How do we arrive at circular solutions that benefit both urban and rural areas? This is the main driver of the research programme Urban-Rural Circularity.
High water consumption in the city leads to a water shortage in other areas. Waste separation ‘here’ requires waste disposal ‘there’. A wind farm generates sustainable energy for residents in the city, but negatively affects the landscape. What is good for the city often comes at the expense of the countryside, or vice versa.
Bringing about change
A focus on the interface between cities and their surroundings is essential for a successful and rapid transition to a sustainable circular society. This transition is hampered by increasing tensions between urban and rural areas. The challenge is to close cycles regionally, connecting cities and rural areas, which requires integrated institutional, social and technological transitions.
We investigate how – often systemic – circular solutions can contribute to the sustainable development of urban-rural areas. Smart circular innovations can promote urban-rural (social) cohesion and the regional economy, while lowering different kinds of emissions and reducing resource dependencies at the same time.
Closing cycles at the interface between cities and the surrounding rural areas can only be successful with an integral approach that takes into account planetary boundaries as a precondition, as well as inclusion, equity and social integration.
Urban-Rural Circularity focusses on three research lines
Research within the Urban-Rural Circularity theme focusses on three research lines:
- Agri-Food Transition: Agri-food systems have significant environmental impacts, contributing to emissions, deforestation, and habitat degradation. Agriculture’s effects on biodiversity and water usage also raise concerns. Furthermore, growing food demand further strains land and resources. Circularity offers a potential solution. Integrating circular practices in agri-food systems could mitigate environmental stress. Notably, nutrients from food consumed in urban spaces can be efficiently fed back to rural lands, contributing to a closed-loop system. Science-based pathways need to be developed to balance sustainability and circularity in the Agri-Food Transition.
- Regional watersystems: Water is an essential commodity connecting urban and rural areas. The establishment of circular water systems hinges on ensuring water of the right quality, that aligns with the needs of urban, environmental, and agricultural sectors. Currently, many water sources that are suitable for reuse remain underutilized. To address these intricate challenges, it becomes imperative to establish robust regional water cycles.
- Digital twins: A digital twin is a virtual version of a physical system, process, or location that serves as a real-time digital replica. These virtual models are created by collecting information and data about the entity you want to replicate and then generating this replica in the digital space. In the context of urban-rural circularity research, digital twins hold particular significance. They provide a powerful tool for simulating and optimizing food, water, material and energy cycles. By virtually modeling circular systems, digital twins contribute to more informed decision-making, democratisation of access to knowledge, and using results in living labs with stakeholders and citizens. This can be done on different levels, for instance a metropolitan area, a business park or a specific building.
Interested in Collaboration?
Engagement with public and private stakeholders ensures dissemination of evidence-based practices and support for policies that promote circular solutions. Are you a student or researcher at Eindhoven University of Technology, Wageningen University & Research, Utrecht University and University Medical Centre Utrecht, and would you like to join our research within the Circular Hospitals theme? Or do you have an idea for a new project? Please contact us.