Rethinking the City using Circular Economies by PolisPlan
Rather than increasing production output, reduce energy input to increase efficiency and align with the energy of nature & natural cycles
"Behaviour is shaped to a large extent by the dominant values, social norms, and attitudes of our society". In economics, the dominant values are that prosperity is achieved through economic growth and increased productivity. Yet these two values can take us in opposite directions.
Economic growth is growth in the value of production, while productivity relates to the efficiency of production. Economic growth is measured by subtracting the value of inputs from outputs; productivity is outputs divided by inputs. Productivity can be increased either by increasing outputs per unit of inputs OR by reducing the inputs needed to achieve the desired outputs.
Energy is a production input. Let's start asking how can we minimise the energy needed to produce the things we need? If we strive to minimise energy use, particularly the use of fossil fuels, climate impacts will be reduced while increasing productivity. For water, food and energy we can determine an amount required per person and then plan a community to cater for a certain population. Rather than growing or sprawling the city, create discrete units and develop a global network of interconnected local communities.
The most efficient economies are those that are aligned with the energy of the natural environment. The natural environment operates in cycles, driven by the energy of the sun—such as the water cycle and the food cycle—and so can be designed to produce the basic necessities of water, food and energy.
Communities can create urban environments by focusing not on growth in outputs but instead on minimising their costs and the total work needed to achieve the desired outcomes.
Thinking of the city, town or village as a discrete thermodynamic system, the aim should be to minimise energy losses, so seek local solutions. Enhance the natural environment so that it can support the community in that location... and then replicate according to the local conditions of each community.
What actions do you propose?
Many of the actions are already happening, we just need to create a mindset in which they can flourish. Minimising energy inputs and circular economies provide that mindset.
Use permaculture principles for food production so that food 'waste' becomes food input for other species. Connect these into cycles of food. Think of cities as water catchments and manage the entire local water cycle to ensure a continuous supply of water so. Adopt existing 'Water sensitive Cities' and water sensitive urban design approaches.
Passive architectural design minimises energy demand, while for energy supply ' Community Renewable Energy' (including solar, wind and biomass) not only minimises transmission losses because it is local but also utilises readily available renewable resources.
CoHousing reduces the cost of housing and of living by creating shared spaces and enabling the sharing of other household assets.
For more complex needs and rarer skills, use the 'Sharing Economy', Crowd Funding, Crowd Sourcing' of skills and services and 'Open Source' access to information. In the future '3D Printing' supported by open source blueprints will enable most products to be built locally. This will fundamentally alter the dynamics of cities and economies. Rather than using energy to transport fuel, resources and goods; the transmission of information and local 3D printing uses substantially less energy.
Time to shift from production to efficiency and start imagining and creating the future.
Who will take these actions?
This proposal has greatest effect when individuals take action. As each of us reduce the energy and work required to satisfy our needs, we create time and space for relaxation, socialising, creativity and personal development.
By shifting our focus from profitability to efficiency we each assist in reducing total energy consumption. By creating built environments that naturally provide all our most basic needs, communities become more resilient. By working together to manage water, food and energy we become more connected.
Individuals and communities can then use their creative spare time to develop better online platforms for the sharing economy, improve the capabilities of 3D printers or further enhance local water, energy and food systems. Also the spare time allows us to use it to help build other prosperous communities.
Where will these actions be taken?
These actions will be taken in every community by all individuals as we all seek to find how we can each contribute to making the world a better place.
How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?
By supporting and working in alignment with the natural cycles, we humans will satisfy our needs by enhancing rather than degrading the natural environment.
What are other key benefits?
I have already mentioned improved social connections and greater resilience through the focus on providing the basic needs of everyone in the community. Also more spare time and freedom from the endless pursuit of more profitable production. Opportunity for more creative pursuits.
As our systems begin to resonate with the natural environment their will be an increase not only in biodiversity but also in the diversity of human expressions.
What are the proposal’s costs?
There will be no costs as the change in mindset will mean that we do not look at everything from a purely financial perspective.
Costs occur only when you imagine the economic process as an equation with positive outputs and negative costs.
The circular economy by definition aims to reduce all inputs including energy and labour costs but rather than seeing a fall in labour as a loss of jobs, we view it instead as freedom from work. Reduction in demand for fossil fuels does not 'dampen economic growth' it enhances productivity or efficiency.
Benefits and costs accrue to someone. In a circular economy, a benefit for someone is a cost to someone else, so the aim is to build the connections to ensure that everyone enjoys the benefits of living in a prosperous community.
The ideas are already there, the circular economy, permaculture, water sensitive cities, online platforms of the sharing economy, the beginnings of 3D printing... We can start putting them together and transform our communities immediately.
Ideally universities could fund and create pilot projects that can become training centres to show what is possible.
"Build it and they will come"
Our website www.polisplan.com.au
My book 'Rethinking the City' describes the origins of our existing social systems, how they were created shortly after the introduction of coins primarily by Cyrus the Great of Persia, and why these are being fundamentally transformed by the internet.