materials which it transforms for a specific use and then produces waste as part of the process.
Interacting flows of resources make the daily pulse of the city: equipment, materials, water, energy, heat, organic matter, and as many operating systems, and then there are the non-material resources, like people, skills, transportation, education, health, etc. A circular economy strives to balance the material and energy exchanges between nature and society and within society itself, working towards effectiveness and resilience.
Peterborough (UK), Winner of the Smart City Expo World Congress World’s Smart City Award 2015, declared at the congress that they want to be UK’s first circular city. For them, to be circular means efficient management of these cyclical resource flows. It is their desire to create the UK’s Environment Capital. This vision is inherently collaborative and requires a bottom-up approach by each of the city’s stakeholder groups. It is also essential to sustain the project in the longer term through a collective effort to shape the enabling environment and transition it towards a new circular model. This requires engagement by key local stakeholders, support of national experts on circular economy and the development of a collective roadmap.
“This is an exciting evolution in our Smart Cities Programme. Our vision to become the UK’s First Circular City will put Peterborough right at the front of smart city thinking, reinforcing our aspiration to make Peterborough a fantastic place to live and work.” The project is very ambitious. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It will take time, and you must get started somewhere. “We are going to apply the Circular Economy concept at the city scale whilst creating the business conditions and collaborations to make this transition happen,” said Steve Bowyer, Chief Executive of Opportunity Peterborough.
Right now, a city-managed website called Brainwave Innovation, is working as an online tool where citizens, startups and academia discuss city challenges and propose solutions. Systems thinking is used for coming up with solutions. One idea found a way to revalue hessian coffee bags that the local Masteroast Coffee Company was discarding and that were ending up in a landfill. Masteroast asked the city for ideas and two entrepreneurs stepped in. “They built their company around the bags and trained local women to sew tablecloths and bags for life from the hessian. The fabric was also used to reduce river erosion and mud accumulation on roads, among other things,” Cecile Faraud commented, and went on to say, “We diverted one stream of waste to one stream of resource.”
Circular cities are hard to think about right now, but with experience, cities will learn to foster these systems, creating new unexpected business opportunities. A city that controls all its resources is more resilient as well. Living labs focusing on circular economy are creating the foundations for sustainable and resilient smart cities.
Peterborough on a hot summer day – Photo by Gwydion M Williams / Flickr