A circular impulse for public space in post-war neighbourhoods

One of the objectives of the National Environmental Vision (NOVI) is that the Netherlands must be circular by 2050. There is much focus on buildings, while the opportunities in the public space are underexposed in current plans. Therefore, in cooperation with the municipality of Leiden, W/E consultants, Superuse Studios and Other Spheres, we mapped out how circularity can be put central in the design of public space. The focus of this research, which was made possible by the Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, is on post-war neighbourhoods.

A large part of the ecological footprint of municipalities is caused by the design and construction of public space. In addition, public space is the place that offers coupling opportunities for tackling circularity and other sustainability themes. Therefore, we investigated how the steps of a circular process can contribute to larger transitions in public space, such as CO2 reduction, climate adaptivity, water nuisance and heat stress.

Post-war neighbourhoods

Post-war neighbourhoods were built at a rapid pace with practical application as the starting point. These neighbourhoods therefore have a large amount of surfacing, often consisting of materials such as asphalt and concrete that have a large environmental impact. However, we should not regard these locations as places with a high environmental impact, but rather as rich sources of material.

To paint a good picture of public space in postwar neighborhoods, a palette of five public space typologies, common in the Netherlands, was chosen. Currently, these are often functionally designed with a lot of space taken up by paving and cars (storage and use). These are the public spaces where sewer replacement will be needed in the coming decades, offering the opportunity for future-proof redesigns with more attention to biodiversity, energy transition, circularity and mobility transition. This will create a more attractive and better living environment.

A circular chain

A shift from linear to circular processes is an important condition for reducing the impact of climate change. Several changes are needed before circular principles can become successful in practice. First of all, it is necessary to appreciate the current materials and to see the (post-war) neighbourhoods as sources of materials.


Reduce and reuse

Several variants were developed for each street profile, and eventually the most extreme scenario with the greatest impact: the amount of paved surface in these neighbourhoods can be reduced by up to 50%. 


As we reduce the amount of material in public spaces, a surplus is created. This surplus must be stored somewhere. A small part of this research involves the concept for a hub system. A system in which materials can be stored, as locally as possible, until they can be reused somewhere else. Based on the literature review and interviews conducted, three hub typologies have emerged, each operating on a different scale. 

Circularity is never standalone transition


A shift from linear to circular processes is an important prerequisite for reducing the impact of climate change. Some steps require complex system changes to be implemented. The only way to make a real impact is to integrate the transitions below while designing for a circular public space. All these transitions will have an impact on the daily lives of residents. A cultural mind shift is therefore also required among both residents and politicians in order to provide space for the transitions. Participation, inclusiveness, and education are important elements in this. The annexes in the report explain all these transitions in more detail.