REFLOW Handbook
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Relational Infrastructuring

Essential 1 | Boost awareness through open movements of interest and practice

Citizens awareness on the circular economy is an essential step to make it spread and thrive in cities. Specific communication on social media, campaigns and events may be valuable approaches to increase awareness and knowledge across different city actors. Many frontrunner cities are also showing major investments in annual festivals, which help gather all actors that have a stake in the circular economy, review the state of the art, create information on existing initiatives and boost a local movement of community of interest and practice in the field. Many cities report the adoption of an ‘open movement’ approach that can account for experimental and 'learning by doing' dynamics.
Examples from the city models:
  • Prato Circular City has invested energy and resources in the organization of events dedicated to the circular economy. The first RECO Festival organized in 2019 - gathering a large and diversified audience at both local and national level - has proven successful in gathering experiences and facilitating the development and strengthening of new networks and collaborations.
  • The Green City Oslo and its Waste Management Strategy is focusing on incentives to increase the awareness of citizens. Besides annual events, Green Friday (an alternative to Black Friday) is an organised gathering by Oslo’s neighbourhood cafes and community centres. This event invites to learn about creative reuse and redesign. This initiative is supported by apps to share food, co-working spaces and repair workshops.

Essential 2 | Develop wide capacity building

New knowledge and capacities are critical elements for creating sound circular strategies and Plans. The circular economy defines a new field for the development of new expertise and professions, which demands a multidisciplinar approach. Collaborative engineering, systemic design, strategic design, environmental engineering and management are a few examples of key disciplines which will have to work integratedly with each other. The establishment of dedicated task-forces that incorporate a meaningful set of competencies may be a key factor, together with the development of specific training courses for city officials to increase awareness and knowledge across different city departments.
Examples from the city models:
  • Brussels Regional Programme for the Circular Economy has followed a dual approach to capacity-building, creating a specific task-force on the one hand, and simultaneously building competencies on circularity for existing roles and positions on the other hand. Moreover, Brussels is making use of facilitators who have the specific mandate to engage with different stakeholders, without being attached to one single administration. The capacity building section of the Brussels programme includes 16 measures and involves 9 training institutions.
  • Copenhagen and Oslo’s Climate Plans have dedicated particular attention and investment over citizens’ awareness-raising and capacity-building actions.

Essential 3 | Unleash the potential of citizens and social economy organizations as active contributors towards circular and regenerative cities

The role that individual citizens, grassroots organizations and social economy organizations can play in the transition to circular cities is still vaguely understood. Paradoxically, these same organizations have been key in pioneering circular practices well before the explosion of the circular economy debate at the international level. ‘Reuse' markets, neighboring services, new socially purposeful activities, jobs and places or new alliances between firms and social economy organizations are examples of how the circular economy can be meaningfully aligned with social inclusion and social impact. Moreover, urban regeneration may stand as a crucial field where to develop meaningful, citizen-led experiments of circular economy, creating new physical spaces which host new urban functions and experiences.
Examples from the city models:
  • Bologna Regulation for the Management and Care of Urban Commons is a pioneering initiative that catalyzes citizens’ strengths towards the social good. The City turned regulation - often perceived as the ‘boring thing’ - into a driver of bottom-up participation, providing all citizens with a clear framework of action. Thanks to the regulation, more than 400 projects have been active in the city over time, many of them contributing to advance the city towards practice of sharing, reuse and recycling.
  • Ghent has a long history of citizens' participation and engagement. Through the Refill project, it pioneered an interesting approach to urban regeneration, leveraging temporary uses as a menas for collective city-making. Moreover, although not implemented, the Commons Transition Plan, commissioned by the City, witnessed its own willingness to scale up the scope and scale of commons initiative in the City.

Essential 4 | Hosting and Convening

Well beyond regulatory and administration aspects, frontrunner local governments are also asuming facilitator and convener roles. Multi-stakeholder collaboration is increasingly recognized as a fundamental factor for unlocking the strengths and capacities otherwise diffused in society, and to make them converge around shared goals of sustainable urban development. Many local governments are adopting ‘community of practice’ approaches, organizing flexible governance arrangements that foster public-private-people alliances for experimentation, prototyping and collaborative learning. Engaging and connecting local talents and innovation champions is often key to create a vibrant urban movement that fosters commitment. Similarly, leveraging already existing communities such as those revolving around living labs, fablabs and makerspaces or other innovation hubs, may be also key to achieve and amplify the network's effect.
Examples from the city models:
  • Milan Sharing City initiative relies on three main topics: people, place and platform. The connection between the topics is based on the development and implementation of successful integration between physical, digital and human systems in the city to deliver sustainable forms of urban management and a more collaborative environment for communities and citizens. To achieve this synthesis, Milan City Council has encouraged the dialogue and exchange of ideas through communities of practice. Many living labs, maker spaces and fab labs in Milan are concrete examples of communities that collaborate using digital technologies to co-create knowledge and solutions for a wide range of urban needs.
  • Fab City Grand Paris (FCGP) and the City of Paris hosted the annual Fab City Summit in July 2018, an international gathering of the global community. Besides facilitating the co-creation of the hands-on and citizen centric activities, the Fab City Summit 2018 was conceived as the kick-off of the Fab City prototype areas in Paris, specifically the Fab City Campus. This event is the basis of a strategy for a series of long-term local initiatives in different urban areas that will shape Paris' future as a more locally productive city composed by several communities of practice within a circular economy strategy.