Photo by Josh Power from Unsplash

Architect Joni Baboci talks about his vision on the circular economy

, July 23, 2021

Joni Baboci is an architect, planner, knowledge researcher and all-round urban planning enthusiast. Triennale Milano and Eni have entrusted him with the design and development of research for the observatory on the circular economy, of which we report a summary.

The complete research in English can be found here and we report below a summary.

© NASA da Unsplash
© NASA da Unsplash

The impact of humanity on the global environment in the past three centuries has grown exponentially. We are approaching a key point in our civilization’s growth - the future feels like an impending tsunami and the modern world is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Thankfully, In the past decade, there has been a global social reawakening to issues of sustainability. We were able to flatten the curve of infection through a global effort to slow the pandemic. We need to make a similar effort in different venues, at different scales, but with the same urgency to ensure the future prosperity of our children.

This research report is bound by its focus on three important pillars of the future circular urban economy: energy, materials, and infrastructure. Each field is in itself a wicked problem that needs to be approached innovatively. In the context of future growth and prosperity, cities will play a crucial role. The environmental impact of urban areas cannot be understated but the issue of waste and unsustainability is not just an environmental concern: global warming won’t just make it hotter - it will measurably shorten the lifespan of all living organisms.

Photo by Nick Fewings from Unsplash
Photo by Nick Fewings from Unsplash

The report argues that despite the global pandemic cities cradle the future of humanity. They make parsimonious use of infrastructure, dispense services more efficiently, and dissipate poverty by acting as an economic elevator. Global interconnectedness gave us a shared world circulatory system through an international grid of connections, supply chains, and transportation networks. This interconnected system is however showing its cracks and the 15-minute city has emerged as a first attempt to design localism and self-sustenance within the current urban paradigm. Milan has a fantastic background in food waste recycling which can prove to be a catapult to furthering the urban circular economy.

There is an important city management perspective that can drive change in how urban systems will deal with the future of the economy; local governance is the key to community-first leadership. It is important to note that implementing the circularity through a network of local entities keeps risks in check while increasing the resilience of the global economy. A future of self-sustained, permeable communities is more apt at putting into practice this novel economic model: a new system that should be designed for success but it should also encourage intelligent failures.

The report surmises how the status quo of our modern economies operate linearly in a take → make → dispose model. Our current growth paradigm started to emerge after the industrial revolution and became a pressing issue at the beginning of the last century. Mid-century manufacturing through standardization and modularity of consumer products enabled some degree and repair and maintenance. But the current exponential growth paradigm is unsustainable and in dire need of change, which cannot occur without fundamentally addressing the cultural aspects of consumption. The modern economy of the past two centuries has relied upon a form of sustained open-ended growth which depends on constant cycles of innovation: rebound effects have kept per-capita consumption high despite increased material efficiency. To keep this cycle of growth constant we need to increase both the pace and the scale of innovation; since this is practically impossible, we seem to be approaching a phase transition in our history: a point in time where the growth paradigm is radically transformed. There is hope however - the research shows that despite the odds, the determination of a small intransigent minority can precipitate significant change.

The crucial aspect of addressing the extreme volumes of consumption and waste is moving away from activities that devalue materials at every cycle. The environmental and economic benefits of increased circularity are well established by existing research, but the road to a novel economy is challenged by miscommunication and the online pit of disinformation. The report notes that the circular economy does not need to be an exclusive actor in bringing about sustainability: however in approaching strategies of slower forms of growth we need to be careful in framing them within the context of our political systems.

Institutional order and rigidity have their informal enemies in corruption and inefficiency. While the manufacturing economy provided a stable route to the lower-middle class, the current services economy is sharply fractured between lower-paid service workers and the higher-paid creative class. The potential of the circular economy to valorize labor needs to be highlighted as one of its most important virtues. Another feature of this novel system resides in its relevance to addressing structural inequality by increasing labor’s share of income.

Photo from Unsplash

The report identifies four general approaches that might lead to a new zeitgeist of the urban circular economy:

Better design can easily improve the efficiency of material use and decrease the cost of production.

Less wasteful manufacturing through technology can improve the efficiency of materials used in production.

Intensive recycling as an initial necessary but insufficient step to shift towards a circular economy.

Rewarding sustainable material substitution to hasten the adoption of innovation.

The transformation of previously wasted byproducts to new inputs through material innovation is another desirable outcome - technology can have a strong impact in making existing materials compostable and biodegradable. Innovation however should be tested for a sufficient amount of time to minimize potential risks. Conclusively the circular economy is the only viable and practical approach to keep prosperity growing while increasing sustainability.

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski RkIsys from Unsplash
Photo by Pawel Czerwinski RkIsys from Unsplash
Photo by John Cameron from Unsplash
Photo by John Cameron from Unsplash
Photo by Marc Newberry from Unsplash
Photo by Marc Newberry from Unsplash
Photo by Etienne Girardet from Unsplash
Photo by Etienne Girardet from Unsplash

Joni Baboci 

He is an architect, planner, knowledge-seeker and all-around urban enthusiast. He is currently the senior advisor for urban planning to the Mayor of Tirana. He has previously led the city's urban planning and development department as well as a governmental planning start-up dealing with national and regional strategic planning; Joni has executed planning, design & development projects at different scales on national and local levels. He has consulted on urbanism and planning for various cultural and multilateral institutions. Joni is a graduate of the University of Toronto and holds a master's degree from the London School of Economics.

Credits

The research on the circular economy was carried out by Triennale Milano in collaboration with ENI

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