On our planet, all natural ecosystems are interconnected, and they nourish each other. Rivers connect mountains with the sea, forests breathe to cultivate our air, winds and insects carry the pollen of flowers to regenerate life. They all come together and make the web of life, of which, we are a part. Life on earth is based on the circularity of nature.

When we consider the cities of our era, however, we no longer see the circularity of nature. Cities of our era absorb air, water, soil, mines and biodiversity from our planet. In turn, they deliver plastic waste, carbon dioxide, wars and poverty that are all very far from enhancing the web of life. Most of the time, cities are overwhelmingly centralized, culturally and physically distracted from other ecosystems of our planet. 

In our era, the circularity of nature gradually shifts to the centrality of cities resulting in climate emergency, plastic islands in oceans, loss of biodiversity and finally, the demise of our hopes. As cities break ties from the ecosystem they are surrounded by, we lose grip of the reality of life on earth. 2007 was the first time that more people in the world started to live in cities rather than in rural areas. By 2021, it was 56% of the world’s human population and is expected to increase to 68% by 2050.

Where we stand as human civilization, we clearly cannot reverse this trend. There is not even a small possibility to disperse our urban population across natural ecosystems. If we are sincere about sustaining our presence on this planet, we must challenge ourselves to move forward for the unusual. We have to be brave enough to develop our cities as spaces that act as an integral part of the web of life. This is what we call in Izmir, circular urbanism.

Izmir is an 8 thousand 500 years old city that shelters an outstanding accumulation of cultural practices underpinned by living in harmony. In fact, democracy is born in the Aegean of which Izmir sits at the heart. 

At the Culture Summit of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) held in Izmir in 2021, we developed a new concept for regenerating life on earth. This is “Circular Culture.” This concept considers culture as the mortar that binds a building together, the drops of water that connect the roots and branches of a tree. Whatever we do in our lives, be it urbanism, science, art, politics, it does not matter. Culture is present in all of them. Culture is the mortar that holds it all together, the sap of life. Therefore, we consider circular culture as the essence of circular urbanism.

Circular culture rises on four pillars: Harmony with nature, harmony with each other, harmony with the past, and harmony with change.

In Izmir, we adopted the four pillars of circular culture as a concrete strategy to nurture circular urbanism starting from the Mediterranean. Through the circular urbanism perspective, we approach “the city” as an ecosystem that fosters calmness and harmony instead of speed and individuality.

From the perspective of circular culture, a city is much larger than its jurisdictional boundaries. Our activities in a city have direct consequences in other urban and rural parts of the world, ecologically and socially. They also define our understanding of the past and future. 

Based on circular culture, the four dimensions of urban footprint can be described as:

Social footprint
Ecological footprint
Footprint on the past 
Footprint on future

This four-dimensional footprint of cities can no longer be neglected if we aim to sustain human civilization on earth - in an era of cities. Therefore, the circular culture concept is not only a tool to design cities, but it also helps to retrospectively measure the actual impacts of metropolises that by far exceeds their municipal limits.

The footprint-based design and development of circular cities assists citizens and decision makers to fully envisage the frontiers of their impact zone.

Izmir Planning Agency takes Izmir’s four-dimensional footprint as the overarching ground for its urban design strategies and programs. Taking forward the footprint-based design of cities, IZPA of Izmir Metropolitan Municipality operates under four programmes each corresponding to the four pillars of circular culture.