Act: Inspiration

Kate Raworth: Doughnut Economics at the city scale

March 18, 2021

Editor’s Note:

Shareable is partnering with Tufts University on this special eight-session series hosted by professor Julian Agyeman (Co-chair of Shareable’s Board) and Cities@TuftsInitially designed for Tufts students, faculty, and alumni, the colloquium has been opened up to the public with the support of Shareable and The Kresge Foundation.

Register to participate in future Cities@Tufts events here.

Below is the transcript from a presentation delivered in December of 2020 “Doughnut Economics Scaled to the City” with Kate Raworth. Learn more about her work with the Doughnut Economics Action Lab by visiting: and read the recent feature story we published on shareable:

Watch the Video>>


Julian Agyeman: Welcome to the Cities@Tufts Colloquium, along with our partners Shareable and the Kresge Foundation. I’m Julian Agyeman, and together with my research assistants, Meghan Tenhoff and Perri Sheinbaum, we organize Cities@Tufts as a cross-disciplinary, academic initiative, which recognizes Tufts University as a leader in urban studies, urban planning and sustainability issues. And we are beyond delighted today to welcome Kate Raworth. Kate describes herself, and I think it’s brilliant, as a renegade economist. And don’t we need more of them? Her focus is on exploring the economic mindset needed to address the 21st century social and ecological challenges. And she brings the brilliant conceptualization, I think, of Doughnut Economics, which has been hugely influential on a lot of us, on my thinking. And it’s really influenced a lot of the trajectory of sustainable development thinking, progressive business thinking, and now at the urban level, the way cities are thinking.

And she’s been in great demand. So, we’re really pleased to have her here, but she’s been in great demand speaking to the UN General Assembly, the Occupy movement, she’s really, I think, straddled social movements, different groups of people. It’s been a fabulous career so far and it’s going to get better, I think, as this concept of her’s really gains even more traction. She’s a senior research associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. She teaches on the Masters in Environmental Change and Management. And she’s also a professor of the Practice at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. I think her biggest accolade is that The Guardian named her as one of the top ten tweeters on economic transformation. I can only drool at the number of Twitter followers. She’s got, probably about ten or eleven times as many as me. I’m going to get there soon though, Kate.

Kate Raworth: Doughnut Economics at the City Scale (presentation)

Kate Raworth: Thank you so much for that very generous introduction, Julian. And I know that your thinking aligns with so much of the doughnut thinking, and has done for a very long time. So, I feel like I’m in very good company. So, hello everybody. It’s great to join you here. I’m really looking forward to this. I’m going to present and I really hope that it triggers lots of questions in you. Please bring questions and comments and critique. Constructive critiques are a great source of discussion. So, I hope this triggers all sorts of things.

So, I’m going to share my screen and jump in with this. I want to start here because I think it’s really important to jump out of our very present moment and recognize that the 21st century is still just a moment in time, but the 21st century has begun with repeated crises. Think back to the 2008 financial meltdown. We are in an era of climate and ecological breakdown, and we’ve endured just now around the world Covid lockdown. But these repeated crises clearly hit people and communities with sharp inequalities of gender and of race, of wealth and power, of global north and global south. But what’s clear across all of them is that they are profoundly disruptive to human well-being. And I think it’s important to recognize that these crises emerge out of the very systems that we’ve created. So, create a global financial system that seeks to expand itself endlessly and you will get meltdown. Create an industrial and economic system that depends upon fossil fuels and endless expansion, and you will get climate and ecological breakdown, create human expansion into wildlife areas, plus ever-rising number of flights every day — there were 225,000 flights that took off one day in July, 2019, 225,000 flights in one day. So, the end interconnection and expansion brings us a global health pandemic.

So we need to create a new vision of thriving and well-being that takes us away from these endless expansions, which I think are deeply inherited from 20th century economics. And we need to create a new vision of what well-being and prosperity and success means in the 21st century. And so for that, I’m just going to jump straight in and say here I offer you a concept of a doughnut. Ridiculous though it sounds it is the only doughnut that actually turns out to be any good for us. And what’s going on here is you want to imagine humanity’s use of earth’s resources radiating out from the center of that picture. So, the hole in the middle of the doughnut is a place where people are left falling short of the essentials of life. It’s why people don’t have the food and water and health care and housing a political voice and equality that every person has a claim to. I can say that because I crowdsource these 12 social dimensions from the Sustainable Development Goals. So, every government in the world has already agreed that every person in the world has a claim to these essentials. Leave no one in the hole, get everyone over the social foundation.

That was a very 20th century agenda, actually. You could say the 20th century agenda of human rights sought to do much of this, but now we know more. Now we know that we cannot go beyond this ecological ceiling because there we put so much pressure on earth’s life supporting systems that we begin to kick earth out of balance and we cause climate breakdown and ocean acidification and create a hole in the ozone layer and catastrophic levels of biodiversity loss that break down the web of life. And these are the nine planetary boundaries recognized only just over a decade ago, which is extraordinarily recent, that humanity has begun to be able to chart the life supporting systems on which human and all life depends on planet earth. It’s that new. So these planetary boundaries make up ecological system to put those two together and you get the goal of meeting the needs of all people within the means of the living planet. And it’s about thriving in that space of balance. And even if I just do this with my hands, it immediately feels like something like a heartbeat. It’s about balance. It’s not about endless growth and expansion.

And to me, the 21st century challenge and question and opportunity is to say, how the heck do we for the first time start to do this? Because the systems we’ve inherited, the economic theories, the governmental policies, the business models we inherited from the 20th century were never designed to do this. And it’s urgent that we do this because this picture shows us the state of humanity right now. I call it humanity’s selfie. Billions of people are falling short of the essentials of life, that’s all the reds going into the middle and we want to eliminate that red, but also, we are massively overshooting those planetary boundaries. So, for the first time in human history, we need to meet the needs of all people. That in itself is a big task, but it must be done while coming back within planetary boundaries. And this is what’s unprecedented, this double whammy, which means we need new economic theories and policies and business models.

So how? Well, this model is a global picture of all of humanity within the planet. But of course, we want to bring it down to the scale where much governance and policymaking happens. So, let’s go first to the nation. Researchers at Leeds University, Andrew Fanning and Dan O’Neill did a brilliant job, and they’ve made a website, which you can see here, Goodlife, where you can see the national donuts of one hundred and fifty nations. And I’ve just picked three with their income per capita as well. So, on the one hand, we’ve got Rwanda massively falling short of meeting people’s needs. Look at all that red deprivation in the circle in the middle, but living well within their nations share of pressure on ecological boundaries. They’re not overshooting any of that biophysical boundary.

Brazil in the middle. Significantly falling short and also an overshoot. Many countries like China and many middle-income countries are there. And then have shown the U.S. Because that’s where we’re talking today. But I could show you actually many high-income countries, which would be massively overshooting planetary boundaries. Now, some high-income countries have that center circle in fully blue. And let’s admit it, all of the world’s high-income countries should have no depravation. This is a very, very low global bar of deprivation. So, the fact that the U.S. Is quite significantly in the red on several dimensions tells us something about the extreme levels of inequalities in the US and on $63,000 per person a year. That is a challenge and an issue to be sorted, clearly. But the US, like all high-income countries, very significantly overshooting its pressure on planetary boundaries.

And I can show you 150 nations, that’s those same ideas. But now put on this one diagram, so the place you want to be is in the top left-hand corner where you meet the needs of all people, but to do so within the means of the living planet. And first thing we see is that there’s no nation that can say it’s really anywhere close. And I’m just going to group these countries into three clusters. I consider this picture tells us that we’re all developing countries now and I really challenge anybody who’s still using the language of developed countries and developing, because according to this, there’s no country in the world that can put its hand up and say we developed. So, we’re all developing nations. We’ve just changed the meaning of what it means to succeed and to get there.

But there are countries that traditionally have been called developing, I’m going to call them the lower-income nations. They have barely overshot planetary boundaries, but they have a massive task of meeting people’s needs for the first time. So how are we going to do that? Because every country before them has met peoples needs by overshooting planetary boundaries. So, this is an unprecedented journey of development. Then there’s the middle-income countries, emerging economies, and they have a double whammy because they need to also meet people’s needs for the first time, they are very low when meeting people’s needs. But they need to do it while already coming back within planetary boundaries. Now many of these nations are making major infrastructural projects at the moment and so have a chance to put in place an infrastructure that transforms energy, that transforms transport, that transforms housing. Will they do that? And can they do that? And then there’s the high-income nations that are not developed. They are just high-income nations because they’re massively overshooting planetary boundaries. How do they, for the first time meet everyone’s needs? Because they certainly have the resources to do so. But how do they do that, while coming back within planetary boundaries, it’s never been done before. This is an unprecedented journey. We are all on unprecedented developmental journeys towards the donor.

And then lastly, with this picture here, let me just be very clear. These nations may be sitting apart on the picture, but they are by no means unconnected. Their stories and their histories are profoundly connected by colonialism. And this is kind of cascading down from the high income to the low income for clear reasons, right? Colonialism. By the imposition of structural adjustment, by ongoing debt relations. So many low-income countries have embedded debts that they pay far more in debt repayment every year that they invest in the National Health Service, and trade rules that are skewed against low-income countries. Resource extraction through foreign direct investment and multinationals, and then the impacts of climate change created by those higher income and resource using countries that fall first and hardest on lower-income countries. So, there are profound interconnections between these nations.

But what if we were to go now a step below within a nation and go down to the level of the city? And I want to bring it there for the sake of today’s focus. So, what happens when the city meets the doughnut? Well, we’ve been exploring this question for over a year now. Doughnut Economics Action Lab, together with Biomimicry3.8, which is created by Janine Benyus, a brilliant biomimicry thinker, if you’re interested in biomimicry, I profoundly recommend you look up the work of Janine Benyus. Together with C40 Cities, which is a network of 97 cities worldwide in which the mayor has committed to cutting city impacts to keep global heating on to one point five degrees, and Circle Economy.

So we worked together to come up with a methodology for downscaling the doughnut down to the scale of the city. And here’s the question that we invite every ambitious city to ask itself. How can our city, be a home to thriving people, in a thriving place, while respecting the well-being of all people and the health of the whole planet? And you can hear there that there’s a local aspiration set in the context of global responsibility. So, what would it mean for the people of our city to thrive? Well, that question is going to be answered differently by every city. And it’s a question for that city to answer depending on its culture, its history, its values, its diversity. Who are the inhabitants of the city and what does it mean here? It’s going to be different in Stockholm and in Dar es Salaam and in Boston and in Nairobi.

Secondly, what would it mean for our city to thrive within its natural habitat? So, every city is located somewhere in a biome on planet Earth. And it’s nestled within nature, and nature has a genius of figuring out how to thrive in that place, up that mountain or at the bottom of that valley or in the Arctic Circle or on the equator. And how is it that nature’s thriving there? And what would it mean for the city, for your city, to actually have the ambition to be as generous as the wild land next door, as Janine Benyus would put it. So, the forest that would be on the land if the city weren’t here, sequestering carbon and storing groundwater and housing biodiversity and cooling the air. What if we took the metrics off the wild forest next door and set the ambition for the city to be as generous as that, to sequester as much carbon store as much groundwater, cool as much air? To me, this is a beautiful, ambitious but utterly natural conception for what it means for the city to be a thriving place. These two give us local ambition, thriving people in a thriving place. Fabulous, great place to live. But we have to recognize that every city draws on resources from the world, draws on materials through global supply chains which come with labor in global supply chain. So how do you ensure that your city respects the health of the whole planet and is not causing deforestation in the Amazon, is not causing mineral extraction to make the phones that we like to connect with our friends on, have all the resources that go into the clothes we were, the food we eat, the electronics we use, the construction materials that build buildings we live in. Thinking of all of that, how can your city massively comeback within planetary boundaries, in its resources? What would that mean?

And lastly, but by no means least, think of the people in those supply chains, the people who stitch and sew your clothes, who pick and pack your food, who assemble your mobile phone, who dig and transport your construction materials for your buildings. What are the conditions under which they work? So how is your city related to labor rights through global supply chains, but perhaps also culturally to other places or through historic colonial relationships or through remittances? So, these place the local aspiration of a city in the context of global responsibility. And we invite all 21st century cities that want to move into the doughnut to explore their current reality through these four lenses.

And we’ve started this work in Portland and Philadelphia and in Amsterdam. And these photographs are from workshops we held in those three cities with policymakers and community members. What you see is they’re sitting at a table around their city doughnut, one those four lenses I just described, and they’re drawing lines and putting sticky dots of challenges and synergies and possibilities. What we saw was policymakers who were coming from — I work in education, or I work on transport, or I work on tree planting, or I work in diversity. They were all starting somewhere in a silo and they could all see themselves in this portrait, but they could also see everybody else’s issues and start drawing connections between. And we got a lot of feedback from the city policymakers that this was really valuable in helping them have a more holistic vision, first of all of what thriving means, but also their issue in relation to everybody else’s.

So how can cities move into the doughnut? I mean, once you’ve looked at your city on that doughnut portrait, what would you do? And I think there are two major dynamic transformations that need to happen from what I’m going to broadly call 20th century to 21st century cities. So, we need cities to move from being degenerative by design. And this is the linear degenerative economy, we generally import resources into the city. We make them into stuff we want, use it for a while and then throw it away and export the pollutants. And that take, make, use, lose is what cuts against planetary boundaries and pushes us over them. So, we need to turn from degenerative to regenerative design. How can cities be part of that regenerative and circular economy where resources aren’t used up, they’re used again and again. Separating organic, like food waste, from the synthetic, like disused mobile phones. How can cities do that? And how can they run on renewable energy?

And then the second one is that we’ve inherited cities that in many ways, through their design and through the economic design within cities, are centralizing of opportunity and value that, it turns out, have been driving value into the hands of the one percent. How can those divisive and centralizing designs, both infrastructural and economic, be turned into distributive designs, where value and opportunity are shared far more equitably with everybody. What can cities do about that? Of course, it’s a bigger transformation that needs to happen nationally and globally. But what can cities do about that?

So these two dynamics, I just want to give some examples, just illustrations, of places that are beginning to make these changes. So, on regenerative design, the city of Curitiba, of course, is profoundly famous because since the 1970a they designed this rapid transport system, we have buses moving in dedicated lanes so it’s cheaper and faster and just far more pleasant to travel long distances into the city center every day by bus rather than by car, and then out at the front edge again bringing in electric buses. Their model has been copied brilliantly in over 150 cities worldwide. So that’s amazing peer-to-peer inspiration. In the city of Paris, and many cities, in Covid particularly, they’ve transformed, with a lick of paint, car lanes to cycling lanes and getting people on bikes. And I think the rise of the electric bike is, as many people saying, it’s taking out the hills in your city. Don’t tell me your city’s got too many hills in it, electric bikes flattens the city. So, the rise of cycling, the rise of healthy transport.

Circular design. So, the city of Amsterdam has got a policy to become one hundred percent circular by 2050 and to halve material resources by 2030, in just a decade. So, they’re putting that into their construction codes of reuse of materials and having depots of materials that have been formerly used and can be reused. This is one building in the city of Amsterdam called the Circle Building, where when you’re standing in the building, it’s a very beautiful place to be, but you stand, you notice that nothing is glued and cemented together. Everything is clipped and bolted together so that it can be unclipped and unbolted and the materials can just be disassembled. it’s modular building design so that things can be used again and again. And then a city of Medellin has brought river parks back — opened up the river and realized that it shouldn’t be treated as a pollution of water, taking in the waste water where it should actually be treated as the heart of the city. Building river parks, bringing people back to that river, so allowing nature to flow through the design of the city.

So those are three examples of regenerative design. What about distributive by design? Preston, a town in the U.K., that’s thought of as one of the more deprived and certainly deindustrialized towns, has got its city council that is bringing back local enterprise. So they’ve rebuilt, at a very symbolic and simple level, rebuilt the marketplace so that local traders and enterprises can actually sell. They are setting up cooperatives. They are creating anchor institutions in some ways, like the model that’s done in Cleveland, Ohio. So really investing in community enterprise and bringing small and medium enterprises. Vienna, really interesting that the majority of people, over 60 percent of people in the city of Vienna live in city-owned housing. They live in social housing or cooperatively owned housing, because the city owns so much of the housing stock. It’s a very different model from some cities I know and many cities in the US, it’s like, well, of course, housing is privately owned. This is a completely different way of thinking about the ownership of housing, which makes affordable housing at the heart of the city accessible to a far, far greater number of people. And there’s no stigma at all attached to living in social housing. It’s beautiful. It’s fantastic. And it’s in the city center.

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The living wage. Famously, Seattle brought in the $15 living wage some years ago. Originally, people said, Oh, but nobody will be able to afford to go to restaurants once you’ve got this minimum wage. And it turned out well, actually, even the wait staff could now afford to go to restaurants because they too had a decent wage. So, bringing in that minimum and it’s really interesting that cities often take action on this far beyond a nation does. Cities are the pioneer. Could this work? We’ll make it work. Perhaps we could do this nationally. And then in Bogota, building public space. So, the work of turning public areas that have been colonized, typically by the car, giving it back to the commons. So, I love this work by Janette Sadik-Khan, which is done in New York and Bogota, turning, for example, this car park into a play park. And it just transforms public space and public life and how commoners can meet, and who can meet, and that sense of community. We would all much rather live in a place that has this on the corner than another parking lot. So those are examples, just a few examples of distributive by design. I want to add in, though, that I think it’s really important that cities can help us to rethink our multiple economic identities. So, this is the diagram I use to start teaching economics. To think that the economy is embedded in society, embedded in the living world, drawing in materials and putting out waste and pollutants and bathed in the river of solar energy.

OK, but let’s dive into the economy itself. Mainstream economics starts, welcome to economics, here is the market, supply and demand. And by doing that, it places the market at the heart of our vision. And it tells us that we as economic actors are either producer or consumer. You’re shopping or you’re working, shopping or working. And then you might ask, are you labor or are you capital? Do you earn wages or do you earn dividends? But it puts us in the framework of rational economic madness. This character from 20th century economics that told us we should be self-interested with money in hand and ego and heart and a calculator in head. The challenges, of course, this is a tiny fraction of who we are. And so we need a much richer notion of our economic roles because we also, in relation to the state, can be a public servant, a teacher, a medical worker, and we can be a resident of the state and the city, a voter and a protester, all of them key roles that we play in relation to the state in the household. Partner, parent, relative, child. And in the commons we can be a volunteer, a sharer, a co-creator, or steward. So the Commons are a place that don’t fall under the market or the state, but it’s where people come together and co-create goods and services that they value, like a neighborhood garden on the corner of the block or Wikipedia on the World Wide Web.

And one thing I think the covid-19 crisis has made very, very clear is that when the market space is literally shut down due to physical distancing, we suddenly see, very visibly, the importance of these other economic identities. So, the crucial importance of key workers who are keeping health care going, education going. Keeping shops stacked and deliveries happening. And that rise of recognition, let’s see how that is sustained rather than forgotten as the Covid crisis begins to be tackled. In the household, we’ve seen people really having to step in as carers for sick ones, but also parents with children at home trying to carry on doing a job. And for some people, there’s been joy in the household and some people there’s been an acute and intense rise in domestic violence that cannot be ignored because of the pressures on households to carry the economy in this way. And then the commons. Sometimes the Commons have stepped up providing a community kitchen or food banks or community volunteers or even just a WhatsApp group that connects the street. That’s what happened to me. I live on a street that was actually pretty disconnected and at the beginning of Covid we created a WhatsApp group, and I know that this will be a positive connection long beyond this crisis. So we hear time and again that people are saying, actually the one thing we don’t want to lose out of this lockdown in this pandemic is the sense of ‘we,’ this sense of community and actually this recognition of a multiple economic roles. So I just ask, how can cities be designed physically in their infrastructure and in the locations, but also in their institutions and in the language they use to recognize these multiple economic roles that we all play in our lives? Usually we weave seamlessly in and out of them, but actually we need to create space so that we can do justice to each of them.

So let me pull back from the frames and ask, what is it that leaves some cities — and I think it’s a 20th century frame I’ve heard from many city policymakers and mayors say, yeah, in the 20th century that the question really was, how can we make a city grow? That’s success. And how is it that come cities are still stuck there, but others are very much in a space of, how can we make a growing city thrive? Our city may be growing because people are coming. Urbanization means the city and the population is increasing, but our goal is to be thriving. It’s a different paradigm. So how can we make our growing city thrive? And I find very useful five traits that I’ve drawn from the work of Marjorie Kelly, who is actually an enterprise analyst, but I think these traits are hugely valuable in the space of the city. And I invite you, whenever looking at a particular city, to look at it through the lens of these five design traits, its purpose, its networks, governance, ownership, and finance. And I’m just going to talk briefly about each one of them, what it means to pivot to being a thriving city in each of these five areas.

So on purpose hubs, of course, matters hugely. What are you in service of? What success looks like? And you can listen to the speeches of mayors. Are they talking about growth and competition or are they talking about thriving and collaboration? And that’s how, you know, have they made that pivot in the frame? The city of Amsterdam, which published its city portrait of the doughnut in April, has set itself the purpose of being a thriving, inclusive, regenerative city for all residents while living within planetary boundaries. That’s a pretty ambitious and 21st century goal. And now the question is, how do you get there? But starting with that vision means a good pathway there. What about networks? How is the city and the city administration related through supply chains to its customers, to its suppliers, to its residents? How can it use those networks to pivot? So anchor institutions, whether they’re in Cleveland, Ohio or in Preston in the UK, how can we take the city’s hospitals and civic organizations and city administration itself and schools, organizations that aren’t going to get up and leave, that have a long term procurement? How can they procure more locally, more socially, more environmentally and use that to reinvest city money in city values?

Long term contracting. The city of Melbourne brought together academic institutions, cultural institutions, local government, and corporations, and they entered into a longterm contract with a fixed price on renewable energy, which meant that, with that certainty of market, it was possible to build a new wind farm outside of Melbourne that would then supply them. So that collaboration of networks within a city has enabled them to move to renewable energy far faster than working as individual market actors ever would have. And then thinking also about collaboration in networks between cities. The C40 brought together a group of cities that are together, home to 36 million people, and those cities from London to Cape Town, have collectively procured electric buses for their cities. Again, the bus making companies would have said, the market’s not ready, we can’t do it until 2030 or plus. They brought the date forward to 2025, because of their collective procurement. So, using networks to procure and to bring transformation forward.

Governance. Who has a voice in decision making? What are the rules and the principles and practices of how decisions are made? What are the metrics of success and the incentives? So here citizen’s assemblies, deliberative democracy — and these are of course, popping all over the world, in cities. There’s really interesting work going on in Japan with an initiative they call Future Design. They invite city residents to put on ceremonial robes and say, you are now representing a citizen from 2060, and we want you to reflect on city design and policies from 2060. And what turns out is those citizens make far longer term decisions. They are willing to pay higher prices for water. They are willing to sacrifice goods today for the longer term in which they are invested. Now I have a 12 year old kids, they are the citizens of 2060, so I feel they should be represented in every town hall meeting. And I think it’s an amazing design of using that ceremonial symbolism to bring their voices forward. But also transforming the metrics you use. The city of Stuttgart, in Germany, has adopted the economy for the common good framework, which is used to assess companies and municipalities. And they’ve assessed themselves and their own city-owned companies, but also are giving a tax deduction to companies based in the city that are scoring well on the balance card produced. So bringing in new metrics and rewarding it through city policies.

Going deeper into ownership. This goes, obviously, deeper into history and power. So how is the city owned? Who owns the land and housing? Let’s go back and think about Vienna and how transformative it is that the city administration owns much of the land and housing. What a difference it means for that being a very equitable city. Who owns the utilities? Cities like Omaha, bringing the power back into democratic control. So they say they’re a public power district with lots of cooperative and small scale providers providing renewable energy. But also, the finance goes back into the city and pays out a dividend to the community. Who owns the data? 21st century data, we know, it’s a huge asset. So who’s going to get to own city? The city of Barcelona has committed to open data and managing data in a way that respects the user and their sovereignty over the data, but makes it open as opposed to captured and closed.

And who owns the businesses in the cities? Which companies are selling in the high street? And how do they behave as good community members of this thriving city? But also, which big businesses are headquartered in the cities? And what are their contributions? And are they paying taxes? And are they contributing to everything that they’re gaining for themselves and their employees by being located there?

And then lastly, to finance the question of money and what money is demanding and expecting. And cities have, of course, multiple relationships to finance. So, first of all, city revenues, where is the city getting its money from? Some is coming from national federal taxes, but some of its locally on taxes. Some cities like Portland earn a surprising amount of their money from car parking charges. Well, if we’re going to shift cities away from cars to transit and cycles, how is that going to be replaced? What’s going to be an alternative source of income to pay for city services? So where does the city revenue come from? City based financing? How is the city providing finance to enable its local organizations and local enterprises? There’s been a really interesting rise in recent years in city banks saying, well, actually, we feel the big banks after the financial crisis, it’s clear they’re not serving small and medium enterprises. They’ve been re-serving themselves, rebuilding their books before passing the money on to reboot the real economy. So, let’s create a city bank, let’s have a city credit union, and let’s imbue it with the values of social investment and ecological investment that we want to pivot towards. And then lastly, where is the city investing its own money? Where are the pensions funding? So, again, with the C40 recently, twelve major cities have committed to divesting their money, their pension funds, from fossil fuels and reinvesting it in companies and investments that are pivoting towards that renewable future. So city finance can play a huge role.

So just standing back, across those you can see there are deep interconnections between the purpose and the networks and government ownership and finance. Can a city design itself to align them to that pivot? And I invite you to ask yourself, of any city you love, or live in, or arriving in, or are the mayor of, or working for: how can your city design through these five traits? Best be redesigned, so that it lets go of being in service of growth and it comes in of thriving?

So, let me just pull right back and wrap up. With Amsterdam, we launched Amsterdam’s City Portrait in April. It’s the month in which Amsterdam had its highest rate of infection of Covid, but they still launched because they said, yes, we’re in crisis, but as we emerge from crisis, which direction do we want to travel? Who do we want to become? And we want to use this to set out the investments and the regulations and the way we emerge from emergency. We then, as Doughnut Economics Action Lab, published the methodology we’ve used in Amsterdam, in Portland, in Philadelphia — so this is how we did it. It’s not the only way to do it, but this is how we did it. Here’s the blueprint that you can then take an adapt and adopt and make it a green print or a yellow print. But this is the way we began and we recognize that different cities will take this and change it into something that works in their context. And we’ve just been delighted that this power of an inspirer, together with the recipe of how to do it, has just triggered so much take up self-organizing group, sometimes by local community groups, sometimes by the mayor in cities and towns around the world saying, yeah, we’re going to put this into practice here. And we think that this method of spreading ideas is actually going to be a very important approach to spreading ideas this decade and a head when the speed and scale of transformation required, demands this kind of open design.

I’m talking about cities, but I just want to be really clear that actually this concept can be taken to a neighborhood. This is happening in a neighborhood of Ladywood in Birmingham, in the UK, and they’re building these beautiful globe shaped spaces to have community conversations. But it’s also happening at the level of the nation, as in Costa Rica, they want to use the doughnut as a pivot for Regenerate Costa Rica. And I was recently in a local stationery store and I found this beautiful wrapping paper and I thought, that is my wrapping paper. Because to me it shows this — Elinor Ostrom’s concept of polycentric governance, where we need to govern at a global scale, that’s the UN, at the regional scale, national scale, maybe state level, city level, town, district, street. We need to organize polycentric levels. And so we are imagining these little doughnuts that pop up and they’ll overlap and they’re interrelated, they’re not all completely constructed the same because they need to respond to context. But there’s a richness of these multiple layers of organizing.

So if that sounds inspiring, I really invite you to check out the work we’re doing in Doughnut Economics Action Lab. Here’s some photographs of change-makers who didn’t wait for permission, but just pick the concept up and started playing with it and turning it into tools. We’ve now launched a platform that anybody can join as a member. The tools that I’m talking about are all online as well as tools for teachers and for community groups and for businesses and for governments. And stories of how people have been putting it into practice because that, we believe, is where the peer-to-peer inspiration comes from. So, I’m going to stop there and really, really look forward to turning this into a conversation. Thank you very much.

Kate Raworth: Doughnut Economics at the City Scale (discussion)

Julian Agyeman: Well, thanks, Kate, for an absolutely inspiring talk. Love your enthusiasm. This is such a moment in human history. And, you know, I like the Amsterdam notion that they want to come out of this thinking in the regenerative way. So, the horror of what we’re going through could be turned into something so, so positive. So, we’re getting a lot of questions coming in and I’m just going to start firing away. So, first question from Maggie Peard, has there been any work done exploring the feasibility of actually getting all countries to exist within the doughnut? In other words, do you think the ecological ceiling that we’re all bound to has the resources to meet all basic needs on a global scale?

Kate Raworth: Excellent question, Maggie. I call it the philosophical doughnut question, the conceptual question, like does the does not even exist? Is there even a world in which if we were to meet the needs of seven, eight billion people, we could be living within the means of the planet? And, so there have been studies that have studied it. But of course, what they’re looking at is the empirics of the past. So, they’re looking at the past relationship between, for example, water use, water extraction and food production, the past relationship between material extraction and housing construction, the past relationship between fossil fuel use and heating and energy use. And we know that we need to transform. I’ve not yet seen anybody say, oh, yes, here is exactly how we could do it, but I know the — I think I know the key factors that we would need to take into account to make it happen.

Of course, it’s an issue. Let’s start with population. How many people we are really matters, right? We’re eight billion. I think we can do it for eight billion. I think we could do it for 10 billion. Could we do it for 15 billion? The more people there are, the harder make things for ourselves, obviously, because there are more people requiring resources to survive. But the really good news about this story is that the way to stabilize the size of the human population is to get people who are living in poverty out of that deprivation. Child education, child health, girl’s education, particularly, women’s empowerment, women’s reproductive rights. This empowers women to take charge of their own families, and they choose to have smaller families. So, number one population is hugely important. And getting ourselves out of the social foundations hole will enable us to come back within the ceiling. But equally as important as population.

When anyone ever talks about population, we have to talk about inequalities of consumption. Because people living lives in the global north have massively greater impacts on the planet than people living lives in the global south. So an extra child born in the global north has at least ten times the impact of a child in the global south. So we need people who live high impact lifestyles, in terms of carbon intensity material use, to massively transform and reduce that too. So, population, inequality. Governance. How we govern ourselves, whether it’s how we govern the use of a village well, to how we govern the global climate at the UN climate change talks. How we govern ourselves has a massive impact on whether or not we can collectively agree to bring ourselves back within these means. And the technologies we use. I mean, think of 20th century irrigation in a field, the use of water to produce food, so the conversion of drops of water into calories. Irrigation was sort of like this, just spraying water everywhere, massively wasteful. 21st century irrigation is a pipe with drip feed — tiny change in technology, massive transformation of input to output. So, we need technologies that are smart and that enable us to realize that.

So I’ve said population, inequality, governance, technology. I’m going to add just two more. Aspiration. What do people think is a good life? What is enough? There are more and more conversations now around sufficiency. How do we know when we’ve got enough material well-being? And how do we let go of the 20th century idea that doing well means knowing that my children will live in a bigger house and have a bigger car and have more than me? Why? Why is that? Well, I would like my children to have a stable climate and a good community. And then last one, I would say is luck. Because there are tipping points and there are crises that emerge in the world. So, luck is a key determinant of whether or not we can do this. And that’s why we need to move very fast to move away from the danger zones where we run out of luck. That was a long answer, but Maggie asked a very big question.

Kate Raworth: Great, thanks, Kate. And it’s almost as if you’re advertising by sharing cities and social innovation class.

Kate Raworth: I’m totally advertising your class!

Julian Agyeman: These are exactly the questions that urban planners — this is next phase urban planning.

Kate Raworth: Yes.

Julian Agyeman: In many ways, Kate, we’ve got a question from Irwin, in Cleveland. Is there any documentation from the Portland and Philly workshops? Two, what was the reaction from these U.S. mayors and elected officials? And then three, did any low hanging fruit action ideas emerge?

Kate Raworth: Oh, great question. So, unfortunately, up to now, only Amsterdam have published their city doughnut. And Portland and Philly — so we did workshops with them late in September and we were just planning the second workshops. And all sorts of crises kicked off. So, Covid — so we had to cancel the workshops, we were literally that thing of are we going to go? Are we going to go? And they had to be canceled. And then those cities both, quite rightly, got totally involved in Black Lives Matter. And then Portland had appalling fires. So, I think, sitting out from the outside, seeing what was happening there, that I could see that their agendas and their immediate concerns were catching them in very big, important current politics and crises. I don’t know where the state of that is right now.

But, let me take you to those workshops. What I saw in those workshops was really interesting. So, Philadelphia, a city that’s had a huge loss of industry over the years and has a very strong desire to grow back, right? We want to bring people back to the city, reenergize and reinvigorate the city. And then there’s the challenge of, okay, we need to do that. But even Philly is living beyond planetary boundaries. So how do you do that while coming back within country boundaries? So, it’s a very challenging 21st century agenda, it wasn’t faced in the 20th century city. You can’t reboot like they did. We need to transform.

But a real recognition of that — so I remember one conversation that came up is recognizing the connections between the different lenses. So, for example, we know that low income neighborhoods are so typically the ones that have no tree cover. So, they are the ones that don’t have that beautiful biomimicry of trees in the city. And so, you had the urban heat island effect. So, thinking about the local ecological designs, the low-income neighborhoods that are really exposed. And evidence shows that the higher is a temperature, when you’re on a really hot summer day, high temperature, the less kids are able to retain education in schools. So very clear connections between the local ecological habitat and social outcomes. And so it connects to class, it connects to race, and there are very clear social, political issues. Sometimes people think, well, the environment, that’s kind of nice to have. And that’s a sort of a luxury. No, it’s deeply connected to issues of social justice. And so in those workshops, we were able to make those clear and I could see policymakers swapping business cards, wanting to stay connected, wanting to be connected, wanting to be part of this more holistic vision. So I really hope that those cities will say, you know what, as we emerge from these multiple crises, we want to turn back to that because we see it gives us a holistic future.

Julian Agyeman: Great, thank you. Christina Olson from Vancouver is asking, I’m curious what the cities you’re working with are finding the biggest challenge to moving towards the donor vision.

Kate Raworth: So when we first did workshops with Amsterdam and created their portrait — and Amsterdam as a pioneering, it loves to be pioneer, reinventing, they love that, and that’s great. The city officials came to us and said, if we are going to achieve this doughnut vision that you’re talking about, we realize that our institutions in the way we’re organized, it’s not fit for this. We’re siloed. We do climate over here, we do transport over here. We do social justice over here. We do education over here. And they asked us to run a workshop on how they needed to transform their own city organizational design in order to do that.

And that was actually the source of that signboard that I just showed you. It made us think, aha, we use this with businesses anyway, aha, this can be really useful with cities. So, we ran a workshop in Amsterdam. I use the signboard so much I have it on a stick. So, we a table for each of these and we said, yeah, go to the table. Do you want to talk about the purpose of the city? Go to the purpose table. You want to talk about ownership, you want to talk about finance? And there were these really powerful questions. And what people were mostly saying is, can we talk about this at work? We don’t normally talk about ownership and power, right? So, nothing was off the table. Everything was to be talked about because that signboard invites you to go deep, deep, deep. And you can just tell from the way people were engaging that they’re talking about things that have always mattered but have never really been on the agenda before. So, we are really committed to bringing this sign board because it opens up conversations for people who want to change, but they feel stuck in institutions that aren’t changing, and legitimates that conversation, it gives you permission saying, what about ownership of housing or finance? And so that was the one.

When we first presented Amsterdam with their city portrait, under the global, social lens, so global supply chains, that material we gathered through supply chain research. We looked at companies and products that we sale in Amsterdam and we gathered existing, brilliant academic research has been done for decades on what’s going on in global supply chains and the labor rights and the experience of workers on the other side of the world or indeed in the nation at the other end of supply chain. And it’s not pretty stuff, right? So right in the middle of Amsterdam’s portrait, hey, this is Amsterdam, we want to be this thriving city, are quotes from workers saying, I’m at a sewing machine in Bangladesh, they don’t let us get up to have a toilet break. Of evidence showing that there are children and modern day slavery conditions on cocoa farms in West Africa, and Amsterdam is the port for most of the coca coming into that part of the Netherlands.

And the first response from people in the city was, this isn’t us. No, no, no, no, no. This can’t be part of the portrait. This isn’t us. And we had a really great conversation, said it is part of you. It is. And in fact, it’s part of every city. And you will be recognized for embracing it and admitting it. It won’t go away just because you don’t publish it. Let’s recognize that, and by the way, the social rights violations, which feels so unpleasant to put in our own city portrait, same, with climate, look, all that climate impact, that’s you too, right? We must own this stuff. We must take the global responsibility, and only then you’ll actually start to own it. And I now hear Amsterdam officials, very senior officials, talking about that, look, we’re importing cocoa from afar. So they’ve owned it and they’re so far ahead now because they’ve owned it than cities that wouldn’t even look at it.

Julian Agyeman: Great, thanks, Kate. Camila Leal has asked for your thoughts on AI (Artificial Intelligence) technologies and how these technologies could support your model of development. And on that note, she says, Should we consider treating data as labor or data as capital?

Kate Raworth: Wow, that question is so sophisticated, I’m kind of like, you’ve obviously got a really great point to make and I loved to hear it. I haven’t immersed myself in AI much as I would like to, and probably in a decade all of us will wish we had. So, I’m just going to bring this sign board because I find it extremely useful. You want to bring on AI? Okay, let’s look at the new technology, let us ask ourselves, what is its purpose? And so, what is this technology in service to? How is it connecting with other technologies, with other data sources? What is it doing to enable connectedness? How is this technology governed? Is it practicing the precautionary principle? Who has a voice in its design?

Now, let’s go for the really important stuff. How is this technology owned? Who owns this stuff? Because how it’s owned really profoundly determines how it’s financed, how it’s financed — and if it’s financed in order to generate high financial returns, then its purpose will be totally corrupted in that direction. And if any of you’ve seen the film The Social Dilemma, which is narrated by Tristan Harris, who’s the founder of the Center of Human Technology, I totally recommend this film. You’ll probably want to take Facebook and Twitter and all social media off your phone, by the way, when the film finishes, it makes it clear that these technologies are so often designed for the interests of finance because of who they’re owned by, that everything else is gamed. And so they’re in service of financial returns. And what we need to do is make sure technologies like AI, and platforms are designed for the community and therefore owned and financed in ways that actually put them in service to our purposes.

Julian Agyeman: Great, thank you Kate. Irwin has come up with another question. He says, I’ve already read “Doughnut Economics,” “Just Sustainabilities,” and “Good Ancestor.” What should I read next?

Kate Raworth: Oh, I don’t know that Irwin knows that my partner and husband wrote “The Good Ancestor.” Maybe that’s a bit of inside knowledge or maybe that was just coincidence. Anyways, what should you read next? Okay, right. I keep my most powerful books right next to me. Actually, I was just looking — I was thinking these three books yesterday. So here we go. In order of publication, I think. I would read that, Donella Meadows “Thinking and Systems.” This is the primer on systems thinking. This book changed my life. It totally flipped my brain and made me very angry about the economics I’ve been taught because it doesn’t think in systems at all. It thinks an equilibrium is static. So this book is profound. You can also go online and read some very short excerpts if you if you want to try it out. If you want to try it out, there’s a lovely article, it’s about 12 places to intervene in a system. If you like that, dive into that. That’s number one.

Kate Raworth: I’m going to go here actually. Next, “New Power” by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans. This is about why is it that some ideas spread? Why did Me Too take off? Why did Black Lives Matter take off? Why did Fridays For Future take off? And how do you create ideas that spread or cut to the chase? They need to be actionable, when you hear that idea, there’s something you can do, their actionable. They’re connected, they connect you to other people and you want to spread them. And they’re extensible. Beautiful idea, which is you can change them, you can make them your own. You can change that slogan, you can demonstrate your own way. So they are ACE, they’re actionable, connected, extensible. Really powerful. This is has hugely helped us in thinking about how we designed Doughnut Economics Action Lab. So, we’ve made the doughnut actionable, connecting and extensible.

And then this book I’ve found really, really valuable. It’s called “Transformative Innovation” by Graham Lester. And it takes you through something called the Three Horizons model. I became so — it flipped my mind as I read it and I became so evangelical about it. I made a little video on YouTube. So if you Google my name, Kate Raworth, Three Horizons, up will pop a seven minute video with me just saying, this is amazing. I love model. So watch that. And if you like that, read that book.

Julian Agyeman: Right, Kate, I’m going to take moderator prerogative now and ask you, many of the people here are our urban planning, urban policy, environmental policy students. What three things could they do, as they go out into the world of work, to push the institutions, the nonprofits that they work for towards your kind of thinking?

Kate Raworth: So first, I say only do if you want to. So, we have a principle at Doughnut Economics Action Lab, we never push anything. We’ve never told anyone, please use this, try this, talk about this, share this. It’s all, if it makes sense to you, because that’s how the best ideas evolve. If it’s useful in your context, use it. If you need to adapt it, adapt it. So one, hey, if it flows for you, please join Doughnut Economics Action Lab and become a member. And we’re building a community and it happens when change makers choose to show up and connect and make things. And they’ll be co-creating events, all sorts of things happening.

Two, I would say for me, the big dynamics we need to change and that we would have in mind is, when I see a degenerative linear design, how could that become regenerative? So how could I turn that linear into the circular? And when I see something that is having a centralized or divisive effect, that’s driving, reinforcing feedback loops of opportunity and value into the hands of a few? What could we do, whether through changing infrastructure or changing institutional design or even changing the purpose in the narrative, what can we do to make it more distributive?

And then the third thing I do is make a cut out cardboard sign and I would just — every institution. I mean, you can just think about a university department through this, you can think about your local library, you can think about your own household, you can think about your city administration, you can think about your local NGO. These design traits profoundly shape what we can do and be in the world. And if we don’t introspect and look at these, we won’t be able to bring about the transformative changes that we know we need to make. Oh, and hold this up to every big company — big and small company. Business. Business really, really needs to do this introspection and transformation.

Julian Agyeman: Well Kate, I think on behalf of everybody, thank you for your enthusiasm, the thought leadership that you brought to us. And I think we’re all going to sign up for the Doughnut Economics lab. And it’s Kate’s 50th birthday, she doesn’t mind people knowing that, next week, so an email to Kate, I think, to say happy birthday. And here’s to the next 50 years Kate.

Kate Raworth: Thank you, join the Action Lab, I’ll take that as a birthday card. And thank you, Julian, you run such a fantastic course, you know, it’s interdisciplinary, bringing together so many important issues that need to be discussed together. Thank goodness for blowing apart the disciplines and uniting them. So, thank you for this real honor and opportunity to join you today. Thank you, everybody.

Julian Agyeman: Great, thanks Kate. Thank you, everybody.

Kate Raworth: Cheers, bye.

This article is cross posted with permission from

Julian Agyeman

Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University

Tags: building resilient cities, doughnut economics, new economy