The research question, method and first results of the Urban Circular Economy project were described for Plandag 2o15, ‘Making Space’

The Urban Circular Economy project centralizes the design of the new relationship between customer and entrepreneur. Hence, the design team decided to investigate the development of an Urban Circular Economy from three products which contribute to fulfilling the daily needs of consumers: food, clothing and utensils. These products have a different run through time and therefore a different spatial impact (highly dynamic or rather static).

The project examines the Urban Circular Economy in two cities: Antwerp and Rotterdam. These metropolises are very similar on one hand: number of inhabitants, presence of a port, in full transformation due to high population growth and hotspots of creativity. On the other hand, their creative sectors are very different, the ownership structure is different and the policy on waste is organized differently. This offers the opportunity to examine, which aspects of a transition to an Urban Circular Economy are location specific and which are generic.


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This research particularly focuses on the spatial impacts in a city where it is mainstream to lease or share instead of buying but where waste is seen as raw materials as well.


Prelude (July to December 2o14)

First, the design team collected data through interviews with experts, urban circular entrepreneurs and a thorough workshop with early users. These data were used to work out the methodology.

Discussions with experts have led to the conclusion that scarcity of raw materials and resources will disrupt the current system and that it is important to build a circular economy within a network so that one is not dependent on one link to close the chain. Also, concluding agreements between companies is actually opposed to free market operation, which makes companies reluctant to participate. Finally it was indicated that current technology does not yet make it possible to close the circle completely, but we can try to get as close as possible.

The interviews with fourteen entrepreneurs gave insight into their company, the space they use and their relationship with their customers, both now and in the future when a user society will be mainstream. The design team learned about the background of their current and future planning decisions. Why is their business organized centrally or decentrally? What is the purpose of the present collective space? Do they desire visibility at the public space? How close to their suppliers of customers do they want to be located? How do they organize storage, transport, work and office space?

Finally, needs of the users were examined by organizing a workshop with early users. In this workshop we asked the users how they could validate the value of waste more efficiently, what the underlying motives are when they buy, lease or share a product and which products or services can enhance the development of a circular economy in their neighbourhood.

The data collected in this initial phase is the hardware from which the spatial indicators are distilled which are important for the development of the methodology.




Approach (January to December 2o15)

The design team is aware of the fact that an urban circular model, applicable in all cities, simply does not exist. Depending on the spatial and economic profile of the city, the ideal opportunities for the development of the city should be sought including both growth and decrease.

From the analysis of the data gathered, two distinct questions have emerged. Will the ownership or use of products become mainstream? And will the increase of sustainability of the economic system be driven by producers or by customers? When these questions are plotted in a coordinate system, four quadrants are created. In each of these quadrants, the customer has a different role: a passive or active role in the closing of the chain and the owner or user of the products. The role of products, suppliers or governments on the other hand, may be similar in some quadrants. If we expand the coordinate system with the companies from the interviews , three squares are filled. The fourth could not be filled because this quadrant focuses on business to business and therefore falls outside the scope of the research. The three filled in quadrants are developed further into three perspectives.

These three resulting perspectives are implemented through research by design into the urban fabric of Rotterdam and Antwerp. As a result, the opportunities for citizens, businesses and governments will be set clear, but also the spatial impact of the different scenarios. It provides a vision for both cities in which Urban Circular Economy is mainstream. Which space needs to be made in each scenario?

By comparing the development strategies for Antwerp and Rotterdam it will become clear which of these strategies are generic and which are specific to the unique economic and spatial situation of the city.