This article presents a vision for an urban food system in Washington DC in 2050 that serves as the centerpiece of a circular economy for the capital region of the United States. Food serves as the connecting link for an inclusive, adaptive, and resilient urban economy embedded in the region. This food economy values natural resources, cultural diversity, and commitment to nature-based innovations. The vision is the result of a three-pronged methodology of: (1) community engagement; (2) a thoughtful, process-focused transformation; and (3) the scaling up of existing urban food initiatives. We argue that small, hyperlocal, neighborhood-based initiatives can become crucial game changers and catalysts of change for entire neighborhoods, cities, and regions. Therefore, we propose a design-based approach to advance our 2050 vision of a circular food system. Our design-based approach consists of three building blocks: (A) systems thinking; (B) the ability to manage wins and tradeoffs; and (C) transitional leadership and cooperation. We explain these building blocks and the way in which they are incorporated in the 2050 vision of Washington DC. We further argue that the food economy is an ideal sector to embark on such a design-based approach due to its systemic nature, its critical position as an indispensable economic sector, and the complex connections it brings to multiple other sectors of the economy. An urban food system can therefore offer the ideal starting point for a transition towards a circular economy.
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