The Future of Cities: Designing Circularity

Christian Bason, CEO of the Danish Design Centre. Throughout his carrier, he has become a leading international authority on design, innovation and leadership in business and government. Photo: Agnete Schlichtkrull

Cities and urban areas are increasingly finding themselves on the frontlines of the global climate crises. But how can design as an approach to systemic citizen engagement and business innovation contribute to the transformation of our cities so they can become greener, more thriving and sustainable?

The goal is to create cities where businesses and people work together to make the most of common resources. This corresponds well with the current development where cities around the world — from Copenhagen to New York — demonstrate leadership through partnerships with research institutions, emerging and established companies and entrepreneurs.

Ahead of the April 21st webinar Designing Circularity, which is part of the ongoing series on The Future of Cities co-presented by New York Institute of Technology and Denmark in New York, we caught up with Christian Bason to talk about his concerns regarding the climate crisis and how cities and Danish innovation can contribute to the global green agenda.

Christian Bason, CEO of the Danish Design Centre. Photo: Agnete Schlichtkrull

Denmark In New York: In light of the climate crisis, what should we be most concerned about in regards to the future of cities?

Christian Bason: The main concern is that cities will not be able to innovate fast and radically enough. The systemic nature of climate change requires systemic changes — and to design new systems we need new ways of thinking and new ways of working. We need ambitious and serious collaboration across existing value chains. We need to include citizens as well as ‘unusual suspects’ such as artists and community organizers, and we need bold new public-private-innovation partnerships. Without business solutions that are impactful, well designed and attractive, we cannot reach the scale and impact needed to address climate change.

Even though we tend to say “countries talk, cities act”, the deep transformations needed at city level will also require new models of governance across local, national and indeed international levels. We must design more open and agile policy and governance models, which bring in more diverse sources of knowledge faster. Public decision-makers need to be bolder and more innovative, insisting on turning data and insights into scalable solutions that open new markets.

How may circularity and systemic citizen engagement play essential roles when creating sustainable urban design solutions?

CB: To accelerate circularity it is crucial to change our consumer patterns and shift our linear behavior and mindset to become more circular. This goes for everyone. Enabling this from a bottom-up approach is key. We need to support communities, organizations and individual innovators that are already spearheading the green and circular agenda. Furthermore, we need to co-create and test new solutions, services and systems directly with citizens to ensure that we focus on the right needs and challenges to create successful solutions, shift behavior and hereby make circular and green impact.

How can the Danish Design Center in Copenhagen contribute to the global green agenda of greening cities around the world?

CB: We work with three approaches, which we call “experiment, learn, share”: First, establish and facilitate ambitious international partnerships and collaborations like Circular Innovation City Challenge — a project where New York City, Toronto, Amsterdam, Glasgow, and Copenhagen have teamed up looking for innovative digital and data-driven solutions from around the world. Our aim is to stimulate new solutions, build competency among innovators, open new market opportunities, enable dialogue and support knowledge sharing. Second, collect cases and learning from such programs, which show new concrete ways to create green and circular innovation connecting business, citizens and city decision-makers; and third, share this knowledge globally both at tactical level by showcasing systems-changing and sustainable design solutions, and at strategic level on how design approaches can facilitate public-private collaboration and stimulate digital and circular innovation.

Danish Design Centre. Photo: Agnete Schlichtkrull and Julie Due

What role do you hope Danish circular design solutions will have in combatting the climate crisis?

CB: Denmark is a globally recognized design nation. Increasingly, this image is also associated with our focus on green and sustainable solutions. Denmark can contribute with concrete industry offerings that show how we can innovate through the power of design to bring systemic and holistic solutions to the global market. Danish circular solutions can serve as inspiration on how to work in cross-sectoral partnerships and in the intersection of the digital, green and social agenda with high ambition to create impact on all three levels.

Denmark can act as a solution provider in a greater global ecosystem where Danish designers and businesses — from startups, SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) to big corporates — can provide innovation and knowledge and contribute as a part of the global systemic change we need.

Can you mention one or two concrete example(s) of Danish design solution(s) that hold the promise of making a lasting impact in terms of climate action and/or awareness — specifically with a view to the US market?

CB: First, Stykka is a fast-growing Danish startup that is embracing open source “democratic design” and sustainability in a big way. They have created LastDesk, which is a sustainable office desk designed to be the last desk you will ever need; not only are all materials from the steel frame to wood sustainably sourced, the desk is designed for disassembly which makes it easy to repair by replacing key modules.

Second, The UN17 Village by Lendager Group is designed to be sustainable from multiple perspectives: environmental, social, operational, indoor-climate-related and bio-diverse. As one of the world’s most alternative and sustainable building projects, the waste materials used are upcycled to create nontoxic and certified materials. The houses are designed with a spacious feel, all their elements helping to promote sustainable living and to create a good indoor climate. With rooftop solar panels, the houses are potentially self-sufficient and the biodiversity of the neighborhood increases with the roof gardens. This is a housing project with a design that encourages sustainable living.

Third, Kleen Hub a circular system solutions (reuse and refill system) with cups and takeaway containers for consumers to support a circular living and behavior. They are very early stage but they have a strong set of partners already.

Watch Denmark in New York and New York Institute of Technology on webinar The Future of Cities: Designing Circularity.

Katrine Nørholm Jensen is the Strategic Communications and Press intern at Denmark In New York.

Sofie Dalhoff Saabye is the Culture and Public Diplomacy intern at Denmark In New York.

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Denmark in New York

Denmark in New York

The Official Medium Blog for the Consulate General of Denmark in New York. For all things Danish, #DenmarkInNY.