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Knowledge category: Tools and methods

Creating city portraits - a methodological guide from the Thriving Cities Initiative

Updated on 31.05.2023

‘Creating City Portraits’ is the methodology for downscaling the Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries to the city. The tool provides a holistic snapshot of the city and its impact through four lenses – social, ecological, local and global – that together provide a new perspective on what it means for a city to thrive. It appreciates what makes a city unique, while understanding its global influence and responsibility.

Author: Circle Economy
Year of update: 2020

More information

The user can use this methodology to navigate the corresponding tool:

The user can watch the 10 minute introductory video, then read the Why and What of each lens to familiarise themselves with the different themes related to a city's local aspirations and global responsibilities. The user fills in the first page of the tool by looking at sections 2, 3, 4, and 5 in the methodology. Section 2 shows how to fill in the local-social lens of the tool. Section 3 shows how to fill in the local-ecological lens. Section 4 shows how to fill in the global-ecological lens. Finally, Section 5 shows how to fill in the global-social lens. For all the different lenses, the methodology provides examples of what can be filled in. In Section 6, the user can look at what the interconnections mean in the city portrait and provides examples of different interconnections between the lenses. In the Annex, an additional explanation about the global-ecological lens in Amsterdam is displayed.

Relevance for Circular Systemic Solutions

The City Portrait canvas methodology can help cities to design strategies, policies, and programmes.

This can be done through the four interconnecting lenses:


  • social;
  • ecological;
  • local;
  • and global.

The first lens is the local-social dimension, which focuses on the residents' well-being. The methodology shows 16 social dimensions grouped into four clusters:


  • health including healthcare and water;
  • connecting through community and mobility;
  • being enabled by education and employment;
  • and being empowered through equality and social equity.

The second lens is the local-ecological lens, which considers nature's essential services. For example, regulating air temperature to prevent soil erosion and house biodiversity. The third lens is global-ecological, which asks whether the resources in products and services consumed by the people in the city could be extended to everyone without degrading the earth's critical life-supporting systems. It is vital to be sure that a city's circular strategy respects the health of the whole planet. The last lens is the global-social lens, which puts into perspective the patterns and interconnections in a city that can generate direct/indirect impacts on the wellbeing of people worldwide. By using this methodology and the tool, cities can analyse and assess their Circular Systemic Solution (CSS) to see how their solutions enhance people's ability to thrive in the city and worldwide. It also helps to design a CSS that allows the city and the world to thrive within its natural habitat. The tool can be found by using this link:

How to use this tool or method

The Creating City Portraits guide is based on experience of applying the methodology with pilot cities in the Thriving Cities Initiative - Philadelphia, Portland and Amsterdam. Having received a huge level of interest in the City Portrait methodology to ‘downscale the Doughnut’ since the publication of the Amsterdam City Doughnut, the Thriving Cities Initiative is publishing this guide with the intention to make it as simple as possible for others to use and adapt.