About Urban Metabolism
A wave of international policy vision for sustainable development has recognised the need to use natural resources more efficiently and encourage local governments to implement regulations and tools that support local resource efficiency initiatives. However, there has been an insufficient discussion on whether cities and human settlements have the autonomy, capacity, tools, education, and resources to implement sustainable development policies (i.e. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) effectively (UN, 2015).
Urban metabolism is the idea to look at cities from a systemic point of view linking all the social, economic, political, territorial, ecological, resource, waste, etc. challenges that coexist in the extremely complex systems that cities are. The metaphor conceptualises the city as a living organism where resource flows enter, are transformed or stocked and waste flows exit the territory. This multi-disciplinary research field aims to create an understanding of and for the workings and interdependencies of urban systems, which in turn can be applied for a transition to a restorative future.
Metabolism of Cities is named after the pioneering study of Abel Wolman (1965), who compared urban areas to living organisms requiring “materials and commodities [...] to sustain the city’s inhabitants at home, at work, and at play”. 50 years later, urban metabolism studies are now an essential approach to understand and assess input flows (such as energy, water, materials) as well as output flows (air pollution, solid waste, wastewater). This systemic urban environmental assessment is central in an urban world that is facing pressing environmental issues as through its better understanding of urban systems it can propose coherent environmental policies, rethink urban planning, propose new production/consumption patterns and raise environmental awareness.
In practice, urban metabolism studies are a “large collection of data exercise” (Kennedy and Hoornweg, 2012) and "the sum total of the technical and socio-economic processes that occur in cities, resulting in growth, production of energy, and elimination of waste (Kennedy et al., 2007). Therefore, urban metabolism balances are highly dependent on data coming from a great number of providers and can be very time-consuming. Often studies are done in isolation and only once. This is where The Metabolism of Cities comes into play!
Do you want to learn more about urban metabolism? Check out the Metabolism of Cities Starter Kit for a quick overview or dive deeper into the topic with the Metabolism of Cities MOOC.
How do you define urban metabolism? Share your thoughts with Metabolism of Cities on Twitter or LinkedIn!