Circles of Sustainability


Circles of Sustainability is a method for understanding and assessing sustainability, and for managing projects directed towards socially sustainable outcomes. It is intended to handle 'seemingly intractable problems' such as outlined in sustainable development debates. The method is mostly used for cities and urban settlements.
Circles of Sustainability, and its treatment of the social domains of ecology, economics, politics and culture, provides the empirical dimension of an approach called 'engaged theory'. Developing Circles of Sustainability is part of larger project called 'Circles of Social Life', using the same four-domain model to analyze questions of resilience, adaptation, security, reconciliation. It is also being used in relation to thematics such as 'Circles of Child Wellbeing' (with World Vision).
The method is used by a series of global organizations including the United Nations Global Compact Cities Programme, The World Association of Major Metropolises, and World Vision to support their engagement in cities. It is also used by a number of cities across the world in different ways to manage major projects or to provide feedback on their sustainability profiles (e.g., Hyderabad, Johannesburg, Melbourne, New Delhi, Sao Paulo and Tehran). It is a method for understanding urban politics and urban planning, as well as for conducting sustainability analysis and profiling sustainable development.
This long-standing collaborative project has been successful in rehousing a whole community of slum dwellers, it has also effected a restructuring of how the city approaches slums. The project ensured sustainability was built into the relocation through changes such as setting up of recycling depots next to existing slums and developing a formal recycling sorting facility in the new site, Residencial Nova Chocolatao, linked to the garbage-collection process of the city (an example of linking the sub-domains of ‘emission and waste’ and ‘organization and governance’); and establishing a fully resourced early childhood centre in the new community. The Vila Chocolatao Sustainability Network group continues to meet and work with the community post the resettlement. This network-led model is now being utilized by the City of Porto Alegre with other informal settlements.
In 2011, the research team were invited by Metropolis to work with the Victorian Government and the Cities Programme on one of their major initiatives. The methodology is central to the approach used by the ěIntegrated Strategic Planning and Public-Private Partnerships Initiativeî organized by Metropolis, 2012ĺ2013 for Indian, Brazilian and Iranian cities. A workshop was held in New Delhi, 26ĺ27 July 2012, and senior planners from New Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata used the two of the assessment tools in the Circles of Sustainability toolbox to map the sustainability of their cities as part of developing their urban-regional plans. Other cities to use the same tools have been Tehran (in relation to their mega-projects plan) and Sao Paulo (in relation to their macro-metropolitan plan).
In 2011, recognising how much the two processes of urbanization and globalization were changing the landscape of poverty, World Vision decided to shift its orientation towards urban settings. Previously 80 per cent of its projects had been in small rural communities. The Circles of Sustainability method now underpins that reorientation and pilot studies are being conducted in India, South Africa, Lebanon, Indonesia and elsewhere, to refine the methodology for aid delivery in complex urban settings.