The circular economy is rapidly dominating policy conversations as well as business strategy plans, and deservedly so – the demand for raw materials is predicted to double by 2050.
The linear economic model which the world had been running on until circular economy became mainstream, simply entailed raw materials being mined to manufacture components that are subsequently used and ultimately end as waste at the end of their lifecycle.
On the other hand, the circular economy rules out waste and pollution, keeps products and materials in use for as long as possible, and regenerates natural systems.
However, the circular economy goes beyond the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It is much more complex and presents multiple ramifications that involve paradigm shifts in how urban environments are designed since cities are resource consumption centers and significant producers of greenhouse gas emissions.
While circular economy is often discussed in relation to the architectural object through the lens of material recycling, design for disassembly, and material passports, the framework is most fully enacted at the neighborhood and city scale.
It is essential to analyze the urban structure as a whole since they are central to developing circular economy models and urban-scale projects exemplify the guiding principles of the circular economy, providing a glimpse into what a full-grown version of it might look like.
Circular economy strategies can be used in urban environments – from architecture and construction materials to energy production, waste management, and food production, as well as the processes and operations that govern these designs.
These can be enabling smart grid of solar panels, product-as-service model, co-working and co-living spaces, regenerative agricultural system, decentralized and sustainable energy, water and waste systems, retrieving energy and nutrients from wastewater, converting inorganic materials into new products or other resources, enabling a co-creation process involving citizens and end-users (one of the key steps in developing a circular economy) and a strong focus on self-sufficiency in terms of energy and food production, as well as an increased preoccupation with community involvement..
Cities need to accelerate efforts to fight climate change and set the groundwork for a circular economy, further enabling various climate mitigation opportunities.
Governments also need to understand that developing circular economy strategies requires creating a holistic understanding of how a city manages its resources what are its waste patterns and engaging private stakeholders in becoming partners in a new local economic framework.
This also entails analyzing local material flows and carbon emissions in relation to the local economy to identify the key industries where circular economy practices could be introduced.
From the above points, one can see that architects, urban designers and governments can take the initiative of executing the circular framework at the scale of urban development through interventions contribute to forging the circular economy vision and advancing knowledge in the area.