The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is transforming our cities. The Internet of Things (IoT) is connecting all manner of devices delivering networks capable of driving efficiencies, delivering improved services, enhancing security and allowing better management of resources.
However, whilst technology has the potential to make cities more pleasant places to live, they are also struggling against an unprecedented population boom that is straining infrastructure, resources and government services and worsening carbon footprints.
Cities around the world are forced to accommodate thousands of new people each year. Almost without exception, cities are attracting previously rural residents in search of better jobs, services and culture. As a result, it is estimated that cities currently consume 60% of the world’s energy and generate 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and global waste. This is leading to infrastructure that can no longer sustain its inhabitants, growing disparity between poor and rich communities within each city, and worsening carbon footprints. Consequently, we can no longer afford – environmentally, politically or economically – to ignore the effect our booming cities are having on the planet.
Therefore, in order to create smart cities capable of delivering the potential of the 4IR, they must challenge traditional ways of thinking, carefully balancing the needs of a growing population against tackling the impending climate crisis.
The concept of the circular economy provides the opportunity to rethink how we make and use the things we need and allows us to explore new ways of ensuring long-term prosperity in our urban environments. The implementation of a circular economy model can bring tremendous economic, social, and environmental benefits to the city. For instance, according to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation embracing smart city elements can enable a;
The report suggests that a city’s planning, design, making, accessing and maintaining need to implement a circular approach to every element to achieve the above benefits.
If organisations throughout our cities implemented a similar approach, billions of dollars could be saved and millions of lives, improved. Indeed, as the Ellen MacArthur foundation explains: “implemented alongside the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and climate objectives, the transition to a circular economy will support city leaders as they deliver against their priorities, which include housing, mobility, and economic development.”
City governments are uniquely positioned in the transition to a circular economy as they can enable, lead and involve key stakeholders from across the public and private sectors, using the wide range of policy levers and measures at their disposal.
Ultimately, the transformation of our economic model might be daunting, but the climate change statistics demand drastic action. Yet, the circular economy does not just offer a way to reduce our impact on the environment, through collaboration, it will enable cities that are at breaking point to gain a new lease of life, becoming a city that is liveable and resilient, and that use materials that are kinder to the environment and improve the population’s well-being.
Throughout modern history, urbanisation has been a major driver of development and poverty reduction. The emergence of the concept of the circular smart city allows us to redefine urbanisation, ensuring it becomes driving force for prosperity as well as a source of development that holds the power to change and improve lives.
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