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