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Nature-based solutions for a circular city

Cities are complex systems which undergo rapid transformation wherein the internal dynamics and interactions generate impacts on the pillars of our society, economy and environment. Cities are currently looping in itself with an operational procedure followed since the age of industrial revolution – the popular linear model which is based on the ‘take-make-dispose’ ideology.

The rapidly growing population in this VUCA (Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world has largely concentrated in cities with an exponential rise in the consumption of resources. The lack of systems thinking and regenerative mechanisms coupled with the loss of nature and biodiversity has put undue pressure on resources. This has led to several negative impacts including climate change, loss of happiness for citizens, economic disparities, newer diseases, to name a few

The concept of the circular economy is highly relevant in the urban growth and development as it offers the various stakeholders an opportunity to evaluate the present growth holistically so as to protect, balance and regenerate the embedded capitals- natural, social, human and produced capital.

Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) supported city growth

Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) are inspired and supported by nature and help provide environmental, social, cultural and economic benefits. These solutions highlight the importance of ecosystem services for physical and social resilience while addressing challenges like climate change, water and food security, human health, disaster mitigation as well as social and economic development.

NBS following the concept of circularity and biodiversity conservation as intermediate links can be seen as enablers to the transition from linear to Circular Cities. NBS extends various approaches involving biodiversity and ecosystem services aligned with goals of innovation for growth and job creation (European Commission 2015) and work towards sustainable growth and development. Adoption and implementation of NBS in Circular Cities involve policies and regulations, stakeholders’ engagement and awareness, and tools and methods assessing the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the solutions.

One of the major focus areas of NBS is resilient constructions with regenerative and restoration strategies. This tries to address the challenges of urban growth. Urban planners are increasingly searching for construction, infrastructure and building solutions connected to nature, while also leveraging on culture and identity. Key ideas of adaptable, resilient, frugal and circular buildings while minimizing the environmental impact is widely growing popular. Well-connected green and blue infrastructure, green and unsealed surfaces, natural water harvesting systems, constructed wetlands are planned in circular cities to bring more nature and natural features and processes into city growth.

One of the popular examples from traditional India for NBS is sacred groves. Sacred groves have existed from time immemorial as patches of dense flora with valuable gene pool. In the State of Kerala, South of India, also called Kavu, in the Malayalam language, these groves are rich abodes of biodiversity. They are often seen on the premises of Hindu ancestral homes (tharavaadu) in the villages. These were seen as efforts in olden times in villages to conserve biodiversity and water resources. These groves had perennial water supply and thus supported human habitation. They also served as places for worshipping nature.

These plantations in urban habitat can be the new holistic approach to city planning synthesizing the most ecological options in housing, forestry, agriculture, agroforestry, sanitation, rainwater harvesting, wastewater treatment/recycling and eco-energy generation/distribution. These groves have gradually vanished due to the disappearance of the joint family and the emergence of the nuclear family along with new unsustainable construction practices.

Sacred Grove in an Urban Habitable area Source:

The sacred grove idea in urban sphere especially in more densely populated areas, like cities, towns and suburbia can help in growing food and support modern growth of cities sustainably. This kind of urban patches of greening and gardening will help eliminate food waste, reduce general waste, eliminate food miles and most importantly create local biodiversity and ecosystem. Urban gardening is a fantastic way wherein we can help to move our food system closer towards sustainability and we’re doing this by using circular economy principles reducing carbon emission caused by the current mass agriculture system.


In an NBS - circular economy based city development, sustainable urbanisation must be based on eco-based building materials and resources. Sustainable water utilization is essential in the urban biosphere while managing available resources, and possibly adapt NBS for stormwater management and wastewater treatment. As discussed prior, "Urban Farming" is hoped to facilitate the main purpose of food production within a city, but additionally paying close attention to other resources available from urban farming, usually considered waste. In addition, Public awareness and social acceptance of the NBS for Circular Cities is important for its proliferation and success in the future. Implementation of NBS requires cooperation across various diverse departments of the administration or between various actors with different, and sometimes, competing objectives.

Thus, Sustainable circular cities focused on NBS would reframe itself as a closed-loop, where the production of goods is linked to resource recovery from waste streams, where energy is created locally aimed at a low carbon future, have resilient food systems and where the cities’ people, businesses, and governments have a healthier and more prosperous life.





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