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Urban Sustainability: Re-envisioning Cities to Lead the Way toward A Circular Economy

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Urban and Rural Development".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 August 2021) | Viewed by 48230

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Guest Editor
College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES), University of the District of Columbia, Washington, DC 20008, USA
Interests: community based development; urban sustainability; urban food systems; urban agriculture; PAR
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Urban communities play a critical role in achieving sustainability overall. They are where most of the world’s population lives, and they comprise high concentrations of services, consumption, and waste. To date urban communities rely heavily on surrounding peri-urban and rural areas to sustain their highly concentrated levels of consumption and waste. This displacement of resourcing and sink functions represents an unsustainable pattern of urbanization that accelerates the decline of global ecosystems services rather than supporting them through the compensatory contributions of peri-urban and rural areas.

Yet how can urban communities be more sustainable and reduce the burden they pose to their surrounding areas? One of the answers lies in re-envisioning cities as circular systems that serve as exemplars of a re-embedded circular economy where supply chains are designed with their local and regional context at the center; emissions and waste are reduced and remaining waste products serve as resources for connected product cycles; entire regions comprise networked and embedded economies; food is produced and processed at local and regional scale; and communities are strengthened through social networks and collaborative initiatives; and ecosystems and restorative social systems are strengthened. This kind of circular economy takes its cue from nature rather than from industrial throughput models. The task of re-envisioning urban communities as circular and embedded systems has gained particular urgency in light of the recent global health crisis that has highlighted the vulnerabilities of current dis-embedded models of urbanization.

This special issue explores opportunities and challenges urban communities face, as they seek to become sustainable systems embedded in their diverse and complex social and environmental contexts. We invite contributions that envision sustainable solutions for urban infrastructure, housing, food and water security, ecosystems services, quality of life, human livelihoods, governance, and policies that improve the sustainability and resilience of urban communities.

Prof. Dr. Sabine O'hara
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • urban sustainability
  • urban resilience
  • circular economy
  • re-embedding
  • environmental sustainability
  • economic sustainability
  • social sustainability

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Research

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19 pages, 1570 KiB  
Article
Water and the Circular Economy: Learning from Nature
by Thomas S. Kakovitch and Sabine O’Hara
Sustainability 2021, 13(22), 12597; https://doi.org/10.3390/su132212597 - 15 Nov 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1950
Abstract
This paper examines the hydrological cycle and its implications for the production capacity of two countries, China and the United States. While it takes a macro-level view, it illustrates the relevance of understanding the circularity of nature as exemplified by the hydrological cycle, [...] Read more.
This paper examines the hydrological cycle and its implications for the production capacity of two countries, China and the United States. While it takes a macro-level view, it illustrates the relevance of understanding the circularity of nature as exemplified by the hydrological cycle, for urban and regional circular economy considerations. Taking the circularity of nature as a starting point is a departure from common circular economy conceptions, which take an anthropocentric perspective rather than a nature based one. We calculate the amount of solar energy available for freshwater evaporation and the allocation of freshwater to its key uses in the domestic, industrial, and agricultural sectors. Our calculations indicate that the capacity to generate economic output can be accurately described by the embodied solar energy distribution that determines the availability of freshwater for allocation to different uses. This illustrates the need to take environmental/physical conditions more fully into account in economic development decisions at every level, from local to regional, national, and global. We begin our analysis with a review of circular economy concepts and argue that they reveal a limited understanding of the circularity of nature evident in energy and material cycles and their economic capacity implications. Achieving further expansions of economic capacity may increasingly depend on an improved understanding of nature’s circularity, especially when competing resource pressures and land-use constraint exacerbate economic capacity limits. Our findings suggest three particularly important lessons for decision makers: first, the efficiency increases needed to realize growing economic output will require circular economy models that consider the efficient processing capacity of nature rather than relying solely on technological solutions; second, the non-use of resources may be as valuable or more than their use; and third, price policies can be effective in steering resource use and non-use in the right direction. Full article
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23 pages, 3931 KiB  
Article
Significance and Vision of Nutrient Recovery for Sustainable City Food Systems in Germany by 2050
by Volkmar Keuter, Sebastian Deck, Heidi Giesenkamp, Denise Gonglach, Victor Takazi Katayama, Sica Liesegang, Finn Petersen, Sandra Schwindenhammer, Heidrun Steinmetz and Andreas Ulbrich
Sustainability 2021, 13(19), 10772; https://doi.org/10.3390/su131910772 - 28 Sep 2021
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 3644
Abstract
Within this paper, the authors explain their transdisciplinary vision of nutrient recovery for sustainable urban plant cultivation in Germany from different but complementary perspectives (SUSKULT vision). Nowadays, the demand for fresh, healthy, locally and sustainably produced food in German urban areas is constantly [...] Read more.
Within this paper, the authors explain their transdisciplinary vision of nutrient recovery for sustainable urban plant cultivation in Germany from different but complementary perspectives (SUSKULT vision). Nowadays, the demand for fresh, healthy, locally and sustainably produced food in German urban areas is constantly increasing. At the same time, current agricultural systems contribute significantly to exceeding the planetary boundaries. The disruption of the phosphorus and nitrogen cycles in particular stands out from the manifold effects of modern food production on the Earth system. One central issue that will have to be faced in the future is how increased yields in agriculture will be achieved with high-energy requirements in fertilizer production and pollution of water and soil by phosphorus and reactive nitrogen. City region food systems (CRFS) can be a solution to overcome these issues. Nevertheless, to ensure sustainable CRFS, innovative technologies and methods need to be developed, including nutrient and energy recovery and adapted horticultural cultivation methods that fit complex urban dynamics. Such new strategies need to be integrated in long-term social and political transformation processes to enhance acceptance of food produced by recyclates. The joint contribution of experts from the wastewater, horticultural, and political sciences, together with industrial and societal sector actors, is critical to reach these objectives. The overarching goal of SUSKULT’s vision is the establishment of the field of urban circular agricultural production as an innovative sector of the bio-based economy in Germany. Full article
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20 pages, 4807 KiB  
Article
Facilitating Multifunctional Green Infrastructure Planning in Washington, DC through a Tableau Interface
by John R. Taylor, Mamatha Hanumappa, Lara Miller, Brendan Shane and Matthew L. Richardson
Sustainability 2021, 13(15), 8390; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13158390 - 27 Jul 2021
Cited by 11 | Viewed by 3360
Abstract
Multifunctional urban green infrastructure (UGI) can regulate stormwater, mitigate heat islands, conserve biodiversity and biocultural diversity, and produce food, among other functions. Equitable governance of UGI requires new tools for sharing pertinent information. Our goal was to develop a public-access geographic information system [...] Read more.
Multifunctional urban green infrastructure (UGI) can regulate stormwater, mitigate heat islands, conserve biodiversity and biocultural diversity, and produce food, among other functions. Equitable governance of UGI requires new tools for sharing pertinent information. Our goal was to develop a public-access geographic information system (GIS) that can be used for comprehensive UGI planning in Washington, DC (the District) and to create an e-tool for UGI in the form of Tableau dashboards. The dashboards allow stakeholders to identify (1) existing UGI and (2) potential areas for new UGI including urban agriculture (UA). They also allow users to manipulate the data and identify priority locations for equitable UGI development by applying population vulnerability indices and other filters. We demonstrate use of the dashboards through scenarios focusing on UA in the District, which currently has 150 ha of existing UGI in the form of documented projects and an additional 2734 ha potentially suitable for UGI development. A total of 2575 ha is potentially suitable for UA, with 56% of that area in Wards 5, 7, and 8, which are largely food deserts and whose residents are primarily Black and experience the greatest inequities. Our work can serve as a model for similar digital tools in other locales using Tableau and other platforms. Full article
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18 pages, 4615 KiB  
Article
Food Connects Washington DC in 2050—A Vision for Urban Food Systems as the Centerpieces of a Circular Economy
by Marian Stuiver and Sabine O’Hara
Sustainability 2021, 13(14), 7821; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13147821 - 13 Jul 2021
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 3668
Abstract
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 [...] Read more.
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. Full article
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14 pages, 580 KiB  
Article
Farmers’ Market Usage, Fruit and Vegetable Consumption, Meals at Home and Health–Evidence from Washington, DC
by Xiaochu Hu, Lorraine W. Clarke and Kamran Zendehdel
Sustainability 2021, 13(13), 7437; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13137437 - 2 Jul 2021
Cited by 9 | Viewed by 3353
Abstract
Using a survey of 440 residents in Washington, DC metropolitan area conducted in 2018, we empirically examined the causal relationship between farmers’ market usage and indicators of health, such as fruit and vegetable consumption, meal preparation time, meals away from home, and body [...] Read more.
Using a survey of 440 residents in Washington, DC metropolitan area conducted in 2018, we empirically examined the causal relationship between farmers’ market usage and indicators of health, such as fruit and vegetable consumption, meal preparation time, meals away from home, and body mass index (BMI). On average, we found that a one percent increase in farmers’ market usage increases consumers’ fruit and vegetable consumption by 6.5 percent (p < 0.01) and daily time spent on meal preparing by 9.4 percent (p < 0.05). These impacts were enhanced by 2SLS models with instrumental variables which indicates causal effects. Farmers’ market usage is also associated with decreased amount of meals away from home (p < 0.05). We also found qualitative evidence that shopping at farmers’ markets improves access to and increases consumption of healthy food. However, we did not find that farmers’ market usage has statistical association with grocery shopper’s body mass index. Our study established causality that farmers’ market usage positively impacts consumers’ fruit and vegetable consumption and meals at home. It provided concrete evidence for interventions aiming to increase dietary consumption and promote healthy eating habits through farmers’ markets. Full article
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15 pages, 477 KiB  
Article
Economic Impact Analysis of Farmers’ Markets in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area: Evidence of a Circular Economy
by Kamran Zendehdel, Brian W. Sloboda and Eric Chad Horner
Sustainability 2021, 13(13), 7333; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13137333 - 30 Jun 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2620
Abstract
Consumer interest in farmers’ markets (FMs) has dramatically increased during the past decade. The number of FMs in the United States has grown from 1755 in 1994 to 8140 in 2019 (USDA, 2019). To evaluate the economic impacts (EIs) of FMs in the [...] Read more.
Consumer interest in farmers’ markets (FMs) has dramatically increased during the past decade. The number of FMs in the United States has grown from 1755 in 1994 to 8140 in 2019 (USDA, 2019). To evaluate the economic impacts (EIs) of FMs in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, we collected FMs’ consumer data and used IMPLAN-based social accounting matrices to evaluate the direct, indirect, and induced economic impacts of FMs. The empirical results from IMPLAN provide the direct gross sales, income figures, and an estimate of the number of jobs in the study region. The results show the average total output of USD 36,181,059, total employment of 663 people, total value-added creation of USD 19,019,226, and total labor income created of USD 8,653,350 in the region. The FM average income multiplier is 1.51, which indicates that a USD 1 increase in personal income (PI) for an FM translates into USD 1.51 in PI across the economy of the region. We also highlight the impact of FMs as an important component of the circular economy (CE). To this end, we present a qualitative approach examining the potential of a CE as applied to the farmers’ markets in the Washington, DC metropolitan area using qualitative data from focus groups. The goal of the circular economy is to provide more sustainability in the local economy. Full article
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26 pages, 4544 KiB  
Article
Revitalization and Branding of Rural Communities in Cameroon Using a Circular Approach for Sustainable Development—A Proposal for the Batibo Municipality
by Mudoh Mbah and Anna Franz
Sustainability 2021, 13(12), 6908; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13126908 - 18 Jun 2021
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 3505
Abstract
Rural communities in Cameroon have high levels of poverty, poor living conditions and lagging sustainable development. Lack of economic, social and physical infrastructure opportunities make these communities unsustainable and impact the quality of life for residents. Existing conditions render these areas unattractive for [...] Read more.
Rural communities in Cameroon have high levels of poverty, poor living conditions and lagging sustainable development. Lack of economic, social and physical infrastructure opportunities make these communities unsustainable and impact the quality of life for residents. Existing conditions render these areas unattractive for visitors and external and local investors. Initiatives to reduce poverty and improve living standards have had limited impact to reducing poverty or improving quality of life. The recent signing of Cameroon’s decentralization law, giving authority for planning and investments to local council governments now provides an opportunity to rethink existing strategies. Using Batibo, a representative community in the north western region of Cameroon, this paper examines the status of development initiatives and identifies new priorities for planning and steps to improve economic status. Guided by the Theory of Ecological Design and Five Pillars of Economic Development, and using a circular city approach, this paper outlines a concept for town planning and architectural flagship projects that can project the image, culture and heritage of the community and strategies for improving markets. With decentralized governance and re-envisioned priorities, Batibo has an opportunity to become a prototype for sustainable development and model of a quality future in rural Cameroon. Full article
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18 pages, 1596 KiB  
Article
Envisioning a Circular Economy: The Journey of One Mid-Sized Midwestern City
by Jennifer Petoskey, Missy Stults, Eileen Naples, Galen Hardy, Alicia Quilici, Cassie Byerly, Amelia Clark, Deja Newton, Elizabeth Santiago and Jack Teener
Sustainability 2021, 13(6), 3157; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13063157 - 13 Mar 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 3754
Abstract
The City of Ann Arbor has committed to a just and equitable transition to community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030. Our guiding plan, A2ZERO, outlines seven strategies and 44 actions that were chosen by the community to achieve this goal. One of [...] Read more.
The City of Ann Arbor has committed to a just and equitable transition to community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030. Our guiding plan, A2ZERO, outlines seven strategies and 44 actions that were chosen by the community to achieve this goal. One of the seven strategies is “Changing the Way We Use, Reuse, and Dispose of Materials”, including the action: “move toward a circular economy”. Many cities are trying to move towards a circular economy, tailoring policies, actions, and outreach towards their unique circumstances. Regardless of context, becoming circular requires an array of actions including collaboration and partnership, policy setting, program development, and education. This paper explores how the concept of the circular economy is discussed in the peer reviewed literature and in practitioner circles, exploring similarities and differences. Following this, we undertake a critical instance case study on the City of Ann Arbor’s materials management programs and efforts towards achieving a more circular local economy. We conclude by offering pathways that Ann Arbor and other cities across the U.S. can pursue to advance a circular economy. Full article
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21 pages, 4166 KiB  
Article
Growing Biodiverse Urban Futures: Renaturalization and Rewilding as Strategies to Strengthen Urban Resilience
by Steffen Lehmann
Sustainability 2021, 13(5), 2932; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13052932 - 8 Mar 2021
Cited by 39 | Viewed by 13148
Abstract
How are our cities using nature-based solutions to confront the challenges posed by a warming climate, the loss of biodiversity and major resource depletion? This article discusses the opportunities and benefits of applying the concepts of regreening and rewilding of cities. The article [...] Read more.
How are our cities using nature-based solutions to confront the challenges posed by a warming climate, the loss of biodiversity and major resource depletion? This article discusses the opportunities and benefits of applying the concepts of regreening and rewilding of cities. The article engages with key sources and summarizes the background and development of regreening and nature-based solutions and important policies, concerns and perspectives of international and national organizations. It introduces the integration of nature-based solutions (NBS) as a strategy in urban planning with the aim to strengthen urban resilience and to slow down the biodiversity decline. Rewilding areas in cities has become a powerful strategy to bring back butterflies, insects, birds, and wildlife. In contrast to highly managed parks and gardens, these rewilding initiatives are leaving allotted spaces mostly uncultivated and self-regulated. Contact to nature is essential for human existence, urban wellbeing, and good quality of life. Green spaces in cities—big or small—all contribute to the health and wellbeing of residents. However, many cities do not offer residents easy access to green space within the city. Improving the better distribution of and access to green spaces and extending gardens and parks is likely to deliver a large number of benefits, such as: ecosystem services, better water management for enhanced urban flood control, slowing down the biodiversity loss, contributing to food security, and restoring damaged ecosystems. Furthermore, additional green space and NBS help to keep cities cool during heatwaves and improve the urban microclimate. Rewilding has emerged as an important part of new public parks and gardens. The next step is to up-scale citywide climate intervention strategies deployed to keep cities cool. However, as the discussion of this article shows, it is essential that the design of these NBS strategies is fully integrated with other complementary planning interventions and seeks synergies across all sectors. Full article
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21 pages, 4138 KiB  
Article
Typology of Medium-Sized Cities in Spain Using PCA (Principal Component Analysis)
by Francisco Cebrián-Abellán, María-Jesús González-González and María-Eva Vallejo-Pascual
Sustainability 2021, 13(5), 2456; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13052456 - 25 Feb 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2023
Abstract
This article analyses processes of change undergone by Spanish medium-sized cities during 1981–2011 on the one hand, and 2000–2018 on the other, as they are different sources. We established a classification to show the importance of this type of city starting from the [...] Read more.
This article analyses processes of change undergone by Spanish medium-sized cities during 1981–2011 on the one hand, and 2000–2018 on the other, as they are different sources. We established a classification to show the importance of this type of city starting from the hypothesis that the process is a generalised one in which they behave according to their position in the territory. The dynamics of change are predominantly associated with contexts of economic expansion. The typology was generated based on population and housing variables, which synthesise the role played by economic activity in each city. Additional methodologies were used: firstly, the bibliography on medium-sized cities in different social and cultural contexts was reviewed; secondly, statistical data were selected, compiled and processed using multivariant statistical analyses, and the results mapped. A study of 133 cities was carried out and absolute values and variation rates used to understand the processes of change. As a result, seven representative groups were obtained. The conclusions of the study can be corroborated by different sources. Full article
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Review

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19 pages, 2022 KiB  
Review
Integrating Urban Agriculture and Stormwater Management in a Circular Economy to Enhance Ecosystem Services: Connecting the Dots
by Tolessa Deksissa, Harris Trobman, Kamran Zendehdel and Hossain Azam
Sustainability 2021, 13(15), 8293; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13158293 - 24 Jul 2021
Cited by 21 | Viewed by 5754
Abstract
Due to the rapid urbanization in the context of the conventional linear economy, the vulnerability of the urban ecosystem to climate change has increased. As a result, connecting urban ecosystem services of different urban land uses is imperative for urban sustainability and resilience. [...] Read more.
Due to the rapid urbanization in the context of the conventional linear economy, the vulnerability of the urban ecosystem to climate change has increased. As a result, connecting urban ecosystem services of different urban land uses is imperative for urban sustainability and resilience. In conventional land use planning, urban agriculture (UA) and urban stormwater management are treated as separate economic sectors with different-disconnected-ecosystem services. Furthermore, few studies have synthesized knowledge regarding the potential impacts of integration of UA and stormwater green infrastructures (GIs) on the quantity and quality of urban ecosystem services of both economic sectors. This study provides a detailed analysis of the imperative question—how should a city integrate the developments of both urban agriculture and stormwater green infrastructure to overcome barriers while enhancing the ecosystem services? To answer this question, we conducted an extensive literature review. The results show that integrating UA with GIs can enhance urban food production while protecting urban water quality. This paper provides an initial context and mechanisms for future researchers and city planners regarding the manner in which the synergies between UA and stormwater GIs can create greater value for the wellbeing of urban ecosystems and resilience in the circular economy. Full article
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