This expert session occurred during the New Europe City Makers Pre-Summit on the 4th and 5th of February at Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam. The Circular Economy will be further explored on Day Four of the City Makers Summit on the 30th of May at Pakhuis de Zwijger. Register for the Summit here!
The expert session on circular economy aimed to address the questions: what is the power of the circular economy in the process of City Making and what are the major issues and developments encountered in this endeavour?
Four City Makers who have developed initiatives in different European cities gave presentations about their work addressing these main questions. The session was moderated by Mark Slegers, who has actively pursued creating circular economic systems in his work as the Co-Founder of BlueCity010 and as an Urban Farmer at RotterZwam (Rotterdam).
A major theme that emerged throughout the presentations was about the importance of creating local systems. Jan Ryden of Fargfabriken (Stockholm) discussed the importance of creating small-scale, localised energy grids at the house or block level. Ryden emphasised that we need to change the way we plan, starting by setting some kind of environmental thresholds or planetary boundaries that a project cannot surpass, inverting traditional development plans which are first and foremost driven by budgetary constraints. Also working on a local level, Cynthia Mooij, project manager at Metabolic (Amsterdam), wants to fix the global metabolism, but has started at the local scale in order to showcase how a circular economy can function. Mooij has done this because she believes that “sustainability is often an abstract concept, but you just need to do something about it.”
Nora Inwinkl of Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale (Rome) has done something about sustainability by creating local food supply chains. Inwinkl avoids traditional market concepts and focuses on creating new, short supply chains that connect food producers directly with consumers. Inwinkl believes that it is important to develop consumer awareness and help people realize that you can choose whom you give your money to.
Through their initiative, Conceptenbouwers (Den Bosch) Kirsti Pol and Michael Bol focus on creating a localized economy. For them, the circular economy is an economic system that adds value and everything that happens within Conceptenbouwers from redeveloping the building to re-using waste to talent development reflects this vision.
The differences between the speakers and the project they engage in points to current, larger debates about what a circular economy actually is, what it should focus on and how it should be implemented. This lack of consensus about the circular economy shone through during the break-out sessions as well, where debates arose regarding the role of bottom up initiatives versus top down institutions and the involvement of the government. While there weren’t exact prescriptions on how to implement a circular economy and questions arose regarding how the City Makers actually make money, some common conclusions were drawn. First, there was consensus around the idea that the circular economy is not about building new products, but building new systems; it is smarter an alternative to the current linear economy. As well, current regulations don’t fit with circular economy community models, which suggests a need for a shift in regulations and potentially a shift towards decentralising decisions making powers.
The conversation about the circular economy will continue during the New Europe City Makers Summit happening at the end of May.