Measuring a cities' circularity - Is a Smart city a circular city?

With India’s well-known efforts to transform its cities to ‘Smart Cities’, it would be imperative to understand what makes a city ‘smart’ and how that links to circularity. This article summarises the definitions of ‘Smart City’ and ‘Circular City’ in various publications and discusses the various key indicators that cities must track in order to reflect their progress towards circularity.


Is a Smart city a circular city?


The United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SCC) identifies circularity as one component of a smart city, and therefore, one may broadly interpret a Smart City as an umbrella version of a circular city.

The Smart Cities Mission in India doesn’t define what is a ‘Smart City’, and acknowledges there is no clear definition of one that is universally applicable. Similarly, a clear definition of a ‘circular city’ does not exist to date. However, it would be important to understand the points of convergence and divergence in these two endeavours. The Smart Cities Mission identifies some features of a Smart City such as mixed land-use, reduced resource depletion and pollution and digitization to improve overall well-being and reduce the vulnerability of residents. These are echoed in indicators to measure a city’s circularity.

The Guide to Circular Cities identifies the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of a Smart City as one of the most effective tools to measure circularity. U4SCC identifies 4 components of a circular city:


Assets and products encompass various city infrastructures, city resources, city goods and services available for use/consumption in the city.

Circular action items set of outcome-orientated actions that can be applied to city assets and products that include sharing, recycling, refurbishing, reusing, replacing, and digitizing.

Circular city outputs are those outputs of circular action items applied to city assets and products.

Circular city enablers are various supplementary and complementary items, which catalyze and support circular city approaches implementations


Each city is unique and therefore, the Guide suggests listing assets (such as public spaces) and economic products first to map its resources first. Moreover, different spaces are used at different times, and therefore, having a time-mapped use of spaces is also useful to enhance a city’s circularity by using its space more efficiently. City’s resources also include natural resources, human-related and owned resources, private sector assets, and waste in a city.


Circular action items such as sharing, recycling, refurbishing, reusing, replacing, and digitizing can be mapped and allocated to the assets and products in the form of circular outputs.

Girard and Nocca (2019) say that in the most general terms “a circular economy is mainly referred to as waste cycle management”. However, in a more virtuous model, ‘waste’ would not exist as everything becomes a resource. Based on this premise, Some indicators of a circular city deduced by Girard and Nocca are broadly categorised into environmental, economic and financial and social and cultural.


Environmental indicators, some key ones include annual greenhouse gas emissions, recycling rate of municipal waste, water and energy saved due to use of recycled goods in industrial production, percentage of recycled and reused inputs in production processes, public transport utilization, percentage of green roofs and buildings designed for complete disassembly.

Economic and financial indicators: Spending on waste management, disposable income of households, circular economy budget, annual cost saving from recovery form wastewater, attractiveness in terms of tourists, sale of locally produced goods.

Social and cultural indicators: Number of new green jobs, new business opportunities, alleviation of food poverty


Girard and Nocca (2019) assert that the “matrix of indicators is very rich, but some emerging indicators risk not being significant if they are not contextualized in the specific city and in relation to the circular city model”.

The indicators represent two groups: One group that measures the intensity of circular processes (rate of recycling and reuse) and second that measures the impact of these processes at a city level (cost saved or income enhanced). However, another necessary classification is necessary to measure progress in the short term and transition process to the achievement of circularity strategy (Girard and Nocca 2019).


Moreover, actors involved will largely be different based on the scale of change and the indicators must also reflect if the indicator is for a micro, meso or macro level of change. Micro may refer to change at an individual, household or a company level. Meso refers to the company network, neighbourhood and city level. Macro refers to regional, national and international level.

Given the above discussion, the Smart Cities Mission is already in the right direction as it has developed a Liveability Standards In Cities document that includes four pillars: institutional, social, economic and physical with a list of indicators mapped to the Sustainable Development Goals. Majority of the indicators focus on the physical aspect of change relating to urban development, waste management, land use, power supply, transportation and mobility. However, the indicators are limited to outcome or impact and do not track steps in the transition process required to show progress. More indicators to reflect changes in processes, institutions, policies would be beneficial to encourage and recognize these important steps towards a long term transition to a circular city.

References:

Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management (2019), Guide to Circular Cities. Geneva.

Girard, L.F & Nocca, F. (2019). ‘Moving Towards the Circular Economy/City Model: Which Tools for Operationalizing This Model?’

Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India (2017). Liveability Standards in Cities.

About the Author

Rivika (LinkedIn) is a Masters student of Development Studies at the University of Melbourne with experience and interest in monitoring and evaluation, gender empowerment, livelihoods, cultural differences and coffee.



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