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Center for Sustainable Urban Systems

UCLA INSTITUTE OF THE ENVIRONMENT
URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE
REVIEW
Winter 2012

Tisha Holmes
Stephanie Pincetl
Director Center for Sustainable Urban Systems

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URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW

Introduction
Cities have expanded dramatically in size, density and complexity across the globe (Kaye et al.,
2006). This rapid expansion has been accompanied by increased energy flows of inputs and
outputs such as fuel, food, waste and electricity that enter, exit and/or accumulate within and
external of the city boundaries (Kennedy et al., 2007). Energy production and use while
supporting human systems often also trigger a chain of negative environmental impacts. These
include pollution and alteration of land and water from extraction processes, loss of ecosystems
from power generation infrastructure and increased concentrations of air pollutants including
greenhouse gases (GHGs) as well as disruption of human settlements and negative impacts on
human health and economies. The linear nature of these urban energy flows increase the
vulnerability of cities, dependent on the hinterlands for supply and disposal of materials, and
pose one of the largest challenges to sustainability (Girardet, 2004).
The intended and unintended consequences of policy decisions shape energy flows through
urban systems. Understanding the complex and often invisible set of interacting and
interdependent policy decisions and outcomes of energy use can provide opportunities for
identifying specific forces that shape a city’s energy consumption and its consequences. Urban
Metabolism (UM) is a multi-disciplinary and integrated platform that examines material and
energy flows in cities as complex systems as they are shaped by various social, economic and
environmental forces. Similar to biological organisms and ecosystems, cities cycle and transform
incoming raw materials, food, water and fuel into physical structures, biomass and waste (Decker
et al., 2000). Factors such as urban structure, form, climate, quality and age of building stock,
urban vegetation and transportation technology can influence the rate of a city’s metabolism
(Girardet, 1992). As the demands for higher inputs of materials and energy to sustain the growth
of cities continue to increase, understanding the metabolism of cities becomes extremely
important for policy makers and decision makers. The UM framework provides a rigorous tool
for analyzing relevant energy pathways at different scales and can lead to the development of
management systems that increase resource use efficiencies, recycling of wastes and
conservation of energy.
This literature review will survey the various conceptual and empirical studies associated with
performance systems-based research on urban flows. The review discusses the implications of
these studies to larger research and policy questions to highlight points of convergence as well as
areas of debate and opportunities for further research.

I. Urban Metabolism Overview
Abel Wolman (1965) developed the urban metabolism (UM) concept as a method of analyzing
cities and communities through the quantification of inputs – water, food and fuel, outputs –
sewage, solid refuse and air pollutants and tracking their respective transformations and flows.
He identified the three pressing metabolic challenges faced by urban regions as water supply
management, sewage disposal and air pollution control. National data on water, food and fuel
use, with production rates of sewage, waste and air pollutants were used to determine per capita
inflow and outflow rates for a hypothetical American city of one million people. Wolman’s

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URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW seminal research was the first attempt to highlight system-wide impacts of goods consumption and waste generation in the urban environment (Decker et al. usable energy is transformed into unusable energy and it is irretrievably lost in the form of waste heat. 1998). 2007. This is followed by a discussion on the analysis of material flows through the urban system using Material Flow Analysis and Life Cycle Analysis and chronologically tracks the progression of relevant field studies. In contrast.. it connects ecosystems and socio-economic systems (Odum. nutrients and food) in standard mass units (e. Emergy Flows and Urban Metabolism Energy is one of the most important unifying concepts for the study of energy flows and sinks. given its use of common metrics.g. interest in using UM to assess the question of materials and energy use and cities has grown substantially. for example. Although the review provides a description of each approach. tons. joules) as they enter. The first metabolism studies at the city scale were advanced in the 1970s by engineers and ecologists and were focused on large metropolitan areas. UM analysis emerged from a growing understanding of the limited availability of fossil fuels and their impacts on the environment as well as ideas about efficiency of that use.. Thus. Barles. Kennedy et al. UM offers a analytical framework to think about human systems and energy use. and issues of long term sustainability (Wolman. 2007). if it is even possible. The realization that nonrenewable energy resources were expended and lost to humans for reuse was a fundamental aspect of developing UM research.T. Odum defined Emergy as the available energy used directly or indirectly to make a product or deliver a service. The ecological approach to UM was heavily influenced by H. 2009). Odum’s (1983) conceptualization of energy flows that he termed Emergy. Since then. 2000). kilograms. Any recuperation of waste requires further inputs of energy to re-convert it into useful materials. engineering approaches to UM studies involve the quantification and assessment of energy and/or material flows (e. 1999). waste or output is generated that is a function of the energy and resources required in their production. raw materials. enter and cycle through a system. 2006. Items requiring energy to be produced. reducing impacts means the reduction of current resource inputs in order to achieve more sustainable outcomes in the future (Newman. It measures the work of nature and humans in generating products and services and serves as a 3 .T. the engineering approach of reporting changes in material and energy flows dominate UM studies as evidenced by the greater number of field applications discussed. Huang & Chen. In the context of energy. 1996. The following section reviews the emergence of the UM literature by providing a general overview of the academic contributions to the main conceptual models of Emergy and Mass Flows as well as related methodologies. accumulate and exit the urban system. The role of Emergy in UM studies will be explored first. based in biology. The second law of thermodynamics states that in any process. Emergy is measured in solar emergy joules (seJ) and integrates material flows with energetic analyses of urban areas in order to understand cities in relation to their ecological resource bases (Huang et al. 1965.. H. with particular attention to the theoretical concepts behind this type of study. and in the production process. Odum. physics and integrated in urban systems theory.g. Starting with the second law of thermodynamics.

c) tank.. 1983). 2006). 1996). all flows of materials are regarded as energy flows (Huang et al. 1996).. e) interaction.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW common metric of environmental and economic values (Odum. i) box. 1996). more efficient processes or using renewable resources). Figure 1. Thus. b) source. some energy will be degraded in quality and transformed into waste heat (Lin. f) producer. Second law: in all processes of energy. 1996. defined as the Solar Emergy required to make 1 joule of a service or product and is measured in solar Emergy joules per Joule (sej/J) (Odum. Odum & Odum. 2006). d) heat sink. Energy circuit symbol: a) energy circuit. Most case 4 . Based on these principles. Odum designed a set of energy circuit symbols for describing the interactions of ecosystem components through energetic flows (See Figure 1. Solar transformity is an important concept in Emergy. Solar transformity (τ) is calculated by dividing a product’s available energy (B) by its Solar Emergy (M) or M = τ x B. 2006). deep Earth heat and tidal energy are major energy inputs in the system. From an ecological energetic perspective. Transformity measures energy quality and can be used to measure the Emergy of resources and products. (Huang et al. Emergy analysis seeks to provide a common value basis to study the energetic flows in the metabolism of socio-economic systems. h)transaction. Solar energy. Solar Emergy is defined as “the available solar energy used up directly and indirectly to make a product or service” (Odum. 2004). Emergy analysis is based on additional the Maximum Empower Principle proposed by Lotka (1925) where successful systems are able to function most effectively with the inflow of Emergy inputs by reinforcing productive processes and overcoming resource limits through system organization (Brown & Herendeen. Odum. Odum argued that the different types of energy flows are organized in an energy transformation hierarchy (Odum. The behavior of energy as it flows through ecosystems follows two principles of thermodynamics – First Law: energy transforms to another form and is neither created nor destroyed. g)consumer. 1996) (for example. Emergy analysis characterizes products and services in terms of the amount of energy needed to do a particular task if solar radiation were the only input (Hau and Bakshi. 2006).

water and soil (N0) and the lands and waters receiving (RR) and absorbing (RA) renewable resources.. Campbell et al. purchased resources – fuel (F). (Campbell et al.. components. within the box representing the state’s economy. is as a money wheel. goods (G) and services (PI). 3) Translate pathways into Emergy analysis tables (See Figure 3). exports of goods (B) and services (PE2 + PE3). In their Emergy analysis of West Virginia. Tabular format for an Emergy evaluation. Source: Campbell et al. 2) Translate variables into an aggregated diagram addressing specific pathways. An aggregated energy systems diagram of the Emergy resource base for the economy of West Virginia. needed to complete the Emergy analysis with Transformity conversion factors needed to change the raw data into Emery units 5 . The System contains interior storages of minerals (N3). Emergy inflows and outflows include: renewable resource inflows (R). GSP. 4) Gather raw data from government sources. 2004). X. (2004) outline the five main steps to complete an Emergy evaluation as: 1) Complete a detailed systems diagram representing all interactions. Money flows on the dashed lines (I’s and E’s) as a counter-current to Emergy in exchanges (diamond symbols). (2005). Figure 2. money transactions and energy flow pathways between human and natural components of the system (See Figure 2).URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW studies utilize the Odum’s transformities calculations to calculate the Emergy of their inputs (Hau & Bashki. The circulation of money. 2005). Figure 3.

Further evaluation of these flows provides a preliminary understanding of the value and contribution of these materials to the urban ecological-economic systems. The studies were driven by the premise that maximizing Emergy production and use would lead to choices that maximize real wealth and public benefit. Huang & Chen’s (2009) updated analysis of Taipei demonstrated that Emergy flows are also important for the calculation of Emergy indices to measure urban development and describe the value of material flows within the urban system (See Figure 5). Emergy-based UM analyses have been conducted for specific cities including Zucchetto’s 1975 study of Miami’s urban metabolism where economic. (1998). Huang & Hsu (2003) and Huang & Chen (2009) analyzed the Emergy flows of Taipei. 2009) Emergy flow comparison in Figure 4).’s (2005) evaluated West Virginia and Zhang et al. 2009). and suggest alternatives to improve Emergy efficiency through the system. predict trends.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW 5) Calculate indices from subsets of data to compare systems. Each study recognized that the variation in the quality of different forms of energy and utilized a universal metric to produce comprehensive comparisons overtime (e. 6 .g. (Huang & Chen. Figure 4. See Huang & Chen. (2009) focused on Beijing and 5 other large Chinese cities. sej = solar equivalent joules. Major Emergy flows in the Taipei area. natural system and energy data were compiled from 1950-1972. Campbell et al. Huang.

Emergy specialists continue to meet resistance in advancing Emergy as a conceptual framework for investigating the natural ecosystems. This is a result of the skepticism around Emergy theory. it has been used to study ecosystems. (Huang & Chen. underlying computations. Although the concept of Emergy was developed decades before the acceptance of more popular methodologies such as MFA and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). 2009).. agriculture. 2006). Huang et al. information flows. F = imported Emergy flows. its relationship with other thermodynamic 7 . the Emergy methodology has evolved and matured as new research projects revealed new elements to explore. Emergy indexes. landscape development. the research team found that MFA was not able to identify Taiwan’s increasing dependence on energy use or the quality difference of material consumed.’s (2006) analysis of Taiwan attempted to extend material flow analysis to include energy flows and incorporating Emergy evaluation to evaluate materials and energy through a common energy basis. N = nonrenewable energy flows. 2004). Since its first emergence in 1983. In addition to the analysis of cities.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW Figure 5. U = total Emergy used by a process. human dominated systems and related processes. ecological engineering and material recycling (Brown & Ulgiati. R = locally available renewable Emergy flows. Emergy analysis was also seen as an important comparative tool for understanding the relative work of other materials flowing through a socio-economic system (Huang et al. After completing separate Emergy and Material Flow Analysis (MFA) for Taiwan and comparing indicators of mass and Emergy. they concluded that the Emergy concept can help systemize the interrelations between society and the natural environment while analyzing energy flows. In contrast.

. 2001). WRI. and the quantification of global energy flows into solar equivalents (Månsson & McGlade.g. Mass-Energy Flows and Urban Metabolism One of the core ideas behind UM analysis is that materials enter (flow) and are used to build up biophysical structures – human bodies. 4) Material balances. Germany and Sweden have also established material flow accounts (EUROSTAT. 2003). market research. buildings. MFA measures the materials flowing into a system. 2001). Before discussing the application of mass flow-based UM studies. Hau & Bakshi.. goods and substances are defined and linked. 2006). best estimates. interviews and hands-on knowledge. machines. nitrogen and phosphorus are chosen based the nature of system. Early MFA analyses focused on identifying material flows at the national level (Wernick & Ausubel. evaluating the importance and relevance of these flows and stocks and controlling material flows and stocks to achieve management goals (Hendriks et al. 2001). however emphasis is placed on the flow of a specific substance rather than through entire systems (Baccini & Brunner. 1991). Indicator materials such as carbon. region or nation functions. Material flows analysis provides a framework for analyzing the ways urban areas transform natural resources and is frequently used in the engineering field.. The goal of the MFA is to provide a system level understanding of how a city. agricultural crops. tons) to measure the weights of material inflows and outflows. 2007). 3) Data acquisition – Developed by measurements. Countries such as Austria. tools. human societies transform raw materials and resources in an economic process to provide material goods to meet demand needs (Huang et al. Japan. expert judgment. EUROSTAT. 1998. Baccini & Brunner (1991) outline the general methodological steps of urban metabolism using Material Flow Analysis as follows: 1) Definition of goals and research questions of the study 2) System description – Boundaries of space and time are defined and the relevant processes. flows and stocks are available (Barles. Through the application of energy. 1995. 2000. 1993. the stocks and flows within it and the resulting outputs from the system to other systems (Sahely et al.. Data is represented in mass (e.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW quantities. This tool aids decisionmakers in analyzing material flows and stocks within a given system. Ayres. artifacts. Cleveland et al. Based on the principle of mass conversion where mass in = mass out + stock changes.. dynamic mathematical modeling and scenario building – Results can be integrated into static or dynamic models to assess the impact of various decisions on specific material stocks and flows 8 . 2000. 2004). a brief review of the main methodological tools used – Material Flow Analysis and Life Cycle Analysis – as well as an assessment of each method’s strength and weaknesses is warranted. domestic animals and livestock – in society (Haberl et al. 2000). Material Flow Analysis The Material Flow Analysis (MFA) approach is widely used in UM analysis since metrics for the assessment of urban materials.

housing.. 2002. outputs and the potential environmental impacts of a product system throughout its life cycle. Folke et al.. The quantitative tool is widely applied by various industries to measure and compare the life time environmental impacts of materials and processes starting with the product design/development. MFA has also been heavily utilized in waste management and environmental assessments (Sahely et al. However. 2006). Rees & Wackernagel (1996) examined the flow of materials and energy into and out of an urban area using a spatial ecological footprint analysis. the analysis is limited to an accounting exercise and does not assess the relative contribution of the flows nor address the external drivers (Huang et al. indirect.1996).. timber and ecosystem waste sinks for cities were magnitudes larger than the geographic area of cities.. (1997) estimated the ecological footprint of 29 largest cities in Baltic Europe. since the purpose of MFA is to provide an overview of the system. it is necessary to aggregate material flows. comparisons of results against environmental standards. 2001). Similarly. 2001).These studies all demonstrated that the consumption of ecosystem outputs in the form of food. followed by resource 9 . They argue that consumption related human impacts reveal societal values or behaviors at a community and individual level. Chester. 2010). and supply chain effects and analyze the associated environmental impacts from extraction to final disposal (Solli et al. energetic aspects of the metabolism are not addressed limiting the scope and power of the approach in understanding the UM of a system (Haberl. This aggregation ignores the specific identities of materials and can lead to inaccurate data outcomes. Because MFA tries to simplify these complex relationships within a predefined socio-economic system.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW 5) Interpretation – Loading quantities. Life-Cycle Assessment Life-cycle assessment (LCA) is used to provide a cradle-to-grave assessment of a process or larger system including direct. many outflows and interactions within and between the natural environment and human systems are omitted (Huang et al. indicators and policy decisions (Hau & Baski. consumer goods and services. Their calculations were based on five major categories of consumption – food. MFA results can be benchmarked against environmental standards or interpreted using assessment methodologies such as ecological footprint analysis (Wackernagel & Rees. MFA has been established as a standardized approach to evaluating the metabolism of material flows at a national scale (EUROSTAT. sustainability indicators or other assessment approaches are made. Haberl (2001) proposed a materialenergy flow accounting (MEFA) method to analyze energy flows that enter and leave a national economy. The International Standards Organization (ISO) defines LCA as the complication and evaluation of the inputs. transportation. 2006). To address this gap.. Giradet (1999) utilized MFA in an ecological footprint analysis to calculate the resource use in greater London and estimated the region’s ecological footprint as 125 times the area occupied. It provides quantitative understanding of the finite nature of resources available to sustain metabolic processes in urban systems and points to the importance of including material resource management into policy analyses and discourses. 2004). The footprint expressed the amount of land required to meet the city’s metabolic needs. It is a young field of research rooted in research related to energy requirements and pollution prevention of the 1960s and 1970s (Rebitzer et al. Additionally.. Since MFA’s focus is on materials. 2003). the appropriation of global marine ecosystems for seafood consumption and GHG emissions sequestration of global forest ecosystems. 2004).

2004). 2009). production. eutrophication.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW extraction. stratospheric ozone depletion. Figure 6.. Huang et al. use/consumption and end of life activities. 2009. (See Figure 6. acidification. troposheric ozone creation. The ISO 14040 standards direct almost all applied work on LCA (Heijungs et al.. 2009). depletion of resources. Huang et al. LCA also estimates and assesses the environmental impacts of a product through its life cycle such as climate change. The analysis begins with the development of a life-cycle inventory (LCI) where all environmental inputs and outputs from the life time of the product or process are quantified and compiled. 10 .. (Rebitzer et al. 2009). Schematic representation of a generic life cycle of a product.. This is followed by a life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) that presents results that enables comparisons or further analysis (See Figure 7. Techato.

Huang et al. improved non-linear modeling capabilities and greater consideration of socio-economic dimensions of urban environmental impacts (Udo de Haes et al. 11 . including a comprehensive quantification of the natural energy balance (See Figure 8. and Newcombe et al. noting that the scope of LCA is limited to environmental questions. Chester. Duvigneaud & Denayeyer-De Smet (1975) for Brussels. Framework of life cycle assessment. nutrients and waste footprints of cities (Chester. 2009). They combine the two concepts into a life cycle sustainability analysis (LCSA). Its attention to system boundaries and capturing direct and indirect effects of supply chains effects can also help fill the gaps of the MFA approach and offers critical insight into upstream components that may dominate the footprint of the city as well as the interrelated components of the urban system (Chester. However the tool still requires greater spatial and temporal resolution. 2004). social and environmental impacts that are not covered by present day LCA. LCA is a consistent tool that can quantify all possible environmental burdens in relation to a functional unit. outputs and sub-processes moving up the supply chain (Chester. while sustainability is much broader. Process LCA and Economic Input-Output (EIO) LCA are the two primary approaches for performing an LCA study. The EIO-LCA approach evaluates the resource inputs and emissions outputs associated with economic activity in every sector of the economy (Chester. 2006. Data is derived generally from a mix of sources and are subject to differences in quality. a great deal of data is needed to compile complex system-wide models of resource flows that increase the analytical power. however LCA is gaining importance as an analytical tool in assessing of the overall environmental impact of urban activities (Bai 2007). (2009) used LCA to measure and compare the key environmental loadings from a road during its lifetime.). Cities have not historically been major units of analysis in Industrial Ecology. The results provided decision makers with a method of quantifying the impacts of road maintenance work and projects..URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW Figure 7. materials.. (Huang et al. Mass-Energy Flow UM Studies The engineering approach was advanced in early studies by Hanya & Ambe (1974) for Tokyo. 2010). 2010). 2010). Process-based LCA evaluates the direct component of interest. This framework provides an integrated way of evaluating economic. water. LCAs have been executed for energy. 2010). It is the most common approach and requires significant data and resource inputs. 2010). 2010). These approaches have also been combined to reduce data and resource constraints in modeling while capturing the entire supply chain (Chester. (2009) examine life cycle assessments for sustainability. thus limiting the ability to evaluate the entire supply chain (Hendrickson. considering the inputs. (1978) who developed an energy analysis of construction materials and input-output of manufactured products for Hong Kong. Heijung et al. In determining the flows and processes within the urban system.

2010). Applied in over 105 countries. followed by subsequent annual accounting reports. Bohel (1994) considered the use on an UM framework to managing food systems in developing countries and was critical of its application. 2004). 2009). biodiversity conservation and problems of urban ecosystems (Bonnes et al. Belgium in the early 1970s. research in the field of UM received moderate attention with the increased sophistication of methodological tools like MFA. Newman and his colleagues studied the increasing trends of per capita resource input and waste metabolism of Sydney for the State of Environment report on Australia between 1970 and 1990. In the early 1970s. This program aimed to support integrated and multidisciplinary research into the sustainable use of resources. 2010).URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW Figure 8.. Baccini and Brunner (1991) used the MFA approach to understand the metabolism of the anthroposhere of the . This report. the international symposium on urban metabolism was held in Kobe Japan without many publications (Kennedy. The urban metabolism of Brussels. Source: Duvigneaud and DenaeyerDe Smet 1977. was the 12 . In 1996. the concept of examining material flows for Urban Metabolism analysis was formally incorporated as part of the UNESCO Division of Ecological Science Man and Biosphere (MAB) program (Pomázi & Szabó. 2) Biosphere reserves as a means of promoting environmental sustainability and 3) Enhancing linkages between cultural and biological diversity (UNESCO. During the 1990s. In 1993. The main element of the MAB is its ecosystem approach that aims to integrate the study of natural and human/social processes of ecosystems and their inter-relationships.the subsystem of the environment in which humans interact and reported stocks and flows of resources in terms of mass (See Figure 9). the MAB’s main lines of action are threefold: 1) Minimizing biodiversity loss through research and capacity-building for ecosystem management.

Newman. education. within increasing metabolic flows and livability deterioration from the core to the fringe suburbs (Newman et al. Newman defined the physical. 13 .URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW first independent nation-wide assessment on the state of Australia’s environment developed to aid decision makers in government. Figure 9. ex-urban and coastal settlements are the least sustainable of all developments and rural settlements had the lowest metabolic flows and livability measures. The anthroposphere: inputs and outputs. He applied this extended model of assessing metabolic flows and livability to a range of human activities in industrial areas. 1999). 1996). 1996. Additionally.. 1999). these cities were also more likely to reach unsustainable carrying capacity limits. urban demonstration projects and for city comparisons (See Figure 11. biological and human bases of the city and integrated economic and social aspects of sustainability with the environment (see Figure 10). households and neighborhoods. (2000). housing and accessibility. Source: Hendriks et al. Newman (1999) extended the urban metabolism model to address sustainability goals by including the dynamics of settlements and livability in these settlements. However. industry and community groups (State of the Environment Advisory Council. Newman. Newman’s study of Australia identified larger cities as more sustainable in terms of per capita use of resources and livability utilizing such indicators as income.

URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW Figure 10. 1999). 14 . Extended metabolism model of human settlements. (Newman.

there was a resurgence of UM studies in at the turn of the century (Kennedy. Indicators of sustainability. (Newman. (2000) used similar approaches to analyze Vienna and the Swiss Lowlands.. Warren-Rhodes & Koenig (2001) studied further the metabolism of Hong Kong. 1999). As the environmental stresses engendered by cities continued to increase with the expansion of urban populations. 2010). Their work described increasing 15 . Hendriks et al.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW Figure 11. Building on the 1978 work of Newcombe et al. The research community began to build upon the data and findings of previous UM studies for various cities.

The urban metabolism analysis of Greater Toronto by Sahely et al. Inputs of water and electricity were estimated to increase marginally less than the rate of population growth. current earth system level succession patterns in urban areas show an increase their use of urban energy and material flows as development continues. 250%. energy fluxes are at a steady state and infrastructure growth has ceased. In Decker et al. food and transportation networks which limited the extent of dependence on the hinterland for resources and waste disposal. changes in water infrastructure will be necessary to manage increasing water demand. 245% and 253% respectively (WarrenRhodes & Koeing.’s (2000) extensive review of the energy and material flows through the world’s 25 largest cities. increased recycling and improvements in infrastructure. wise investments.. It also provides opportunities for insuring system stability and persistence through the management of infrastructure and efficient recycling of waste flows (Decker et al. With the exception of diesel fuel. carbon dioxide outputs. Comparisons were also made between the metabolic flows of Greater Toronto with Hong Kong (see Figure 12). 2000). 16 . Not only did Hong Kong add over 3 million people between 1971 and 1997.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW environmental impacts with the transition from a manufacturing to a service based economy. 2001). cities approached a “steady climax state” since they were dependent on localized and renewable energy. Total air emissions. Thus. modern megacities will achieve climax states when global energy sources are maximally utilized. The study also investigated gross food consumption and indicated that although limited information is available. inputs of gasoline and food increased by marginally greater percentages than the population. researchers found that water fluxes comprised 90% of all material entering the system and proved to be the most dominant flux across the megacities. the flow of food is likely to have an impact on nitrogen cycles in supplying agricultural areas and solid waste accumulation in the city. They propose further research into the economic drivers of UM and the integration of the UM findings into a macroeconomic model of the Greater Toronto Area. but additionally Warren-Rhodes and Koenig revealed that Hong Kong’s increased wealth correlated with higher consumption rates of food (20% over 1971 values). More recently. water (40% over 1971 values) and materials (149% over 1971 values) per capita. (2003) identified an increase of the rate of inputs and outputs over 12 years from 1987 to 1999. All measured output parameters except CO2 emissions. the quantification of the urban metabolism of several cities has been conducted. They also compared fuel flows among cities and revealed large variations in fuel type and quantity resulting in an overall degradation of ecosystems due to technological development (such as roads and fuel distribution infrastructure) and fossil fuel use. The study attributed increased efficiency of metabolism parameters to enlightened policy. They argue that in pre-modern times. analyzing the urban metabolism and subsequent succession stages of material and energy fluxes at the regional scale over time is critical to determining the structure and function of climax systems based on more local and renewable resource streams. Conversely. As a result. are increasing more slowly than the population. municipal solid wastes and sewage discharges increased by 30%. The review presents an interesting scenario.

there is a great deal of variation in the scales of analysis in UM studies. Faerge et al. Some studies have used the UM framework to analyze specific elements at the micro-scale within an urban region. For P. the most significant pathways were through food consumption and the resulting municipal sludge and the service sector via import of P in detergents that end up in sewage sludge. Although the rationale for selection is not explicitly addressed in the literature. 1997). (2001) developed a nutrient balance model to understand urban nutrient flows and explore the potential for nutrient recycling to agriculture in the face of 17 .. The most important sources and sinks for N were food consumption in private households and restaurants resulting in large emissions to water.. Similarly. (Sahely et al. (1997) and Faerge et al. The study identified dominant pathways for N and P as import  food supply  households  waste management. (1997) presented a comprehensive picture of the city’s metabolism of the two elements in one year (1995) using MFA to support the development of local nutrient management policies. CO2 and BOD5 in kilograms per capita and electricity in megajoules per capita. however the fate of the elements after waste management differ (Burström et al. Food. wastewater and residential solid waste in tonnes per capita. discharges from industrial combustion engines and machines and the energy supply sector when converting N in fuels to inert gas. (2001) studied flows of nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) in Bangkok and Stockholm respectively. Burström et al. N emissions from transportation sector through combustion of fossil fuels.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW Figure 12. 2003). water. Burström et al. Comparison of urban metabolism a) the GTA 1999 and b) Hong Kong 1997.

Comparison of urban mass and energy balances between Ngo and Pataki (2008) study of Los Angeles County and previous studies since 1990 as compiled by Kennedy et al. Analyzing urban flows at this scale enabled both research terms to identify the most significant points of nutrient loss and identify where recovery and reuse efforts can be directed to close the metabolic loop. water imports and energy imports are generally higher.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW mismanagement organic waste and urban development. In her analysis of the UM of Paris and its region.2007). Most of the loss of both nutrient flows occurred to the central Chao Phraya River where elevated levels were detected. Barles selected MFA to analyze flows at multiple scales – local. especially in the transportation sector and total water imports were quite high in comparison to other cities (See Figure 13). Faerge et al. total per capita energy consumption. They discovered that only a small fraction of urban N (7%) and P (9%) are recovered from the total food supply. (2007). Other studies approached the evaluation of several material and energy flows at a city-scale or regional level such as (Emmenegger et al. also identify that organic waste from Bangkok that is discharged into the rivers and oceans are heavily loaded with plant nutrients. They concluded that in and outflows of N are almost in balance. Ngo and Pataki (2008) identified a decline in inputs of resources and outputs of pollution on a per capita basis from 1990 to 2000 for all materials except food imports and wastewater outputs. Ngo and Pataki’s (2008) study of Los Angeles County and Barles (2007 and 2009) evaluation of Paris. 18 .’s (2003)) analysis of Geneva. city and region – demonstrating that Paris is dependent on a wider area for its materials and on the suburbs and region for its waste treatment. (Ngo and Pataki 2008). while outputs of waste and greenhouse gas emissions were comparable or lower. Additionally. They compare metabolisms in Los Angeles to 8 other urban regions and demonstrate that per capita food imports. Figure 13. but large amounts of P accumulate within the metropolitan area. Barles also proposed linking MFA to socioecological conditions that drive material flows and their evolution in order to develop a holistic understanding of urban systems (Barles .

Summary An urban system’s metabolism can be examined by looking at energy flows or more broadly to include flows of water. 1991. while other researchers continue to advance solar emergy joules (seJ) as a more comprehensive and universal metric (Odum. The ability to quantify material and energy flows has led to a diversification in the application of UM analyses in a variety of research questions over time. Hendriks et al. and responsibility. materials and nutrients to develop a quantified understanding of the inputs that support urban systems and the wastes generated by city processes. 1998. 2008) demonstrate how a combination of morphological and physiological tools can be used in the reconstruction of the city. Researchers face the challenges of inadequate or disparate data as well as difficulties of comparing materials and energy represented in different units. reconstruction. The students evaluated design challenges typically at the neighborhood scale.. to clean. which involve integration of various infrastructure using the concept of neighborhood metabolism (Codoban & Kennedy. Huang & Chen. using UM context is a relatively new development that serves as a descriptive framework to the visioning process of more sustainable communities and cities. 2009). The four major urban activities: to nourish and recover. Together they are assessed in terms of four major components of urban metabolism: water. as identified by Baccini & Brunner (1991). 2003. Huang & Hsu. Students in Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto also used UM as a tool to guide the study of sustainable design infrastructure for Toronto (Kennedy. Engel-Yan et al. By tracing the flows of water. There is also a great potential for increases in residential per capita energy consumption due to increased demand. communities and cities can be designed in way that may close identified metabolic loops. Professor John Fernandez and students in MIT’s School of Architecture have used the perspective of urban metabolism in the re-design of New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. sustainability..URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW Ngo and Pataki attribute the successful decrease in some inputs to improved local efficiency and reduction management policies. In the field of urban design in particular. 2003). 2008. 2010). The generic units used in most urban metabolism studies are in joules per unit time and material and water balances in mass (grams or kilograms) per unit time (Baccini & Brunner. Additionally. dollars or Emergy fluxes can provide a description of the main components and interrelationships that make up a city’s metabolism. 2000. using MFA to produce more ecologically sensitive designs (Quinn. 2010).. and to transport and communicate. to reside and work. Quantification of tangible flows in mass. since critical leverage points and flows that threaten system sustainability would have been isolated. 2005). Sahely et al. qualitative assessments such social or 19 . 2008). construction materials. Researchers have also begun to extend the UM framework beyond the city-region unit of analysis to inform related aspects of the urban sustainability. energy. They provide four principles for redesigning cities: shapability. 2010). Oswald and Baccini (2003. 1996. food (biomass). Kennedy. 2008. 2008). Kennedy. and energy (Oswald & Baccini. Huang. nutrients and materials through an urban system. consumer behaviors and/or warming climates which needs to be addressed (Ngo & Pataki. They also highlight the water out flows as a critical area of future research since evapo-transpiration and runoff losses are not recovered or reused for water supply. Academics and researchers have utilized the urban metabolism framework to analyze different urban areas and system components for over forty years (See Figure Figure 14. Thus the UM framework can serve as a complimentary tool that can inform the design and decision-making process.

2010). This points to the need to better characterize the amount of materials stored as stock within the urban system – buildings.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW sustainability indices. As the inputs in most cities outweigh the outputs. A consistent finding in these studies is that the urban metabolism of cities is increasing. Figure 14. (Kennedy et al. Quantifying the present stock becomes important for future flows out of the city as well as the long-term stability of the entire urban system (Brunner. Although these models address the flows between the economy and environment. 20 . Current studies of urban metabolism from both an ecological and engineering perspective have made a link between UM and sustainability through the use of indicators and policy analysis. roads. since studies have been conducted on only a limited number of cities worldwide (Kennedy et al. the relationships between the elements at vertical and horizontal scales also require further exploration.. Chronological review table of UM studies. 2007). infrastructure -. 2007). there is a resulting growth in the material stock remaining within the system.and the flows into cities and out of them more broadly. comparative usefulness of materials and valuation of ecosystem services and disservices are limited in these types of models.

URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW 21 .

2008). the linear pattern of production. the inputs outweigh the outputs resulting in a growth of the material stock in urban areas which becomes significant for future flows and pathways to sustainability. plastics and building materials from areas outside the boundaries of the urban system keep the metabolic cycles in cities open. cities are considered unsustainable systems given their continuous dependence on material and energy imports and the exports of waste (Camagni et al. By designing cities that are less energy intensive and dependent on resources produced beyond their boundaries. imports. Large increases in material and energy flows of food-waste streams. Barriers to closing this loop range from significantly altering behaviors and attitudes to changing various processes within the urban system. solid-waste accumulation. (Grimm et al. Thus the sustainability of cities is heavily dependent on the ability of the surrounding environment to provide the required resources and environmental 22 . consumption and disposal is different than nature’s circular metabolism (Huang & Hsu. 1998). In essence.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW II. From an urban ecology perspective.. Studies have examined altering the design and urban form of cities to close the metabolism loop and to improve the characteristics of a city’s flows. Brunner (2007) categorizes cities as linear reactors whose metabolism remains open and vulnerable depending on the hinterlands for material supply and disposal. paper. Additionally.. city and regional governments would be better positioned to manage material and energy outflows. Discussion UM studies clearly demonstrate an increase in the rates of metabolism in cities throughout the world (Kennedy et al. 2003). 2007).

Standardized methods used to quantify the flows through urban areas enable comparisons and projections of future scenarios. 2009). However data availability and accuracy at the city level continues to be a major limitation. Cities are now dependent on access to resources and ecosystem functions outside of their administrative boundaries.. focusing on one spatial scale prevents the adequate analysis of all processes occurring within a system and can lead to unintended effects. 2010). regulating and provisioning ecosystem services to include in the UM framework is an important research priority (Pataki. the outcomes of UM research will be more accurate and useful. Since the methodological tools do not adequately incorporate considerations of ecosystem services. the scale at which UM analysis is performed can influence the modeling results. 1996). countries as well as over time and across different spatial scales. material flows and economic valuation) differ in information. Urban centers grow in complex ways due to dynamic and interlinked geographical and institutional forces converging upon them (Grimm et al. and little work has been done connecting flows to policy frameworks at multiple scales. identification of critical leverage points of change can be made. the manner in which it is disbursed and the identification of the specific actors receiving allotments. from the local to the international. quantified metabolisms and indicators can complement further research into the nature of funding for urban management programs. economic and geographic factors directly influence innovation and development of effective sustainable policies. Additionally. By conducting cross-cutting field research and data analysis. environmental and social effects of energy use that will inform better policy-making decisions. however it is important to understand the interconnections and interrelations between and across scales (Bunnell & Coe. developing indicators and metrics of supporting. 23 . demographic. Most system level research has explored the nature of multi-scale approaches. 2001). The two major approaches – emergy and material flows (including quantitative analyses of life cycle costs. This will enable a more complete consideration of the full economic. By revealing the intended and unintended consequences of policy decisions. Investigating the scales of governance and institutional rules and conventions that undergird current urban systems is critical in understanding path dependencies and critical policy changes necessary to reduce impacts.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW services (Huang & Chen. The variation in the units of analysis and metrics may prove a challenge in comparing different results of urban metabolisms between city-regions. Folke et al. (1997) and Rydin & Moore (2009) highlight European cities as embedded in a web of connections that link ecosystems and countries across all scales of space and time revealing that boundaries of cities have become quite porous as a result of globalization in trade. information and communication networks. calculation and metrics used. comparative outcomes and subsequent policy decisions. Political. UM’s results contribute important parameters that provide criteria for sustainability indicators (Maclaren. the diversity of metrics can also contribute to more robust modeling tools that combine the strengths of each method. However. 2008). Using the urban metabolism framework will also create an accounting inventory of the actual and embedded energy used and its associated impacts in urban systems over short and long-term time scales. Given the heterogeneous nature of urban systems. Thus.

1996. Metabolism of the anthroposphere. (2008). Synthesizing UM with its social/economic and political policy underpinnings is the next research frontier. Hadorn (Ed. Sahely et al. and the GHG emissions themselves. and the energy used in urban activities and the waste energy.. UM points out. 2003) and is an important tool to understanding energy use in communities. Emergy analysis. H. institutional rules that guide urban development. III. In G. Designing the urban: Linking physiology and morphology. waste management and infrastructure in urban systems (Newman et al. Baccini. omitted/hidden flows. 24 . UM studies focus on the biophysical environment without addressing the social and institutional drivers behind these flows and outcomes. H. Data gaps. and can be incorporate into the urban metabolism framework. set priorities. Handbook of Transdisciplinary Research: Springer Netherlands. P. Secondly. Material Flow Analysis and Life Cycle Assessment are methodologies that attempt to quantify flows of material and energy in complex systems at multiple scales.. Collaboration and open communication across sectors and research centers working on sustainable energy problems is also critical for developing a comprehensive pool of information that is accessible to various users and end types. & Brunner. However. These different approaches will need to be better synthesized such that more consistency is achieved across cities and nations. Conclusion This review of the UM literature provides a general introduction to the various considerations involved with developing an integrated approach and to understanding the complex dimensions of energy-use in urban systems. It provides information about energy efficiency. UM has become an integral part in the analysis of the state of environment reporting in Europe. from the generative structure of the GHGs. (1991). UM energy analyses will provide a rigorous data set from which a better understanding of the sources of GHGs will be developed.URBAN METABOLISM LITERATURE REVIEW At present. material cycling. and environmental protection. develop indicators and establish policy directives. P. UM is a quantitative framework that enables policy-makers and practitioners to identify early trends. New York: Springer-Verlag.. F. This should help policy makers better develop strategies to reduce energy use. & Oswald.. e.). uncertainty regarding the appropriate scale of analysis and segregated information sources continue to influence the comprehensive validity of assessments of overall urban energy use and related policy decisions. To date GHGs tend to be quantified in isolation from energy use. first and foremost. Berlin. the significant amounts of energy embedded in materials (including their life cycle). further research is needed to understand the drivers of energy use such as economic policy. This emphasis and data can help policy makers better understand energy used by society and cities. and is gradually finding acceptance in other places. Literature Cited Baccini. P. a.

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