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As some cities begin to ease lockdown restrictions and people navigate back into their daily routines, many of us are more aware than ever of the stark challenges we face in the 21st century. Although none of them new, COVID-19 has made the underlying shortcomings of our systems unignorable. Nowhere have these stark flaws been more pronounced than in our cities. Mayors and leaders of the world’s largest cities warn that there can be no return to business as normal.
“COVID-19 has exposed the inequality in our society and deep flaws in our economy, which fail people from deprived communities more than anyone else[…] We need to come out of this embracing a new normal and with a renewed drive to address the climate emergency,” said Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London.
Indeed, if history has taught us anything, it is precisely such times of global shocks that enable systematic shifts in our prevailing systems. Dismayed with the inefficacy of the status quo, we reach for alternative ideas that are ‘lying around’ to collectively rethink and re-orientate. The COVID-19 crisis is no exception and with the impending climate crisis set to have an even greater impact on daily life, it is clear that change is inevitable.
One such idea that is ‘lying around’, and gaining attention from businesses and policy-makers at the highest level, is the circular economy. The circular economy provides a means to fundamentally re-orientate our systems of resource production and consumption – to create a system that is regenerative and restorative by design. Although not a panacea, the circular economy could offer cities an aspiration around which to focus recovery efforts towards creating cities that are resilient to future shocks.
The impacts of COVID-19 highlight some key lessons on how cities can use circular principles to not only rebuild their economies but also to create more just and inclusive societies.