Mine the City to Create a More Sustainable and Circular Future

Mine the City to Harvest City Resources Can Create a Sustainable, Circular Economy

50 Ways to Mine the City is an exploration of ways in which the city’s outputs, byproducts, and under-utilized assets can be recovered, reimagined, and used in new ways by mining the city.

Year after year, resources are fed into the city to keep the urban machine running. For most of history this has been done in a linear model: natural and material resources go in; waste and pollution come out and is buried or left to pollute the environment.

A new model is transforming the way we think about resources in the city—a more sustainable, circular approach that realizes the byproduct and outputs of the city’s daily operations are a valuable source of raw material.

Various terms are used to describe this new direction—the circular economy, urban mining, waste recovery, energy harvesting, and more. Regardless of the phrasing, all align around an understanding that waste is nothing more than resources in the wrong place.

Why strip another mountain of its trees, fauna, and wildlife to get the minerals at its core when tons of metal lay dormant beneath the city? Why exploit people and habitats in distant countries to mine gold and rare materials when they can be recovered from the waste urban populations produce every day? Why use fossil fuels to warm homes and make plastics when the heat and emissions from transportation and industry can be used for the same purposes?

This book is an exploration of ways in which the city’s output, byproducts, and under-utilized assets can be recovered, reimagined, and used in new ways. It is an illustration of the potential created by the overlooked and unsung operations of the city.

We are at a moment when car exhaust, heat from trains, sewage, factory emissions, wastewater, street runoff, and asphalt scalding from the sun are not seen as troublesome parts of life in the city but as resource-rich components that hold the key for a more sustainable urban future.

Harnessing Urban Byproducts for a Sustainable Tomorrow

Elements like car exhaust, train heat, and factory emissions have long been associated with the challenges of city living. Historically, these, along with wastewater, street runoff, and the sun-scorched asphalt, were viewed as environmental hurdles. But as we evolve in our understanding and approach to urban sustainability, we’re beginning to “mine the city” in innovative ways, extracting value from what was once considered waste.

Car exhaust, a long-time emblem of urban pollution, is now at the forefront of technological advancements. As we mine the city’s air, we’re developing methods to transform these emissions into usable energy and raw materials. The warmth radiating from trains, previously seen as mere energy loss, is being tapped into, turning transportation hubs into potential energy sources for surrounding infrastructures.

The drive to mine the city’s water resources is equally promising. Sewage and wastewater, once discarded, are now recognized as goldmines of organic materials. By processing them, we can retrieve valuable nutrients for agriculture or convert them into renewable energy sources like biogas. Street runoff, a former flooding menace, is being channeled into urban farming and green rooftops, promoting food production and natural cooling.

Even our streets are not exempt from this urban mining revolution. The asphalt, which basks in the sun’s heat, is undergoing a transformation. Visionaries are exploring ways to make road surfaces capture and store solar energy, effectively turning our streets into expansive solar panels.

In essence, as we mine the city for its hidden treasures, we’re not just addressing environmental challenges but unlocking a wealth of opportunities. This shift in perspective, from seeing waste to recognizing potential, is setting the stage for cities that are not only sustainable but also resource-rich and eco-innovative.