15 June 2022

The Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) joined the Festival of the New European Bauhaus (NEB) kick off on Thursday 9 June by hosting an informative side event where several cities shared their circular solutions. This event marks the beginning of a weekend of citizens and organisations discussing their future through an intersectional lens of art, culture, research, technology and community. The NEB is a European Commission initiative aimed at implementing the European Green Deal tangibly at the local level, with a focus on sustainability and inclusivity.

As the Intelligent Cities Challenge initiative contributes to the goals of the NEB with creative solutions that bring circularity to local communities across 136 cities, five ICC cities presented their initiatives at a session titled ‘Developing Circular and Sharing Economy Practices in Cities.’ Natalia Gkiaouri, Policy Officer, Proximity and Cities at the European Commission and Giacomo Magnani, Senior Consultant, City Economics and Planning at Arup introduced the session by outlining the connections between the New European Bauhaus movement and ICC initiative. Mr Magnani shared details of Arup’s work on circular and sharing cities which shows supports the development of the New European Bauhaus through many cross-cutting intersections such as prioritising places and people in need.

Léan Doody, Associate Director and Cities & Planning Leader for Europe at Arup led the moderated the discussion between representatives from Amsterdam Metropolitan Region (The Netherlands), Pescara (Italy), Sofia (Bulgaria), Leuven (Belgium) and Porto (Portugal) spoke about progress made, challenges faced, lessons learned and plans for the future.

Amsterdam Metropolitan Region’s self-made sustainable community solution

Sascha Glasl of Space&Matter shared about Schoonschip, a sustainable floating community on Amsterdam’s water completed last year. With 30 water plots and over 100 residents, the neighbourhood relies on a smart grid, hydro energy and shared electric vehicles. Led by founder Marjon de Blok, the group partnered with Space&Matter to turn their dream into a reality with an urban plan and a team of multidisciplinary experts. After a decade of work, the proprietors of Schoonschip learned that the incentives for a self-made sustainable community are higher than neighbourhoods built by third-party developers. To maximise the potential of scaling up these innovations, Space&Matter and Schoonschip residents have launched CrowdBuilding.nl to make knowledge and resources available, with the hope of connecting funding to the site in the future.

Energy efficient cultural experiences in Pescara

Luca Saraceni, a representative from the Municipality of Pescara, spoke about the city’s 4 Theatres programme designed to promote socialisation and art through an eco-friendly and immersive theatre experience. Four theatres will be equipped with energy efficient insulation and photovoltaic panels, heat pumps, LED lighting and projectors and temperature and air quality control sensors. Thanks to the resource sharing benefits of participation in the ICC, Pescara was able to connect with energy experts, construction professionals, sound and lighting engineers, an IT team and more actors to contribute to this project. Pescara hopes to expand these efforts to all municipal buildings in the future.

Sofia’s first smart kindergarten

Metodiyka Tarlyovska of the Sofia Municipality updated the panel on the Green Kindergarten Pilot. As the city’s first smart kindergarten, the school has increased energy efficiency and improved air quality via photovoltaic installation and intelligent consumption monitoring systems. These resources have allowed the kindergarten to self-produce 30% of their energy, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 12 tonnes per year and detect and react to inefficient appliances. The Green Kindergarten Pilot has proven that testing urban changes and making data driven decisions are effective and manageable ways to work toward circularity.

Reducing electric waste in Leuven

Lieve Van Espen from the City of Leuven gave an update on the Sharepair programme created to reduce waste from electric and electronic equipment (EEE). With professional outlets phasing out their repair services, the city wanted to empower citizens to fill the gap. By providing resources such as 3D printing, repair tools and educational materials, Sharepair has been able to scale up repair opportunities like DIY business models and repair cafes. Throughout the process, participants learned that converting interest to volunteer commitment is a challenge, requiring them to find creative ways to add value for stakeholders. In the future, Leuven plans to share their tools with other cities across Europe.

Integrating circularity into Porto’s food value chain

Manuel Semedo of the City of Porto explained his community’s efforts to recycle and circulate organic waste. By providing free access to land, expanding selective collection of food waste, building a door-to-door contact list, and scaling up a community compost pilot programme, Porto has been able to integrate circularity into their food value chain. Over the last twenty years, the city has avoided 32.7 tonnes of food waste, planted 13 gardens and recruited 2,200 home composters to contribute to a total of 300 tonnes of waste composted. Transforming citizen habits has proven difficult, but -Porto found success through dedicated awareness-building efforts and prioritising the programmes’ proximity to citizens and companies.

Closing Thoughts

Dana Eleftheriadou, Head of Cities and Proximity Team at the European Commission finished the session by reflecting on some key takeaways from the speakers. It was noted that athough each city has a unique approach, all five communities have found creative ways to weave circularity into their daily lives. Representatives agreed that partnerships and resource sharing they have had access to through the ICC have been integral to their progress. No matter the status of the project, each city mentioned that recruiting a diverse group of professionals and volunteers is the best way to overcome knowledge gaps and develop holistic solutions.

Events like the Festival of the NEB allow city representatives to come together and be reminded of the importance of collaboration in creating scalable and sustainable solutions. The ICC invites the ICC community to take inspiration from these solutions and consider how they could be relevant to their own city.  Circularity and green economy solutions will also be covered at the upcoming 5th ICC City Lab.