Taking classes on circular cities: no room for climate anxiety

Published on the 19th of September 2019
Circular City Summer School

Grappling with ‘climate anxiety’, student Annebel Dommer sought out The Circular City Summer School, a collaboration between The University of Amsterdam and Metabolic, to find out what she can do to address our environmental challenges. Here, she writes about her experiences.

The evidence of human-induced climate change has become an undeniable part of everyday life. With news headlines covering forest fires, extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels, it’s hard to ignore humanity’s inevitable impact on our planet. Sustainability and climate change are now prominent subjects in everyday discussions, while at the same time, evidence is emerging that the degradation of nature can have severe consequences on our psychological health. On reading for the first time about ‘climate anxiety’, I recognized the feeling of helplessness in myself and in those around me. In my search for finding ways to reverse this feeling of helplessness, I came across a summer school course the University of Amsterdam offers in collaboration with Metabolic. The course, ‘The Circular City: towards a Sustainable Urban Ecosystem’, promised practical and solution-oriented approaches to environmental problems, and a class full of motivated students with a sense of climate optimism.  

Circular City Summer School

Strength in diversity

After being admitted, my first impression was the diversity of the group: all interested in the same topic, but with different backgrounds, born in different countries with different political systems, professions, and experiences. Among the 26 people attending the course there were 20 nationalities, ranging from Tahiti to Italy, to South Korea, to the Ukraine. Dozens of professionals in different sectors were represented: eco-tourism, architecture, sustainability consultancy, students, and people in governmental positions. Our teachers and the creators of the programme, Nadina Galle and Mendel Giezen, also had backgrounds that provided different viewpoints. They gave us all the time we needed to absorb the experiences and stories that everyone brought from their personal experience and context, which turned out to be one of the most valuable elements of the course. 

Going to school on circularity

During the programme there were theoretical sessions in which we gathered in-depth knowledge about economic theories and how they shape our everyday lives, as well as the lessons about the challenges and importance of urban nature and how to look at the city from a more holistic perspective. We had several lectures given by professionals on how a circular city can become reality, varying from bottom-up approaches such as the sharing economy, to top-down approaches often related to government interventions. 

We went to various locations in the Netherlands that gave us a clear picture of ‘circularity in practice’, with examples such De Ceuvel, Fosfaatje, and BlueCity. These places offered inspiration and know-how. On the less serious side, it was also a lot of fun to cycle to these places together and enjoy some socializing in the summer sun.  

At the end of the course, we were challenged to think of a circular model ourselves, by using the Material Flow Analysis model (MFA), guided by Nadina and her colleagues from Metabolic. We started by gathering information about the use of building materials, energy, water, and food from a specific site/case-study: in our case, various neighborhoods in Amsterdam. By applying the MFA methodology and using a Sankey diagram, we gained insight into material use, were able to reflect on improving efficiency, and looked into how to reduce the amount of waste generated in the neighborhoods.

circular city summer school

New generation of sustainability leaders

The overall sense we all shared after the course? A great starting point to act upon our concern for the environment, instead of standing on the sidelines. It’s understandable that for such a big problem, it’s difficult to know where to start. Should it be a bottom-up or top-down approach? What’s the scale of impact? Do you change the system from within, or are you a systems critic? 

The sites visited during the course and the application of the MFA tool gave us the inspiration – and a strong sense of an individual hands-on mentality – to think of the possibilities and solutions. We’re now able to come up with approaches that can tackle urban problems, and unleash our potential to become leaders in the sustainable and circular movement.

This course changed my attitude towards human-induced climate change. Climate anxiety has now paved the way for climate resilience

To find out more about the course, visit The Circular City Summer School page. Read about the 2018 edition of The Circular City Summer School here.

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