If cities could become regenerative and adaptive urban ecosystems, in which resource loops were closed and waste was obsolete, their ecological footprint would diminish. In addition, urban resource security would increase, the health of urban populations would improve and urban greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced. These are the principle goals under-pinning the circular city. Circular cities emerge through the process of circular development. Circular development alters cities’ systems of provision to enable circular practices of inhabitants to develop. This manifests as circular food systems and construction, water and nutrient recycling; adaptive reuse of spaces and pop-up activities; bioremediation of contaminated sites and integration of blue-green infrastructure throughout cities. To transform our cities will require significant investment, political support and public engagement. If the benefits of adopting such an approach can be identified, this will begin to make the case for support. The research presented in this paper draws on an inductive and deductive content analysis of relevant literature and interviews with those implementing circular projects in European cities (London, Paris, Amsterdam and Stockholm). It provides a clear definition of the normative concept of circular development. It creates a framework of benefits which are likely to accrue from adopting this approach. It points to the synergistic benefits emerging from circular development. It also highlights problems around valuation of those benefits, the unintended consequences of circular development and the inequalities in accessing benefits across society.
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