The metabolism of U.S. cities 2.0
In the fifty years since Abel Wolman first published an estimate of U.S. urban metabolism, the field of urban metabolism has begun to thrive, with cities outside the United States being much of the focus. As cities attempt to meet local and international sustainability goals, it is time to revisit the metabolism of cities within the United States. Using existing empirical databases for material flows (the Freight Analysis Framework) and a published database on urban water flux, we provide a revised estimate of urban metabolism for the typical U.S. city. We estimate median values of metabolism for a city of one million people, considering water resources, food, fuel, and construction materials. Food consumption and waste production increased substantially to 3,800 metric tons per day and 4,900 metric tons per day, respectively. To facilitate a second generation of urban metabolism, we extend traditional analyses to include the embedded energy required to facilitate material consumption with important implications in determining sustainable urban metabolism. We estimate that a city of one million people requires nearly 4,000 gigajoules of primary energy per day to facilitate its metabolism. Our results show high heterogeneity of urban metabolism across the United States. As a result of the study, we conclude that there is a distinct need to promote policies at the regional or city scale that collect data for urban metabolism studies. Urban metabolism is an important educational and decision-making tool that, with an increase in data availability, can provide important information for cities and their sustainability goals.