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[A great deal of the contemporary discourse around circularity revolves around waste—the elimination of waste (and wastelands) through recycling, renewing and reuse (3Rs). In line with industrial ecological thinking, the discourse often focuses on resource efficiency and the shift toward renewables. The reconstitution of numerous previous ecologies is at most a byproduct of the deliberate design of today’s cyclic systems. Individual projects are often heralded for their innovative aspects (both high- and low-tech) and the concept has become popularly embraced in much of the Western world. Nevertheless, contemporary spatial circularity practices appear often to be detached from their particular socio-cultural and landscape ecologies. There is an emphasis on performative aspects and far too often a series of normative tools create cookie-cutter solutions that disregard locational assets—spatial as well as socio-cultural. The re-prefix is evident for developed economies and geographies, but not as obvious in the context of rapidly transforming and newly urbanizing territories. At the same time, the notion of circularity has been deeply embedded in indigenous, pre-modern and non-Western worldviews and strongly mirrored in historic constellations of urban, rural and territorial development. This contribution focuses on two contexts, Flanders in Belgium and the rural highlands, the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, which reveal that in spite of the near-universal prevalence of the Western development paradigm, there are fundamentally different notions of circularity in history and regarding present-day urbanization. Historically, in both contexts, the city and its larger territory formed a social, economic and ecological unity. There was a focus is on the interdependent development of notions of circularity in the ever-evolving relations of landscape, infrastructure and urbanization. In the development of contemporary circularity, there are clear insights that can be drawn from the deep understandings of historic interdependencies and the particular mechanisms and typologies utilized. The research questions addressed are in line with territorial ecology’s call to incorporate socio-cultural and spatial dimensions when trying to understand how territorial metabolisms function (Barles, Revue D’économie Régionale and Urbaine:819–836, 2017). They are as follows: how can case studies from two seemingly disparate regions in the world inform the present-day wave of homogenized research on circularity? How can specific socio-cultural contexts, through their historical trajectories, nuance the discourse and even give insights with regard to broadened and contextualized understandings of circularity? The case studies firstly focus on past site-specific cyclic interplays between landscape, infrastructure and urbanization and their gradual dissolution into linearity. Secondly, the case studies explicitly focus on multi-year design research projects by OSA (Research Urbanism and Architecture, KU Leuven), which underscore new relations of landscape, infrastructure and urbanization and emphasize the resourcefulness of the territory itself. The design research has been elaborated in collaboration with relevant stakeholders and experts and at the request of governmental agencies.]
Published: Feb 7, 2022
Keywords: Socio-cultural contexts; Historical insights; Design research
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