Working on a shared definition of what the circular economy is and how it might look like is fundamental to boost common understanding and coherence in goals and actions. Cities are uniquely positioned to ‘test’ official definitions in their everyday operations, and to eventually enrich them according to their strengths and opportunities. Cities that have developed frontrunner circular economy plans have often gone through structured participatory processes, which have involved a wide array of non-governmental actors in the definition and design of the plans themselves, and hence in a shared construction of meaning and understanding. Moreover, the definition of an engaging narrative that is accessible and attractive for different stakeholders also appears as a crucial factor. In this respect, cities should develop narratives that go beyond the understanding of the circular economy purely in terms of waste management and environmental management perspective. New market potentials, new enterprises and new jobs are opportunities also brought by circular economies. They should be stated clearly through partnerships with local incubators, co-working, makerspaces and innovation labs that could help reach young people and startups. Moreover, circular economy can as well be a booster for new, more sustainable lifestyles, thus offering the opportunity to develop specific services such as swapping corners in neighborhoods, repair cafés, peer to peer initiatives for food waste reduction, among others.
Examples from the city models:
- Warsaw 2030 has largely made use of a combination of round tables, workshops, seminars, online surveys and multi-disciplinary advisory groups, in order to combine both expert contribution and citizens’ inputs. These activities have been implemented over two years, showing the importance to give enough time to wide mobilization and engagement.
- Prato Circular City has been developed via leveraging a number of thematic living labs (in turn managed through public-private partnerships) where each living lab has operated as a sub-community, exploring the specific challenges and opportunities related to the specific topic of reference (ex. Regulation, etc.), and convening multiple actors.
- Copenhagen 2025 Climate Plan has put strong attention on the creation of engaging narratives, attempting to target in particular young people and using languages and meanings that focus on sustainable and green lifestyles as ‘cool’ ones. This has also contributed to create micro economies of services and spaces in the City dedicated to this topic.
The achievement of circular cities cannot happen without specific plans and strategies that account for its complexity and the need to articulate over long terms. Yet, isolated circular strategies may not be able to encompass the scale and scope of the circular challenge at the city level. Successful circular strategies are often articulated, blent and combined in long-term city visions with concepts such as sharing, resilient, creative or green cities.
This also reflects the need to drive city departments towards common objectives and hence increased integration, as a means to make the most of pooling of financial resources and thematic expertise. Indeed, this point also recalls the major challenge of organizational redesign and innovation that local governments face in order to become more flexible and adaptable.
Examples from the city models:
- Milan Sharing City is a fundamental pillar of the broader Smart City strategy. The approach used by the Municipality – which is typical of its general policy making approach – is a ‘soft’ one, where a set of loose guidelines are provided in order to mobilize and activate the entire social and economic fabric of the city, going beyond a sectoral perspective. Moreover, the City is making a strong effort in mapping local initiatives and projects on a constant basis, and to facilitate networking and connection via provisioning of open databases and catalogues that foster information and awareness.
- As a joint effort of three Brussels’ Ministers, Brussels Regional Programme for the Circular Economy is a concrete example that drives the circular economy well beyond the sole waste management and environmental domain, setting goals that span across business-related and capacity-building areas. In the attempt to go beyond in silos development, the Programme builds on a sound public-private governance framework, which makes use of multidisciplinary groups that involve actors from different sectors and domains.
The deployment of the circular city is often approached via a hierarchy of intervention scales from the neighborhood to the metropolitan area. However, a viable circular economy can emerge only when these scales are nested.
In Brussels, the first evaluation of the regional circular economy programme highlighted the need to territorialise the strategy through a Hotspot approach. Territorialising circular economy from emblematic places can play the role of catalyst to scale up the territorial deployment of the circular economy. A circular economy hotspot can then be defined as a relatively small perimeter (a wasteland or large plot, a neighborhood) that plays the role of strategic node in the spatial organization of current or future physical flows of the larger urban system. The hotspot approach provides several advantages: It makes it possible to territorialize the deployment of the circular economy, but without confining it to a restricted area; furthermore, the reflection on the trajectory of the hotspot can then integrate larger scales by addressing issues of market opportunities, the scale of markets, the extent of the loops for identified flows, the presence of regional actors for the operationalisation of solutions. The hotspot approach is a way of anchoring the deployment within a concrete perimeter while leaving the possibility that its activation will expand to wider or extra-regional territories. The hotspot approach also makes it possible to measure circular economy in a more anchored and less abstract way than a theoretical reflection for the whole city. The concrete case of a hotspot can facilitate the emergence of relevant indicators and the formulation of quantified objectives. The territorialisation of the circular economy from a hotspot perspective inevitably mobilises other actors who are not yet directly affected by the transition to the circular economy in municipalities, neighborhoods and regional administrations. By working with them on the deployment of a concrete hotspot, this measure is then a way to "colonize" other areas of public action, including that of urban projects.
Defining specific, although flexible, roadmaps is of fundamental importance in order to coordinate all actors that have a stake in the circular economy. It is also key to facilitate pooling of both material and immaterial assets (i.e. knowledge and financial resources, in the first instance). Effective strategies and plans for sustainable urban development are often structured across measurable objectives, and endowed with evaluation frameworks that build on a specific set of pre-identified indicators. Nonetheless, keeping plans and roadmaps open to ongoing revision and adaptation also emerges as a ‘must’, in order to foster 'learning by doing' dynamics.
Examples from the city models:
- Warsaw 2030 Strategy has been built based on a number of both strategic and operational objectives that encompass the vision of the City by 2030. In turn, these objectives are implemented across a number of programmes that work in synchrony, and that follow cross-cutting, yet general, indicators. Periodically, the Strategy is subjected to collective evaluation, in order to adjust and improve it based on evidence.
- Copenhagen and Oslo’s Climate Plans are both based on clear targets associated to different strands of activities. Nonetheless, the implementation of the Plans is subjected to constant monitoring and evaluation, with collective moments of discussion and exchange that are used to eventually adjust annual milestones and targets.
- Bologna has been adopting a strong ‘discovery’ approach in the implementation of the Pacts of Collaboration. This has allowed the City to remain alert to new opportunities, relying on a flexible governance structure that has made strong use of neighboring assemblies and participatory budget.