Learning from Slums: Insights for Constructing Sustainable Circular Cities

According to researchers from Charles Darwin University (CDU), the key to establishing circular cities in developing countries lies within the slums of the Global South. These informal settlements, characterized by insecure land tenure and inadequate access to essential services like safe water, sanitation, and housing, are often seen as sources of significant societal and environmental challenges.

Published in Nature Sustainability, the study titled “Advancing a slum–circular economy model for sustainability transition in cities of the Global South” explores circular economy (CE) practices within slums across various nations, including Mexico, South Africa, India, Brazil, Kenya, Bangladesh, and Angola. Led by CDU researchers Dr. Matthew Abunyewah and Dr. Michael Odei Erdiaw-Kwasie, the research aims to provide insights for future investigations and policies related to the intersection of slums and circular economy in the Global South.

This research comes at a crucial time when the urban population share worldwide has significantly expanded, with projected growth primarily occurring in developing regions. Dr. Abunyewah emphasized that this urbanization trend exerts considerable stress on the environment and finite resources, driven by increased demands for food, water, and infrastructure. Addressing these concerns, the study offers a model that examines the activities of slum residents and their alignment with key CE principles.

Dr. Abunyewah explained, “Through this research, we analyzed the three fundamental aspects of slums—livelihoods, housing, and spaces—and elucidated how they synergize with CE principles. In essence, the daily practices in slums exhibit the tenets of the circular economy, highlighting the intricate connections between slum life and CE principles.”

The study also revealed that slum dwellers in various locations, such as Durban in South Africa and Lima in Peru, engage in income-generating activities like waste picking and sorting, contributing significantly to waste recycling efforts. In India’s largest slum, Dharavi, waste sorting and recycling constitute a substantial portion of Mumbai’s waste management, demonstrating the integral role of slum residents in closing the loop and advancing the circular economy concept.

Furthermore, the research underscores that the core concepts of the circular economy are not new, as they are deeply ingrained in the everyday strategies of slum dwellers. Dr. Odei Erdiaw-Kwasie noted, “The findings confirm that the principles of CE are not novel and are already intricately linked to the daily lives of slum dwellers.”

The study also highlighted the slum residents’ substantial knowledge of CE practices and their commitment to promoting circular waste management solutions. This knowledge could be instrumental in fostering collaborations between urban planning authorities and slum communities to advance circular cities in developing nations.

Dr. Abunyewah concluded, “We can argue that slum dwellers, equipped with CE knowledge and experience, will actively engage as stakeholders, enhancing the level of participation. Through this research, we have rekindled the potential of urban poor and marginalized communities to drive activities that accelerate the realization of circular cities in developing countries.”

Source: Charles Darwin University

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