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Designing Circular Cities:
What Challenges do our Cities face?

27. Sep 2022

Over the next two years, six Danish municipalities unleash their circular potential. The cities of Odsherred and Fredensborg have different challenges but the same goal of designing new solutions for reusing and recycling local resources, like construction waste. However, getting there requires breaking down local systemic barriers

Long reads

About Circular Cities

Circular Cities is a two-year innovation project involving six circular municipalities in Denmark, namely Aalborg, Fredensborg, Fredericia, Kolding, Copenhagen, and Odsherred. The project explores and unlocks circular system prototypes from construction to building materials and water management.

The project is driven by DDC and CLEAN and supported by Realdania

Using our Circular Toolkit, you can start your circular transition too.

Change doesn’t always come without help from others — especially not when it comes to changing fundamental structures within a city. Over the last year, we’ve worked with several cities and businesses on the circular transition. We often see organizations struggle with a lack of skills and methods to develop solutions, limited dialogue across sectors, and, not the least, standards that are difficult to discard. 

But we also meet passionate people with the best intentions to create the necessary change. Because the potential for our planet is enormous if cities transition from a linear to a circular economy. Today, cities consume most of the world’s resources, as much as 75%. In addition, cities produce 50% of worldwide waste and emit 60-80% of the greenhouse gas emissions (source: Completing the Picture, Ellen MacArthur Foundation & Arup).

“To speed up the circular transition and unlock important economic, environmental, and social benefits, cities must try new things and pioneer new collaborations that reimagine how we produce, consume and manage resources. We hope the actions taken by this ambitious group of Danish municipalities will offer invaluable insight and a pathway for other cities around the world to follow,” says the Ellen MacArthur Foundation about the participating cities.

This project aims to determine how municipalities can work holistically and systematically on circular solutions. Changing these practices requires new partnerships, a completely different interaction with the ecosystem, and new work processes within communities. It also requires a new citizen engagement and participation approach – where citizens can easily share, rent, and reuse resources.

Let’s take a look at two of the cities’ circular challenges.

"To speed up the circular transition and unlock important economic, environmental, and social benefits, cities must try new things and pioneer new collaborations that reimagine how we produce, consume and manage resources. We hope the actions taken by this ambitious group of Danish municipalities will offer invaluable insight and a pathway for other cities around the world to follow"

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Amanda Honoré Højerup

Fredensborg: Rethink Local Resources

During the program, Fredensborg puts effort into developing the Future of Nivå City Center. A key objective of the urban renewal project is to bring social and resource heritage closer to the city center, which relies heavily on developing new circular solutions.

The municipality must devise new ideas to solve local challenges to push circularity. To do so, they need a bit of expertise. Thus, they have partnered with engineering consultants and landscape architects to help them design innovative, circular solutions using locally available resources – such as construction soil, tiles, water, cultural heritage, art, communities, and typical natural features.

"If we are to hold onto the resources and utilize them locally in our cities' solutions, we must be strategic with our project management and design. And to succeed with the green transition, we must take on this challenge"

Amanda Honoré Højerup

Project Manager, Fredensborg Municipality

Odsherred municipality

Odsherred: Safeguarding Urban Life

As the first national UNESCO Geopark, Odsherred offers a natural environment for recreation, making the population double during the summer months. Therefore, the municipality pays great attention to preserving and maintaining its natural habitat. However, the city has broadened its focus to securing urban life through circular solutions.

Within the two-year program, Odsherred will focus its circular initiatives in the towns of Vig and Asnæs. More specifically, with a focus on shopping streets and local train stations in the districts.

The municipality will rely on existing resources to revitalize the areas sustainably. This includes reusing elements from the urban environment and recycling construction materials. And just like the other participants, Odsherred municipality receives the necessary support from experts in the field, such as design consultants, architects, and engineers.

"Participating in Circular Cities, we rethink how we use local resources by reusing urban elements and recycling construction materials. With the cities Vig and Asnæs as municipal starting points, we aim to create a new standard for circular urban development throughout our cities"

Anne-Marie Steen Hansen

Architect, Odsherred Municipality

Apart from receiving external support, Odsherred strives to ensure that its urban renewal reflects the wishes and visions of its citizens by involving the local business community, cultural associations, and the local youth. In doing so, they hope to promote interdisciplinary collaboration between local communities and create a common ground for future circular initiatives in the municipality. 

You can also read about why the City of Copenhagen is part of the project here.

Why do the cities need help?

All six participating municipalities are highly motivated to drive circular change. However, there are some main roadblocks to implementing a circular economy holistically and systemically. We help the cities overcome four main barriers:

  • Insufficient development and dialogue across departmental areas and a systemic approach to the municipality’s work 
  • A limited amount of cross-municipal knowledge sharing and collaboration
  • Lack of political experience in understanding the importance of systemic change
  • The lack of tests, trials, and hands-on solutions. 

Designing the cities’ circular transition

So, how do we help the cities solve their challenges? Design is our key. 

In Circular Cities, we use design thinking to define the municipalities’ preferred futures. Through prototyping with a systemic perspective, we help them discover new ways to take circular action, ultimately allowing us to make the best and most sustainable decisions on behalf of the cities (and the planet). 

Design helps navigate uncertainty, enables prototyping, and mobilizes ecosystems. As a result of the design process, many different requirements can be brought together into finished holistic solutions that make sense within their contexts.

By using design methods as the foundation, we: 

  • Assist the municipalities in defining specific local objectives: We address each city separately because there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution
  • Connect and foster collaborations across industries, sectors, and different types of research
  • Facilitate co-creation through the involvement of companies, knowledge institutions, and citizens
  • Contribute to prototyping and testing, strengthening hands-on problem-solving skills.

The project is running, and the cities have their first co-creation workshop with companies offering circular solutions on October 12, 2022. The municipalities and the companies will co-create prototypes for the cities’ challenges. The municipalities will then test the prototypes in the following ten months. The hope is to find scalable solutions for the six participating cities and municipalities around the country.

Gry Brostrøm

Mission Driver

Phone +45 3115 8670
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Do you have questions about Circular Cities?

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