Sustainability needs a holistic approach

Circles of Sustainability builds sustainability across all the domains of social life — ecological, economic, political and cultural (Profile Circles)

Sustainability requires practical responsiveness

Circles of Sustainability offers a practical method for sensitively defining, measuring and communicating responses to the critical issues (Process Circles)

Sustainability involves integrated engagement

Circles of Sustainability provides a way of bringing together different constituents in integrated partnerships (Engagement Circles)

Sustainability calls for creative understanding

Circles of Sustainability guides a city creatively through the processes of understanding the inevitable tensions and contradictions in any complex system (Knowledge Circles)

Circles of Social Life

Circles of Social Life is an approach that guides engaged and collaborative practice in making our cities, locales and organizations more sustainable, resilient, adaptable and liveable. As part of this overall approach Circles of Sustainability provides practical tools for creating sustainable cities and communities. For example, instead of designating a pre-given set of indicators, the approach sets out a process for deciding upon indicators and analysing the relationship between them.

This is all developed in detail in a book that forms the basis of this website, published by Routledge, called Urban Sustainability in Theory and Practice: Circles of Sustainability.

How does the 'Circles' approach work?

The Circles approach provides tools for responding to four key questions. Each of these questions is associated with four related circles. Why circles? Because they provide us with the best way of thinking about and depicting the recursive nature of social life. Social life is rarely enacted as a straight line of cause and effect.

Profile Circles

How can we best depict the sustainability, resilience, adaptability and liveability of our cities? That is, how can we best understand, describe and assess our cities, communities and organizations in all their complexity — economic, ecological, political and cultural? Profile Circles provide a direct way of showing the strengths and weaknesses of a city or region with disarming simplicity. Below the surface, Profile Circles are based on a series of deepening and evermore comprehensive appraisals of the various critical aspects of a city or region. The resulting profiles remain simple on the surface, even as they encourage deep research.

Process Circles

What possible practical pathways should we take in the process of developing a positive response to issues of sustainability, resilience, adaptability and liveability? Process Circles guide practitioners through logical pathways for carrying out a project — large or small. The pathways are organized around a seven-stage model of project management: commitment, engagement, assessment, definition, implementation, measurement, and communication. Process Circles offer a deliberative method for negotiating different ways through contested or contradictory critical issues towards chosen objectives.

Engagement Circles

How can we work closely with others, including the major constituents affected in any city or region? Engagement Circles point to the range of constituent groups and individuals who might be involved in making our cities better places to live.

Knowledge Circles

How can we best seek to understand and interpret the world in which we live? Knowledge Circles are ways of thinking about how we know things and how this knowledge impacts upon social life. The cognate concept of a ‘hermeneutic circle’ has a long history. One writer described it as ‘the art of interpretation as transformation’. In this sense, all of our work is connected through a continuous circle of feeling, pragmatics, reflection and reflexivity. No fixed or ready answers are given. Rather, we see all four Circles as ways to enhance reflexive learning while continuing to honour the strengths of both felt and pragmatic experience.

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