1. Kyklos: Urban Sustainability & Circularity Lab

Overview:

‘Kyklos’, meaning ‘Circle’ in Greek is the physical presence of InCommOn’s Urban Sustainability & Circularity Lab, based in Ano Poli (the upper town / old town) of Thessaloniki.

The aim of Kyklos is to create a space for community engagement in a wide range of social, environmental, cultural, educational and collective activities to take place in order to build shared social capital towards urban sustainability and circularity.

With a welcoming, physical presence that includes a large space for a wide variety of activities Kyklos organises actions with, by and for the community as an initial means to involve everyone in the neighbourhood to access, fulfil and share their own potential to address the needs of the area, using the skills and capacity latent in the community. It is the means through which a neighbourhood, and then a city, can work collectively towards social, environmental and economic sustainability with dynamic community interaction and the full integration of all its members into a cohesive, diverse and equitable society.

It is a participatory initiative that works holistically to empower urban communities to be the main drivers of the solutions to the problems they face, integrating ecological principles, social equality and co-decision making as central pillars in both its philosophy and practice.

The Urban Sustainability and Circularity Lab is an innovative, participatory and bottom-up initiative to support neighbourhoods and cities in their transition to a sustainable future based on circularity through active citizenship. It seeks to provide knowledge through education, agency through empowerment and opportunities for action through initiatives in order to enhance active citizenship.

Background:

Achieving ​sustainability ​is one of the greatest challenges of our generation and generations to come. We believe that ​circularity ​holds the key to a sustainable future, as it reduces to an absolute minimum the use of energy and resources, waste production and greenhouse gas emissions. However, changing from a linear model of consumption to one that is ‘circular’ (repurposing, reusing and reducing waste rather than use) requires social change and economic considerations. Sustainable development means not only eco-friendly, but fair development as well. Therefore, a sustainable city needs to be circular both in terms of energy and resources, as well as in societal terms – a society functioning as a circle, leaving no one outside​.

We believe that the key to circularity -a ​circular economy ​and a circular society ​- is to have active and involved citizens and communities.

While Thessaloniki and other urban centres face multiple challenges (demographic, cultural, environmental, economic etc), we believe that change towards not only meeting these challenges, but also to creating a sustainable future, can be brought about through a new approach to ‘community’. An active, empowered individual has the capacity to change many things, but an active community – comprised of a multitude of citizens thinking about the whole, cooperating, and acting – can bring about substantial, sustainable change across all of the human and environmental sectors of the urban landscape. The current lack of collective active citizenship -a result of a lack of empowerment and investment in human capital- is the central issue that the Urban Sustainability and Circularity Lab will address. There is ample talent, knowledge, resources and qualifications among the people of Thessaloniki; the Lab is a vehicle through which to harness the social capacity to change things together. In order to generate and sustain an active community, individual citizens must first gain the confidence to act, and for this to occur, it is necessary for them to have relevant knowledge, agency and opportunities for action.

What we do:

We are committed to working in a manner that is non-hierarchical and without a top-down approach involving telling people what they ‘must’ do to change their habits in order to achieve sustainability. Rather, we work with the community to allow each individual’s talents, skills and capacities to flourish and to be shared with the collective whole through creative, educational actions that bring about lasting change from the bottom up: change in which everyone is an equal stakeholder and which brings equitable benefits for humans and the environment.

Kyklos therefore not only creates and implements a wide range of fun, creative and educational activities for children and adults that focus on sustainability, reuse of materials, engaging with the natural world, community building etc but also empowers people to create their own projects. In this way, people develop skills that are utilised for the good of the community, enhance social ties, increase community resilience and as individuals, become multipliers in their social circles and potentially in other communities.

Kyklos also carries out ongoing social research and stakeholder mapping, to understand the needs and capacities of the neighbourhood in order to encourage the people of the area to generate projects and engage in co-education, skills sharing, community actions etc, with Kyklos as the vehicle to support them.

The actions of Kyklos are based around four key pillars:

  1. Development of Knowledge and skills through education.

Through learner-led and co-education methods, everyone can learn and teach skills, thus not only enhancing an individual’s potential, but also strengthening social bonds.

  1. Agency through Empowerment:

All members of the community will be given the opportunity to express themselves, generate fresh ideas and take initiative. This sense of agency will motivate people to act collectively and to influence their community’s quality of life.

  1. Opportunities and experience through initiatives

A variety of environmental, cultural, educational and social programmes are planned, each of which, regardless of its aim, will include sound ecological principles and equitable social practices at its core. The initiatives will all involve experiential learning and active participation.

  1. Community building for active communities and inclusion :

Social cohesion, inclusion and community activation are the heart of Kyklos. Therefore, community building activities as well as programmes and activities that foster active citizen participation, through creative activities, take place.

How we work:

With the core values of inclusivity, circularity and respect for all members of society as equal participants, Kyklos prioritises democratic dialogue, solidarity and responsive actions, which are contributed to, by all team and community members in a dynamic and constantly developing process. We work via the following means:

a) Participatory design, participatory decision making and implementation: our team consists of experts in a variety of fields, yet we do not assume that we know more than a community, with regard to solving its issues and utilising its capabilities. We work with the community to encourage them to voice their needs, their abilities and their own thoughts on how to resolve things and support groups in the process of making decisions together and implementing solutions together.

b) Asset based community development: recognising that each community is greater than the sum or its parts, and that social and human capital is not an issue of purely economic means, our work aims to maximise social benefits as a long-term process and work towards fair development. This particular method relies on community building, based on the strengths of each member and how these can flourish, rather than on how the problems can be solved.

c) Collective education: knowledge and skills are gained not only by sitting in classrooms. Everyone in a community has ideas, skills, experience and knowledge that others can benefit from, regardless of their age, culture, qualifications, jobs or formal education levels. Whether it is sharing practical skills, assisting newcomers in cultural acclimatisation or offering formal classes, all generations and all backgrounds can gain confidence and satisfaction from both learning and teaching others.

d) Bottom-up processes: The Kyklos team is dedicated to supporting groups and individuals in finding their own voices, articulating their own interests and starting and managing projects that meet the needs and talents of their own groups and communities. While some of the more technical projects will initially be managed by experts with experience in the field, community members will be trained to take over and to develop and manage their own programmes and groups of activities.

Activities:

Kyklos’ activities are arranged into two broad branches, each of which interacts with, and informs the practice of the other. The first is long term social research, community-building, placemaking and stakeholder mapping, the other is a wide range of public activities.

Community building, stakeholder mapping and social consultation processes started before the premises of Kyklos were renovated. The renovation itself was a participative process with the residents of the area as a starting place for community-building and cooperative working. These activities are consistent, ongoing and involve interviews with residents as well as developing networks of stakeholders. The opinions, ideas, skills, thoughts and feelings gathered through these actions help inform the public activities.

Kyklos’ public activities all include cross-cutting themes of co-learning, environmental behavioral change and community solidarity. Within this framework, 4 broad areas of action are set out, and activities (either one off events or a series of workshops or a repetition of an event with a new group of participants) are created and realised.

-skills development and creative expression

-neighborhood integration and social geography

-the natural world

-repurposing and reuse of materials

One of Kyklos’ long term projects is the ‘Circular Economy Venture’. It is a small scale working model of the mechanisms used in the coffee recycling project ‘Kafsimo’. This model will be located inside the premises of Kyklos and will be a small machine and process which can demonstrate the working procedures of turning coffee grounds into biofuel, to the public. This mechanism can also be used for paper recycling and reconstitution as well as the repurposing of other ‘waste’ products. Through public accessibility to this equipment, school groups and community members can engage in a practical way with issues such as recycling, waste, the use of fossil fuels and the wider issues of the need for a green economy.