The circular economy (CE), and its focus on the cycling and regeneration of resources, necessitates both a reconfiguration of existing infrastructures and the creation of new infrastructures to facilitate these flows. In urban settings, CE is being realized at multiple levels, from within individual organizations to across peri-urban landscapes. While most attention in CE research and practice focuses on organizations, the scale and impact of many such efforts are limited because they fail to account for the diversity of resources, needs, and power structures across cities, consequently missing opportunities for adopting a more effective and inclusive CE. Reconfiguring hard infrastructures is necessary for material resource cycling, but intervening in soft infrastructures is also needed to enable more inclusive decision-making processes to activate these flows. Utilizing participatory action research methods at the intersection of industrial ecology and design, we developed a new framework and a model for considering and allocating the variety of resources that organizations utilize when creating value for themselves, society, and the planet. We use design prototyping methods to synthesize distributed knowledge and co-create hard and soft infrastructures in a multi-level case study focused on urban food producers and farmers markets from the City of Chicago. We discuss generalized lessons for “infrastructuring” the circular economy to bridge niche-level successes with larger system-level changes in cities.
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