Circular Cities: Challenges to Implementing Looping Actions

Author: Joanna Williams
Date of publish: January 2019

Why did we select this research?

Looping actions—reuse, recycling and recovery of resources (materials, energy, water, land and infrastructure)—can help to address resource scarcity and wastage in cities. Using a mixed methods approach, the paper identifies 58 challenges to looping actions across eight themes. It also establishes the challenges to implementing a nexus solution. 

Key findings:

  • Need for systemic cultural change in society and the restructuring of the economy to support looping activities.
  • Difficulties in developing the levers—regulatory, institutional, educational, technical and political—needed for that transformation to occur.
  • There must be political support for looping actions. Addressing resource “waste” in cities will need to be a priority in order to overcome conflicts with other political agendas.
  • A multi-scaler, cross-sectoral regulatory framework for the management of resources will be needed to encourage looping actions and prevent conflicts. Introducing a management hierarchy across all resource types (similar to the 3 R’s) could help implementation.
  • Urban form which supports looping actions, for example by providing space for looping activities, mixed-uses to enable urban symbiosis, using a flexible/adaptable infrastructure which can be modified to meet the new requirements of urban citizens, should also be adopted. This socio-technical transformation could be achieved over the long-term through a process of urban renewal which engages the urban population, but only if there is the political will.


Williams, J. (2019). Circular Cities: Challenges to Implementing Looping Actions. Sustainability, 11(2), 423.