Future Cities: driving the circular economic philosophy

The very first President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, August von Hoffman stated, “In an ideal chemical factory, there is strictly speaking, no waste but only product. The better a real factory makes use of its waste, the closer it gets to its ideal, the bigger is the profit” (Lancaster, 2002). This statement, made over 69 years ago, could now be considered as Circular Economic thinking.  The very nature of seeing waste as a resource allows further value to be created from otherwise discarded material. The average factory has come a long way since 1948 due to the rapid development and adaptation of technology, so too have our cities. If society has managed to achieve so much in this lifetime, what will the future for our cities look like?

The above micro-economic thinking is a reality which future cities need to embrace on a dramatically increasing scale.  As our society continues to fulfil an inherent desire for economic growth and wealth, it must be done within the confines of our planet’s eco-system. Cities today make up roughly 2% of the total land in the world, yet they contribute to 70% of global GDP, consume over 60% of our energy, generate 70% of our societies’ waste and claim responsibility for 70% of this plants greenhouse gas emissions.

I study, live and work in Stirling.  The most recent population projections for the city indicate a rise of 9,823 in the period from 2014 to 2039, representing a 10.7% increase. This is slightly higher than the population figure for Scotland as a whole, which is projected to increase by 6.6% to a little over 7.5 million. The number of households is projected to grow in the regions around Scotland’s biggest cities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow, where around three quarters of the population of Scotland live.

As we begin to realise dramatic urban population increases, cities of the future must be regenerative and remove linearity from their economic models. The city must be able to replenish the resources that it devours and co-ordinate vital commodities, such as water and energy, in order to fulfil the social standards which are demanded and expected of its residents. As a result, cities of the future will need to have systems in place that are able to cope with re-using the waste they produce. In 2016 Glasgow completed a City Scan, pioneering research of Glasgow’s economy which identified leading industries through which the city’s economy can become more ‘circular’ and defined implementation strategies and opportunities for the region’s business community to implement.

Thanks to the collaborative nature of Scotland’s 7 cities, through the work of the Scottish Cities Alliance, City Scans are now being rolled out across Scotland’s City Regions.

I recently finished my MSc thesis based on the interaction between the built environment and a circular economy. I highlighted that buildings of the future need to be ‘designed out’ in order to become sustainable. Commercial structures are made up of many modular parts.  As a consequence, each material used should be derived from a sustainable source. The modules should then be pieced together in a manner that is fit for their future remoulding or deconstruction. Subsequently, these parts should then be able to be recycled, reused or upcycled, in order to drive a maximum life cycle value from the virgin material. Where possible, existing buildings should be used in order to retain the existing trapped carbon and to minimise the impact of demolition, both on the environment from which they have been sourced and on the local built environment.

Currently, City Regions across the UK are being offered significant investment deals from national governments in order to create and drive economic growth in their respective areas. Stirling secured its City Region deal at the end of 2016. To realise the maximum economic potential of these deals, cites must drive this circular economic philosophy throughout their plans for regeneration of the urban and peri-urban built environment, weaving Smart City technology through each aspect of the development.

In addition, the city of the future must not only to meet the needs of a greater technologically savvy workforce, it must also be designed around the growing elderly population. The population of those aged 85+ in Scotland is expected to grow by 131% by 2039. This staggering increase will put significantly greater pressure on cities to deliver services which are tailored to this demographic.

Cities of the future need to consider these issues and many more, and they need to consider them now. To be part of the conversation come along to the Future Cities panel discussion on Tuesday at MIPIM UK – 15:15 – 16:00 Apex Room – From circular cities to smart cities to city clustering – what does the city of the future need?  How can regeneration and place making ensure that a city can drive dramatic economic growth and successfully accommodate constantly changing demographics?


Find out more about Scottish Cities Alliance at: https://www.scottishcities.org.uk/


About Author

Economic Development Project Officer for Stirling Council.

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