How can (Fab) cities use the CENTRINNO Cartography to transform into circular urban ecosystems?
Picture this: Resilient communities with empowered citizens who know how to produce their own things and repair what is broken, and who understand the boundaries of their local bioregion and sustainably source renewable resources. Communities that use their industrial processes to heal nature, not harm it. Communities where makers, repairers, and recyclers don’t merely scrape by, but thrive with what they do.
This is an eco-utopian dream of the circular city of the future. “Fab Cities” have a vision to re-localize production and enable citizens to build more regenerative urban futures. They have already embarked on their journey to make this bold dream a reality. Many other cities, both small and big, are starting to explore how the circular economy can become a vehicle for their urban transition towards more “regenerative,” “sustainable,” or “resilient” systems.
During the CENTRINNO project, partners across Europe tested tools and practices to see how former industrial sites could catalyze an urban transition, bringing us one tiny step closer to socially inclusive and circular communities. Nine pilot cities came together to build so-called Fab City Hubs, centers for local production, networking, education, training, and community building, with the goal of stimulating an urban ecosystem of engaged and empowered citizens, makers, and manufacturers. These Fab City Hubs can be seen as the physical anchoring points for Fab Cities, places where the whole idea of a Fab City becomes tangible and visible. In CENTRINNO, these hubs formed along old railway tracks of Paris, in decaying meat factories of Zagreb, near the sweeping hills of Iceland’s sheep farms, and around the old shipyards of Amsterdam. From small post-Soviet neighborhoods in Tallinn to the bustling fashion capital of Milan, the Fab City Hubs focused their efforts to re-empower the maker, the designer, and the circular entrepreneur to take center stage in the transformation of our cities.
Circular. Inclusive. Sensitive to the unique imprint of the past that cities still bear today. Aware of local ecological scars and social trauma from past industrial eras that need healing. This is CENTRINNO. As bold as possible to solve the complex, wicked, urban problems we have. CENTRINNO is attentive to the voices of people, places, and artifacts that are often overheard in our mainstream, capitalist culture.
The four-year CENTRINNO project is wrapping up soon, but the long and winding path has just begun. Much needs to happen to mobilize resources and people to achieve this vision. Yet, here comes the bright news: More communities can already start their journey toward circular urban ecosystems using some of the tools and methods that we developed in this project. Tested by our pilots, the Fab City Hub toolkit will help cities around the world structure their journey to build circular (innovation) communities, starting with resources already available locally.
What is the CENTRINNO Cartography?
The heart of the toolkit is the CENTRINNO Cartography. It helps cities identify three steps to (1) map their social and ecological challenges, (2) map stakeholders and their local resources, and (3) weave synergistic connections for circular production, experimentation, and knowledge transfer.
Step 1 is all about understanding your urban baseline. Often, we think about circularity in an isolated way. Circularity is more than just increased recycling of materials in urban production. A circular economy cannot exist without intact nature, clean water, and air. We cannot call an economy “circular” without considering human well-being and health. Ideally, existing and aspiring Fab Cities (but really, any city) should address their local challenges through their agenda in order to build a strong and healthy basis of nature and people for local fabrication.
How do we quickly get a sense of where we are at? First of all, we need to be realistic! There is no quick fix to understanding the complex social and ecological context of a place. But the CENTRINNO Cartography prompts Fab City teams, urban grassroots organizations, and municipalities to become “research detectives” who explore both publicly available data sources and local anecdotes to build a better picture of place.
Step 2 zooms into our communities’ assets. A circular transition needs to be grounded in local resources that already surround us. So what are those resources? Which materials are there? Which skills do we have or need? Which knowledge? To organize local stakeholder and resource mapping, the Cartography provides a simple mapping template that can be linked to the mapping platform KUMU to instantly get appealing and shareable maps of your local ecosystem.
Step 3 prompts Fab Cities to face the hard question: So what? What do we do with all the knowledge of our city’s challenges and local assets? The Cartography provides Fab Cities with inspiration, including a library of examples from CENTRINNO pilots and a workshop template to brainstorm what kind of circular connections can emerge from each individual urban ecosystem.
How useful are these steps and their tools to help guide our thinking around creating circular communities and to build an engaging network of actors that drive the transition? This is still to be tested! But during the past months, we had the chance to run some of the Cartography’s resources by five Fab Cities from around the world.
Onboarding to the Fab City Network with the Cartography as a starting point
During two workshops, each covering a different step of the Cartography, participants from Fab Cities in Indonesia, China, Canada, Brazil, and Chile came together to learn how our approach works and to discuss how it can help their journey to become a Fab City. The selected Fab Cities come with their unique blend of cultural heritage and modern challenges, making them ideal candidates to gauge the tool’s resonance in diverse geographic, social, and cultural contexts. After all, the Cartography was created to be tailored to local nuances, helping cities everywhere to harness their distinct resources and character for sustainable progress. By mapping resources, skills, and culture, the Cartography propels these cities toward circularity and resilience. It bridges urban renewal and local empowerment, fostering a prosperous future where Fab Cities thrive uniquely.
Our hope is that the Cartography, or at least parts of it, becomes an integral part of any city that wants to start their journey to become a Fab City, akin to an onboarding process.
Our reflections from the project
As we said, the road towards circular urban communities is long and winding. With the CENTRINNO Cartography, we set out to develop a tool that helps overcome barriers on this journey. Yet, we also had to face some hard realizations on the limits and shortcomings of our tools to help each and every Fab City out there. Maybe the one word that matters most to capture our learnings is context.
Frankly, the idea behind the CENTRINNO Cartography was to build a platform that allows (Fab) cities to regenerate towards circularity by fully acknowledging each city’s characteristics. No one city is alike. Cities are sums of their people, their climate zones, diverse political systems, unique histories, and so many more factors that make up the character of a place. Aware of the sheer diversity of places and their cultures, the Cartography was meant to constitute a process that is context-agnostic and can be adopted wherever and whoever we are.
But is that even possible? Can we design processes to guide a transformation towards these eco-utopian regenerative communities that are truly universal? After all, the CENTRINNO Cartography is a platform developed by and with nine pilot cities across Europe’s post-industrial cities. Hence, we set out from a shared background where cities have undergone the typical Western rise, decay, and re-organization of former industrial hubs of Europe. Clearly, not all cities have followed (nor should they follow) this Western pathway of industrialization, de-industrialization, and ultimately gentrification of former industrial spaces.
But maybe even more important is the question of whose future we are envisioning with the Cartography. Remember the eco-utopian future from the beginning? Is this a vision everyone can subscribe to? Even the choice of words such as “regenerative,” “circular,” “resilient,” and “sustainable” are laden with bias. Whose words are those? How would Fab City X in Country X describe their own vision if they weren’t told the outcome that “transformation” should have?
Lessons for creating future tools
Setting aside these philosophical questions to ponder, we learned some very practical points presenting the CENTRINNO Cartography to Fab City representatives. These can help us to create more place-sensitive tools that have the chance to be widely adopted across the world.
It starts with the format of the tools themselves. The CENTRINNO Cartography relies on online spreadsheets (hosted by a large multinational search browser organization), mapping platforms that require basic IT savviness, and workshop boards hosted on online whiteboard platforms that are only great if you have a reliable strong internet connection. Creating tools and resources in multiple formats, such as PDFs, downloadable spreadsheets, or Word documents, allows for many different user audiences.
Language is also important. Our tools are all in English. Of course, translating every resource is often not feasible but we can try to choose vocabulary that is free from complex terms or maybe even very “context”-dependent terms, like resilience, regenerative, or circular. These are all terms that carry cultural baggage that is not easily understood in some places.
Lastly, we want to leave you with this question: How can we ensure that tools are co-created and designed together with people from across many cities, representing a diversity of stakeholders, cultures, and bioregions? With the CENTRINNO Cartography, we have tried our best to make this happen! Our last version will become available in the coming months. To receive a short notification once it is out, sign up here.
We would love for you to visit the CENTRINNO Cartography, share your thoughts with us, and help our toolkits actually be used to create a better world.
For more questions and to share your ideas on how to make the Cartography a useful tool for your city, reach out to Frenzi Ritter at Metabolic.