#EURegionsWeek UNIVERSITY: Circular Economy Transitions in European Regions and Cities

Tue 8, October 2019
16:30 - 19:00

Circular Economy (CE) is the new sustainability paradigm and has become an increasingly prominent item on the agenda of strategies and policies of European cities and regions. However, the approaches to CE, the capacity to embrace it, and the advancement on the transition towards it, vary greatly across Europe. Against this background, the session delivers (1) a state-of-the-art on circular regions and cities; (2) an overview of the state of play and of eco-innovative territorial circularity solutions in selected leading regions; as well as (3) an opportunity to engage in a discussion on the ways in which EU Cohesion Policy could be leveraged to promote regional and urban CE strategies.

Circular Economy (CE) creates a so far underused potential for generating positive externalities not only for the environment and economic activity but also for the quality of spatial development, citizen engagement in efforts to make cities and regions more sustainable and improvement of quality of life. However, there is a variety of approaches to CE policies and many governance, economic, legal, political, socio-spatial and behavioural barriers for CE transitions. Thus, there is a need for more knowledge on the ways to effectively engage cities and regions on the transition towards CE and evidence on what kinds of interventions deliver results and how to best promote them in a variety of institutional and territorial settings. Given the complexity of CE, there is also a need for innovative tools and methods for supporting decision-making and (co-)producing relevant knowledge and data on material flows in different territories. Finally, while CE is firmly on the EU’s agenda, the potential of the EU Cohesion Policy to support regional and urban strategies for CE remains underused. This session will respond to the above gaps by bringing evidence from cutting-edge research on CE (e.g. H2020 REPAiR) and animating a debate on this topic, with active engagement of the audience and demonstration of innovative online decision-support tools for CE using touch-tables.

Chair: Dr Marcin Dąbrowski (TU Delft, Netherlands)


  1. Dr Joanna Williams (UCL, United Kingdom): State-of-the-art in circularity transitions;
  2. Dr Libera Amenta (UNINA, Italy) and Ms Małgorzata Grodzicka-Kowalczyk (Pheno Horizon, Poland) – State of play: innovative (spatial) strategies for circular economy;
  3. Mr Andreas Obersteg (HafenCity University, Germany) - Governance of circular economy transitions in European regions;
  4. Ms Rusne Sileryte and Mr Alexander Wandl (TU Delft, Netherlands) – Geodesign Decision-Support Environment (GDSE) for territorial circular economy strategies.
Marcin Dąbrowski, Assistant Professor, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands.
Libera Amenta, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology and University of Naples Federico II, Netherlands.
Marcin Dąbrowski, Assistant Professor, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands.
Malgorzata Grodzicka - Kowalczyk, Główny Projektant, PHENO HORIZON (OLP Sp. z o.o), Poland.
Andreas Obersteg, Urban Planning and Regional Development, HafenCity University Hamburg, Germany.
Rusne Sileryte, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands.
Alexander Wandl, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands.
Joanna Williams, Associate Professor & Director of Circular Cities Hub, University College London, United Kingdom.
A greener Europe
Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP), European Regional Science Association (ERSA), Regional Studies Association European Foundation
english (en)
SQUARE - Brussels Convention Centre - 201 A+201 B.
Address: Mont des Arts, 1000 Brussels

Session summary

The session facilitated a discussion on the wider concept of circularity involving material and territorial dissipation. At first sight the discussion contradicted the widespread opinion of a circular economy (CE) which claims that CE should be a purely local economy. In this session, acknowledgement of the need for a relational understanding of space, on a larger scale (e.g. regional scale) was stressed, including diverse places and actors, which asks for less territoriality. This discussion was complemented by the awareness that a circular economy requires different physical spatial conditions than a linear economy, which is very place-specific and territorial. Moreover, in this session the need for circularity was framed in reference to the recycling of material waste and, at the same time, the regeneration of degraded (socially, spatially, economically)  territories, namely Wastescapes.

With urban regeneration projects as well as the regeneration of Wastescapes, two examples where this complexity is very apparent were discussed in detail and illustrated with rich examples across Europe. Brownfields and abandoned industrial areas are often a result of global economic changes in our linear economy, with severe impacts on local communities and places. In the examples presented those places became breeding grounds for circular economy initiatives, partly because of their flexible and adaptive spatial structures but also because of participatory co-creational processes. The latter were sometimes facilitated and supported by spatial planning, and sometimes emerged self-organised or even in loopholes of spatial planning.

The majority of this session's participants confirmed in a poll that policies that promote a transition towards circularity are in place, but only a few stated that CE is integrated into territorial strategies. This spurred the discussion on who is actually in charge of the CE transition, who should lead it?

The presented research, based on six regions across Europe, that while ambitious initiatives for CE do exist in urban regions, the connection between these local and regional initiatives to policies on higher political and administrative levels is lacking. In some areas many entrepreneurial and civic society initiatives exist, but they require coordination and support by the public sector. In other regions still, only a few activities from the economic sector and citizens can be observed and the public sector is mostly absent in promoting CE.

Strategies and activities often remain local, not using the opportunity to promote circularity on a larger regional scale. A first step to visualise the regional dimension of the CE and how to organise and facilitate a living lab to harvest this regional potential was discussed in the last part of the session. A Geodesign Decision Support Tool, developed by the H2020 Project REPAiR (Resource management in peri-urban Areas), which combines decision models with flow mapping capabilities, sustainability assessment and co-creative strategy-making was presented. Eventually the tool was enthusiastically tested by the audience  The tool was acclaimed for the way it spatially represents vast amount of flow data and how it allows facilitation of a co-creation process; but doubts were raised about whether the data availability and institutional fitness are widespread enough for its use.

Take away message

The transition towards a CE has to be understood as both relational and territorial; as both in motion and simultaneously embedded in place. 

Circular transitions require three circular actions: looping, adaptation and regeneration.

Policies that promote a transition towards circularity are in place, but only a few are integrated into territorial strategies.

Plan for infrastructure to support resource looping and ecological regeneration.

Wastescape and meanwhile space provide possibilities to test development trajectories and thus help to facilitate the circular transition.


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  • Posted by: Marta Mereu
    On: 07/11/2019 - 13:14pm

    PPT presentation

    I am interested in receiving the PPT presentations of this session. Would it be possible ? Thank you for your attention Marta Mereu
    • Posted by: Klara Sobekova
      On: 08/11/2019 - 11:04am


      Dear Marta, please get in touch with me per email: office@rsaeurope.org With best wishes, Klara