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Course literature

Day 1
1.1 Davoudi, S. Dilley, L and Crawford, J. 2014, "Energy consumption behavior: rational or
habitual? " DiSP, forthcoming.
1.2 Alberti, M. 1999, "Modeling the urban ecosystem: a conceptual framework", Environment
and Planning B, vol. 26, pp. 605-630.
1.3 Kennedy, C., Cuddihy, J. & EngelYan, J. 2007, "The changing metabolism of
cities", Journal of Industrial Ecology, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 43-59.
1.4 Kennedy, C., Pincetl, S. & Bunje, P. 2011, "The study of urban metabolism and its
applications to urban planning and design", Environmental pollution, vol. 159, no. 8, pp.
1.5 Ozaki, R. & Shaw, I. 2014, "Entangled Practices: Governance, Sustainable Technologies,
and Energy Consumption", Sociology, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 590-605.
1.6 Wachsmuth, D. 2012, "Three Ecologies: Urban Metabolism and the SocietyNature
Opposition", The Sociological Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 4, pp. 506-523.
1.7 (downloadable) FP7 Project: Sustainable Urban Metabolism in Europe (SUME) [Working paper 1.1.] Downloadable online (after
brief registration)
Day 2
2.1 De Boer, J., Zuidema, C. 2013, "Towards an integrated energy landscape", AESOP-ACSP
joint congress, Dublin.
2.2 Loorbach, D. 2010, "Transition management for sustainable development: a prescriptive,
complexitybased governance framework", Governance, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 161-183.
2.3 Newman, P.W. 1999, "Sustainability and cities: extending the metabolism
model", Landscape and Urban Planning, vol. 44, no. 4, pp. 219-226.

2.4 Pincetl, S., Bunje, P. & Holmes, T. 2012, "An expanded urban metabolism method:
Toward a systems approach for assessing urban energy processes and causes", Landscape
and Urban Planning, vol. 107, no. 3, pp. 193-202.
2.5 Barles, S. 2010, "Society, energy and materials: the contribution of urban metabolism
studies to sustainable urban development issues", Journal of Environmental Planning and
Management, vol. 53, no. 4, pp. 439-455.
Day 3
3.1 Beck, M.B. & Cummings, R.G. 1996, "Wastewater infrastructure: challenges for the
sustainable city in the new millennium", Habitat International, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 405420.
3.2 Gandy, M. 2004, "Rethinking urban metabolism: water, space and the modern
city", City, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 363-379.
3.3 Marks, J.S. & Zadoroznyj, M. 2005, "Managing sustainable urban water reuse: structural
context and cultures of trust", Society and Natural Resources, vol. 18, no. 6, pp. 557-572.
3.4 Zaman, A.U. & Lehmann, S. 2013, "The zero waste index: a performance measurement
tool for waste management systems in a zero waste city", Journal of Cleaner
Production, vol. 50, pp. 123-132.
3.5 Barles, S. 2009, "Urban metabolism of Paris and its region", Journal of Industrial
Ecology, vol. 13, no. 6, pp. 898-913.
Day 4
4.1 Bettencourt, L.M., Lobo, J., Helbing, D., Kuhnert, C. & West, G.B. 2007, "Growth,
innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities", Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 104, no. 17, pp. 7301-7306.
4.2 Grubler, Arnulf, Xuemai Bai, Thomas Buettner, Shobhakar Dhakal, David J. Fisk,
Thoshiaki Ichinose, James Keirstead, Gerd Sammer, David Satterthwaite, Niels B. Schulz,
Nilay Shah, Julia Steinberger and Helga Weisz: Chapter 18: Urban Energy Systems. In
Global Energy Assessment: Toward a Sustainable Future. L. Gomez-Echeverri, T.B.

Johansson, N. Nakicenovic, A. Patwardhan, (eds.), IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria and

Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA (2012):
[selected parts].
4.3 Weisz, H. & Steinberger, J.K. 2010, "Reducing energy and material flows in
cities", Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 185-192.
4.4 Timmeren, A. "Environmental Technology & Design; the Concept of the Urban
Metabolism" TU Delft ABE/U/ETD (unpublished)
4.5 Holden, E. & Norland, I.T. 2005, "Three challenges for the compact city as a sustainable
urban form: household consumption of energy and transport in eight residential areas in the
greater Oslo region", Urban Studies, vol. 42, no. 12, pp. 2145-2166.
4.6 Lenzen, M. & Peters, G.M. 2010, "How city dwellers affect their resource
hinterland", Journal of Industrial Ecology, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 73-90.
Day 5
5.1 Bulkeley, H., Castn Broto, V., Hodson, M. & Marvin, S. 2011, "Cities and the low
carbon transition", Europ.Finan.Rev, , pp. 24-27.
5.2 Watson, V. 2009, "The planned city sweeps the poor away: Urban planning and 21st
century urbanisation", Progress in Planning, vol. 72, no. 3, pp. 151-193.
5.3 Swilling, M. 2010, "Sustainability, poverty and municipal services: the case of Cape
Town, South Africa", Sustainable Development, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 194-201.
5.4 van Bueren, E. & ten Heuvelhof, E. 2005, "Improving governance arrangements in
support of sustainable cities", Environment and planning B: Planning and Design, vol.
32, no. 1, pp. 47-66.
5.5 Bulkeley, H., Watson, M. & Hudson, R. 2007, "Modes of governing municipal
waste", Environment and Planning A, vol. 39, no. 11, pp. 2733.
5.6 (suggested reading) selected chapters from book Slimme Steden by Maarten Hajer and
Ton Dassen.

Energy Consumption Behaviour: Rational or Habitual?

Simin Davoudi, Luke Dilly, Jenny Crawford
Abstract: Reducing energy demand is not simply about developing energy efficiency
measures and technologies, but also changing behaviour and everyday practices. Although
the over-emphasis on individual behaviour as the main driver of transition to low-carbon
societies may be contested on the grounds that it distracts attention from the wider structural,
economic and political factors, it is widely acknowledged that pro-environmental behaviours
play an important part in such a transition. This paper aims to address these questions by
drawing on three dominant perspectives on environmental behaviour and its drivers: the
rational economic, the psychological and the sociological perspectives. The aim is to provide
a conceptual understanding of behaviour, illustrated with example from energy consumption.
Keywords: Urban Energy Consumption; Consumption Behaviour; Rational Economic
Perspective; Psychological Perspective; Sociological Perspective

1 Introduction
In the United Kingdom (UK) households are responsible for around half of the national
carbon emissions through energy consumption in the home and personal transport (DECC,
2013). While residential energy consumption has been falling per household this is more
than offset by growing population and household formation (Committee on Climate Change,
2013). It is argued that reductions in household energy use could be much greater if
improved domestic technologies and products were to be more rapidly adopted and used
more effectively. Individual energy behaviour is perceived as a significant barrier to
achieving a major step change in energy efficiency. This barrier exists in spite of growing
environmental awareness and the financial and environmental benefits of energy efficiency
measures (Christie, et al., 2011; Crosbie & Baker, 2010; Gram-Hanssen et. al., 2007). In
addition, when such measures are adopted their benefits may be negated by poor use (Gill, et.
al., 2010) or changes in other household characteristics such as increase in the number of
appliances in the home (Vale & Vale, 2010), preferred temperature (Lomas, 2010) or the
floor area of the house (Summerfield, et. al., 2010). This offsetting of increased efficiency by
increased consumption is known as the rebound, or take back effect. The terms suggest
that household energy efficiency measures can encourage more profligate use of energy
because energy users feel they do not have to be as miserly with energy usage (Jenkins,
2010; Greening et al., 2000). For example, it has been shown that instalment of efficient
washing machines correlates with an increase in the amount of washing done (Sorrel et al.,
2009). This has led to a growing argument that reducing energy demand is not simply about
developing energy efficiency measures and technologies, but also changing behaviour and
everyday practices. Indeed, there is a commonly held assumption that changes in individual
behaviour can achieve a step change in global energy use, as indicated in the following
statement from the Stern Review:
In the case of climate change, individual preferences play a particularly important role.
Dangerous climate change cannot be avoided through high level international agreements; it
will take behavioural change by individuals and communities, particularly in relation to their
housing, transport and food consumption decisions (Stern, 2007:395)
Similar assumptions are made by the UK government (DECC / Defra, 2009) which consider
behavioural change to be central in pulling society towards the development of alternatives
to carbon intensive forms of living (Parag & Darby, 2009: 3985).

Although the over-emphasis on individual behaviour as the main driver of transition to lowcarbon societies may be contested on the grounds that it distracts attention from the wider
structural, economic and political factors, it is widely acknowledged that pro-environmental
behaviours play an important part in such a transition (Defra, 2008). The question, however,
remains: what constitutes such behaviour? Why do people behave in the way they do? What
motivates them to change their behaviour? What are the key factors in behaviour formation
and change?
One response to these questions has been to bundle everything in what may be called
Attitudes-Behaviours-Context (ABC) models (Stern 2010) in which a multitude of factors
are considered as contextual factors including:
interpersonal influences (); community expectations; advertising; government
regulations; other legal and institutional factors (); monetary incentives and costs; the
physical difficulty of specific actions; capabilities and constraints provided by technology
and the built environment (); the availability of public policies to support behaviour ();
and various features of the broad social, economic and political context () (Stern 2000:
However, as Shove (2010: 1275) argues, the more factors are added to ABC models the
more muddled the picture becomes. At the same time, the more complex the models
become the less their empirical applicability (Jackson, 2005).
This paper aims to shed some light on this complex picture by presenting a clearer grouping
of the factors that drive behaviour. We draw on the broader literature on decision making
which cuts across several disciplines to frame specific discussion about environmental
behaviour with a focus on energy consumption. A large part of the decision making literature
is normative and prescribes how decisions ought to be made. The focus of this paper,
however, is on how decisions are actually made by individuals. It aims to provide a
conceptual understanding of behaviour. We believe that such an insight is crucial for policies
aimed at encouraging pro-environmental behaviour. The following sections focus on three
broad perspectives on behaviour and review the discussions on values and norms which play
a critical role in the environmental behaviour literature. The concluding section highlights a
major shift in understanding energy consumption behaviour in terms of the interplay of
individual and social drivers.

2 Three perspectives on environmental behaviour

There are three dominant perspectives for understanding environmental behaviour and its
drivers. We call them the rational economic, the psychological and the sociological
perspectives (Tetlock, 1991). Below, we elaborate on these in turn.

2.1 The rational economic perspective

The rational economic perspective suggests that people are utility maximisers and their
decisions are based on rationally ordered preferences, which in turn are based on the level of
utility attached to, and probability of securing, each choice. In doing so, they follow a
number of logical steps: define the problem, identify the decision criteria, weight each
criterion, assess risk, generate options, rate options on each criterion, compute the optimum
option, and monitor and evaluate (Bazerman, 2001: 3-4). This model suggests that peoples
choices are based on rationally calculating the costs and benefits of a particular course of
action and taking the one which maximises their net benefit. Access to information is crucial
for making optimal decisions with highest benefit and lowest cost. This implies that people
will reduce their energy use, invest in energy efficient measures, or retrofit their houses, if
they possess the requisite information and if their self-interested benefits outweigh costs
(Wilson & Dowlatabadi, 2007; Jackson, 2005). According to the model, a key role of
intervention is therefore to provide information. This has led to a myriad of policy initiatives

based on giving feedback to households on their use of energy and providing them with
new, actionable information on consumption that could be clearly understood Darby (2008:
450). The idea is that having the information about energy use of different appliances and
different patterns of use, people will be motivated to reduce their consumption (Hargreaves
et al., 2010; Thaler & Sunstein, 2009; Gronhoj & Thogerson, 2011; Gyberg & Palm 2009).
Another role of policy intervention, according to this model, is to ensure that the market
allows people to make optimal choices by correcting price signals through internalisation of
social and environmental externalities. This is the basis of a growing number of
environmental taxes and levies (such as carbon tax) that are aimed at incorporating
environmental costs into economic cost-benefit calculations.
Critics point to key complicating factors such as: the influence of variable future discount
rates and the non-linear way in which the value of costs and benefits changes over time; the
significance of framing and how preference is depended on a reference point (Lindenberg &
Steg, 2007), and the importance of various forms of heuristic, habit and emotion (Wilson &
Dowlatabadi, 2007; Jackson, 2005). These latter will be discussed in more details below.
Empirical studies have also demonstrated that people do not always behave as utility
maximisers. For example, Christie, et al. (2011) highlight that adoption of energy-efficiency
technologies are assessed by potential users not only in terms of utility maximisation but
also, and more significantly, in terms of risks to, among other things, perceptions of social
belonging and other aspects of personal identity and safety.
At the same time, the rational model suggests that besides cost-benefit calculation, the
probability of achieving the preferred outcome also plays a part in decision-making.
Perceived behavioural control (PBC), as advocated by Ajzen (1991), describes the
individuals perception of the ease or difficulty with which they can adopt behaviour
(Turaga et al., 2010: 216). Self-efficacy is defined as the perception of how well one can
execute a course of action required to deal with prospective situations (Jackson, 2005: 49).
The implicit assumption within notions of PBC and self-efficacy is that if a behaviour is
perceived as being impossible within a particular context it will not be adopted despite the
motivation being present (Darnton, 2008: 19). It is, however, suggested that encouragement
and emotional arousal can increase feelings of self-efficacy (Darnton, 2008: 20). Again,
information plays a key part because it is argued that feelings of self-efficacy can be
strengthened through positive feedback (Grohoj & Thogersen, 2011) on, for example, the
level of reduction in energy use. However, if the feedback is negative (no reduction), it may
act as a deterrent for those with low perceptions of self-efficacy. Wilson & Dowlatabadi
(2007) argue that it is crucial for interventions to enhance individuals perceptions of selfefficacy through feedback mechanisms as well as education and training.
The rational economic model was dominant in the spatial planning field in the 1960s and
1970s in Europe and America. Since then, it has been subject to criticism by planning
theorists who argue that it fails to match the seemingly disjointed and incremental processes
of decision making by individuals and institutions (including planning systems) alike.
However, despite a great deal of research indicating the limitations of the rational model, its
assumptions have crept into the debate about attitude and its assumed determining role in
environmental behaviour. Peoples behaviour is understood to be preceded by their attitude
towards that behaviour. This attitude is in turn informed by a rational evaluation of the
characteristics of that behaviour (Jackson, 2005). For example, the attitude towards
purchasing and installing a low energy light bulb might be based upon an evaluation of its
environmental impact, money saving potential, its aesthetic qualities, the quality of the light
and so on (Crosbie & Baker, 2010). Such assumptions imply that if we modify attitudes, we
can modify behaviour and this can be done primarily through education, information
provision and awareness raising (Stern, 2000; Hargreaves, 2008).

2.2 The psychological perspective

The psychological perspective does not consider people as irrational, but it argues that their
rationality is bounded by certain limiting cognitive characteristics and patterns. It draws on
an evolutionary perspective, in which the human species has developed to respond to
complex, changing environments by developing mental shortcuts or heuristics (Gigerenzer et
al., 1999; Calne, 1999).These rules of thumb are simplifying mechanisms that allow us to
make quick decisions whenever full analysis is either not possible or not wise due to the
urgency of action (such as escaping from imminent danger) (Nicholson, 2000). While these
mechanisms have proved useful and practical, they lead to a number of biases which run
counter to some of the fundamental assumptions of the rational model. Some key biases are
outlined below, following Kahneman and Tversky (1979).
Firstly, we tend to treat choices differently depending on the manner in which they are
described or framed, not what they actually are. If they are framed in terms of losses, we
attach more risk to them than if they are framed in terms of gains. This cognitive illusion
means that people are more risk averse in relation to potential losses than for potential gains;
they are indeed loss averse. This has important implications for environmental policy in
terms of, for example, choosing between policies that are based on peoples willingness to
pay (buying price) and those focusing on willingness to accept (selling price). The latter is
shown by Kahneman and Tversky (1979) to be up to 20 times the former. Layard (2005)
provides an intriguing example, suggesting that most people would expect to be paid much
more to mow their neighbours lawn than they would be prepared to pay to have their own
lawn mowed by their neighbours. This implies that we tend to pay only a little to have
something, and demand a lot to give it up (Dawnay and Shah, 2005: 17). Framing, therefore,
is significant in economic cost-benefit analyses. More importantly, such analyses are not
sufficient in assessing the potential for a given policy being accepted and taken up by people.
For example, Christie et al. (2011) found that householders who were resistant to the
installation of solar panels remained so even when they had to make no initial expense and
were assured that their subsequent payments would not exceed the financial savings that the
equipment generated. Clearly, factors other than financial concerns have influenced their
decisions, such as the trust in the reliability of panels or the level of disruptions involved.
Secondly, in assessing information we pay more attention to information that is easily
available and to memories that are easily retrievable because they have personal relevance or
are emotionally vivid. For example, we may put more weight on our own experience of a
malfunctioning energy efficient device than on the published statistics about the probabilities
of such defaults. We also tend to cherry pick evidence to support our chosen options (a selfserving bias) or the decisions that have already been made (a confirmation bias) (De Bondt,
Thirdly, in making judgements about which options to choose we use our intuition to filter
the huge amount of information received, so that we can make decisions in the face of
uncertainties and ambiguities. While this helps with the problem of so called analysis
paralysis, it can also lead to over-confident estimates or unwillingness to acknowledge new
information. In situations of repeated decision making (such as picking the right
temperature for washing laundry) we tend to identify emotionally and cognitively with
familiar options that have been tried and tested rather than rationally weigh alternative
options. That may explain why a great majority of households wash at 40 degrees Centigrade
despite the availability of several other temperature options and improved washing
detergents that wash equally well at 30C.
Finally, in evaluating the decisions that have been made, two further biases may occur. The
first one is a tendency to attribute any good outcomes to our own actions, and any bad
outcomes to factors outside our control, often in the attempt to maintain self-esteem. The
second bias relates to the illusion that we have control over the risks of our actions. This then
leads us to discount information that suggests otherwise (Fenton-OCreevy et al., 2003).

In summary, the psychological perspective shows how peoples rationality is bounded by

their cognitive characteristics. However, while for some this perspective implies that
peoples judgments are always coloured by their biases and destined to systematic mismatch
(Nisbett and Ross, 1980), for others, they are signs of strength indicating that people can use
their tacit knowledge to arrive at timely decisions. In practice, people move between the two
extremes, from simple heuristics to complex cognitive strategies, depending on the
significance of the decision that they have to make (Fiske and Taylor, 1991). The
psychological perspective stresses the habitual, ritual and conventional bases of human
behaviour. It suggests that people are not always calculating rational beings; that, they may
not know their costs and benefits; and that they may not act in their own self-interest.
Habit plays a vital role in peoples lives (Darnton et al, 2011). Contrary to the rational choice
models, peoples behaviour is often habitual based on short cuts and routines rather than
rational deliberation. Only when these routines are disrupted, do conscious deliberations
come to play a part. It is in this context that feedback mechanisms, mentioned above, may
work. By re-materialising energy which is abstract and by making what is hidden in
peoples mundane routines visible (Burgess & Nye, 2008; Thaler & Sunstein, 2009:82),
entrenched habit can be disrupted and a space opened which may allow for new habit
formation. In other words, feedback may bring energy use back into peoples economic and
environmental consciousness.
A distinction, however, can be made between indirect and direct feedback. Indirect feedback
occurs sometime after consumption has taken place (such as on households energy bill),
while direct feedback happens immediately at the time of consumption (such as energy
monitors or smart meters). Direct feedback has been shown to be more effective at saving
energy than indirect feedback. It has led to improved energy literacy and interest in
purchasing energy efficient appliances or renewable energy technologies (Gronhoj &
Thogerson, 2011; Hargreaves, Nye & Burgess, 2010). This underpins the UK governments
plan for every household to have a smart meter and energy monitor by 2020 in order to
electronically display instant and detailed information about energy use. Research has shown
that such devices can produce savings of around 5-15% (Gronhoj & Thogerson, 2011) by
motivating a range of actions such as: turning off appliances, using energy more thoughtfully,
replacing inefficient appliances, and so on (Darby, 2010). However, research has also shown
that the positive effects of energy monitors often decrease overtime (Hargreaves et al. 2010;
van Dam et al., 2010). Furthermore, rather than enhancing peoples sense of self-efficacy,
their use may lead to a sense of disempowerment as energy monitors can, on occasion, make
the challenge of energy saving seem larger and even more insurmountable (Hargreaves et
al., 2010: 6119). This has led to calls for more careful examination of their positive and
potentially counter-productive effects (Pierce et. al. 2010).

2.3 The sociological perspective

What is common between the rational and the psychological perspectives is that both portray
people as information-processors albeit often with highly biased (and limited) processing
capacity and bounded rationality (Simon, 1957). Both focus on individual behaviour rather
than social and cultural processes that play crucial roles in habit formation, in providing
categories within which we think, and in framing what is legitimate or normal.
In line with the psychological perspective outlined above, the sociological perspective also
considers peoples rationality as bounded, not just by their cognitive capacity to process
information, but also by the social context in which they operate. From this perspective,
people are seen as being driven to control not just their environment (as is the case in
psychological approaches), but also to respond to social pressures. Three types of social
pressures are particularly influential in decision-making. The first is coercive and involves
social sanctions if people do not act in socially legitimate ways. Legislation, regulations and
rules are among this type of pressure. Non-conformity leads to punishments. A large part of
pro-environmental behaviour emanates from the enforceable rules and regulations.

The second type of social pressure is mimetic and involves imitating what others do
(Routledge, 1993). In order to reduce complexity and save time, we may either choose or be
compelled to copy others without necessarily considering the potential contextual
differences. We tend to do what our neighbours do especially if we trust their judgment.
Research has shown that households are motivated to take energy-saving action only after
others have been seen to do so (GfK NOP Social Research 2012).
The third type of social pressure is normative, based on the values we hold and the
acceptability of behaviours. It involves what we think we should do to not only avoid social
censure but also maximise social reward. A great deal of the literature on environmental
behaviour considers values and norms as central to the understanding of behaviour and the
design of effective policies and programmes aimed at behavioural change (see for example:
Stern, 2000; Barr, 2003; Gilg et al. , 2005; Turaga et al., 2010). It is, therefore, justified to
dedicate a section to these and elaborate them further.

3 Values and norms

Values are considered to be higher level social constructs than attitudes or beliefs (Jackson,
2005). Some commentators have suggested that individuals hold general values that can be
placed on continua ranging from egoistic to altruistic, from conservative to open to
change, and from bio-centric (nature has intrinsic value) to anthropocentric (nature has
instrumental value) (Barr, 2003: 229). In relation to environmental behaviour, Stern (2000)
proposes a value-belief-norm model in which the above values are linked to beliefs about
human relationship to nature (also see Davoudi, 2012). It is argued that, altruistic and biocentric value orientations are positively correlated to an ecological worldview which
considers nature as being in a delicate balance that can be offset by unchecked human
actions and growth. This ecological worldview, in turn, leads to a sense of moral obligation
to engage in pro-environmental behaviour and to perform such behaviour. In contrast,
egoistic values correlate negatively to the activation of a sense of responsibility towards the
environment (Stern, 2000).
As Hargreaves (2008) argues, Sterns model implies that values are socially, rather than
individually, constructed. Despite this, attempts to change values continue to rely on
information provision and moral suasion/education aimed at individual consumption
(Wilson & Dowlatabadi, 2007: 185; see also Stern, 2000:419) rather than steering the
normative basis of society towards more altruistic and reflexive environmentalism (Jackson
2009). It is also important to note that while other studies support the link between altruistic
and bio-centric values and environmental behaviours, they nevertheless emphasise that
values are not easily manipulated (Gilg et al., 2005: 499) and that, there are other factors
that determine pro-environmental behaviour.
In Ajzens (1991) Theory of Planned Behaviour a subjective norm is the perception of
what (important) others think about a particular behaviour (Jackson, 2005: 46-47). If we
perceive that others would see our behaviour in a positive light, we are more likely to
perform that behaviour (Harland et al., 1999). Subjective norms are therefore social norms
and as such they refer to what is perceived to be normal or legitimate in a given social
context. Social norms can be powerful drivers for pro-environmental behaviours (Evans,
2007). This means that people are likely to engage in energy reduction behaviours if they are
a member of a group in which such behaviour is normal (Dono et al., 2010; McKenzie-Mohr,
2000). If switching off lights is normal in our workplace, we are more likely to do so. An
individuals ability to observe social norms is important to how they are perceived and
accepted by their peer group especially in relation to what is interpreted as socially
(un)acceptable (smoking is a clear example).
It is in this context that normative feedback (i.e. comparing one households energy use with
that of other households) as opposed to informative feedback (i.e. providing households with
information about their own energy use) is suggested to be more effective because it can

activate a social norm and hence a change of behaviour (Fischer, 2008; De Young, 2000).
However, empirical findings on this claim are mixed: some argue that normative feedback
stimulates energy saving (Darby, 2010), others suggest that the effect is often under-detected
(Nolan, et. al., 2008) and a third group find that none of the studies utilising normative
feedback could demonstrate an effect on consumption (Fischer, 2008: 99). While, more
research is needed in the exact effects of normative feedback, it is widely acknowledged that
social norms refer to what is conceived of as appropriate forms of behaviour in a given
circumstance or a given social group (Jackson, 2005:60). Adjusting ones behaviour to the
norm can therefore have a positive or negative impact on their energy consumption. So, as
Fischer (2008) suggests, low energy households could actually increase their energy
consumption if comparative feedback suggests that their consumption is below the norm.
So, social norms can act both ways depending on the nature of the norm (pro, anti or neutral
towards the environment) and the extent to which it is embedded in the social consciousness.
Lorenzoni et al. (2007) argue that a significant barrier to adopting pro-environmental
behaviour in the UK is the perception that low-consumption green living is both abnormal
and undesirable.
Overall, it is important to note that a focus on values and norms in policy-making recognises
that energy behaviour is an inherently political as well as a technical issue and requires the
development of energy-sensitive politics as well as policy integration.

4 Conclusion
Reducing households energy consumption is a significant part of strategies for transition to
low carbon societies. Such reduction can take place through technological advances such as
energy efficient building materials and appliances and physical interventions such as
retrofitting of the built environment. However, problems of rebound effect, low levels of
take up and acceptability have directed attention to behavioural issues. Changing behaviour
has increasingly become the buzzword of public policy. However, as mentioned in the
introduction to this paper, progression towards more sustainable forms of energy demand
and supply requires more than a shift in the attitudes and intentions of individuals (Walker
& Cass, 2007: 467). Attempts to steer society towards sustainable energy systems should go
beyond a focus on influencing individual behaviour. It requires a radical re-working and realignment of technologies, routines, forms of knowhow, markets and expectations (Shove,
2012:1278) as well as institutional practices and systems of provision.
Peoples consumption of energy is based on a set of social practices which are influenced by
both their lifestyle choices and by the institutions and structures of society, including those
which determine the dynamics of energy systems. For policy to be effective, it needs to be
developed with a sound understanding of the complexity of these relationships.
The need for systemic change does not mean an abandonment of attempts to promote proenvironmental behaviour. What we have demonstrated in this paper is the existence of at
least three different conceptualisations of behaviour with each being rooted in different
disciplinary traditions and presenting different views of individuals and the drivers of
behavioural change. In practice, what constitute our behaviour is far from the neat dividing
lines presented above. As Jackson (2005) puts it, peoples behaviour is a function of their
attitude and intentions, their habitual responses and the situational constraints and conditions
under which they operate. Their intentions are then influenced by social, normative, and
affective factors as well as rational deliberations.
Effective policies have to take into account the importance of the social context of behaviour,
while also renegotiating habits and encouraging new habit formation. An important element
of changing habit is to unlock existing behaviour or, in other words, raise the behaviour
from the level of practical (everyday routine) to discursive (intentional, goal-oriented)
consciousness (Jackson, 2005). This can be done more effectively with a focus on
communities rather than individuals (Brulle, 2010; Bunt and Harries, 2010, Heiskanen et al

2010). Through both place-based and group-based communities, reducing energy

consumption could become the new social norm, shaping both individual and systemic
behaviour. Many of the current pro-environmental behaviour change approaches do
recognize the importance of information, norms and attitudes and take a collective approach
at the level of community. And yet, there appears to be a lack of stress on the facilitative
structural conditions and institutional practices within which these community initiatives are
situated. The evidence in this paper suggests that a shift in energy behaviours requires a
multi-level and cross-sectoral approach which addresses material, institutional, social and
subjective determinants of behaviour simultaneously.

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Environment and Planning II Planning and Design IW), volume 26, pages 603 630

Modeling the urban ecosystem: a conceptual framework

M Aibcrtt
Department of Urban Design and Planning, University of Washington, Box 355740, Seattle,
WA 98195, USA; e-mail:
Received 14 October 1998; in revised form 22 March 1999

Abstract. In this paper I build on current research in urban and ecological simulation modeling to
develop n conceptual framework for modeling the urban ecosystem. Although important progress has
been made in various areas of urban modeling, operational urban models are still primitive in terms of
their ability to represent ecological processes. On the other hand, environmental models designed to
assess the ecological impact of an urban region are limited in their ability to represent human
systems, I present here a strategy to integrate these two lines of research into an urban ecological
model (UEM). This model addresses the human dimension of the Pugct Sound regional integrated
simulation model (PRISM)a multidisciplinary initiative at the University of Washington aimed at
developing a dynamic and integrated understanding of the environmental and human systems in the
Pugct Sound. UEM simulates the environmental pressures associated with human activities under
alternative demographic, economic, policy, and environmental scenarios. The specific objectives of
UEM are to: quantify the major sources of human-induced environmental stresses (such as land-cover
changes and nutrient discharges); determine the spatial and temporal variability of human stressors in
relation to changes in the biophysical structure; relate the biophysical impacts of these stressors to the
variability and spatial heterogeneity in land uses, human activities, and management practices; and
predict the changes in stressors in relation to changes in human factors.
1 Introduction

Planning agencies worldwide are increasingly challenged by the need to assess the
environmental implications of alternative urban growth patternsand policies to
control themin a comprehensive manner. Urban growth leads to rapid conversion
of land and puts increasing pressure on local and global ecosystems. It causes changes
in water and energy fluxes. Natural habitats are reduced and fragmented, exotic
organisms arc introduced, and nutrient cycles are severely modified. Although impacts
of urban development often seem local, they cause environmental changes at larger
scales. Assessments of urban growth that are timely and accurate, and developed in a
transparent manner, are crucial to achieve sound decisions. However, operational
urban models designed to analyze or predict the development of urban areas are still
primitive in their ability to represent ecological processes and urban ecosystem
dynamics. Though important progress has been made in various areas of urban
modeling (Wegener, 1994; 1995), only a few scholars have attempted to integrate the
environmental dimension. The majority of these models are designed to answer a set of
fundamental but limited planning questions relevant to housing (Anas, 1995; Anas and
Arnott, 1991; Kain and Apgar, 1985), land use (Landis, 1992; 1995; Prastacos, 1986;
Waddell, 1998), transportation (Boyce, 1986; Kim, 1989) and in some cases the interactions among them (de la Barra, 1989; Echenique et al, 1990; Mackett, 1990; Putman,
1983; 1991; Wegener, 1983).
On the other hand, the environmental models designed to assess the ecological
impact of an urban region are limited in their ability to represent human systems. These
models represent people as static scenarios of land uses and economic activities and
predict human-induced disturbances from aggregated measures of economic development and urban growth. Only with the increasing attention paid to the role of human


M Alberti

activities in global environmental change has the need emerged to represent more
explicitly human systems in environmental models. Whereas integrated assessment
modeling can be traced back to the late 1960s (Forrester, 1969; Meadows et al, 1972),
the first generation of operational integrated models has emerged only in the mid-1980s.
During the last decade, integrated assessment modeling has been proposed as a new
approach to link biophysical and socioeconomic systems in assessing climate change
(Dowlatabadi, 1995). At present more than thirty integrated assessment models (IAMs)
have been developed (Alcamo, 1994; Dowlatabadi, 1995; Rotmans et al, 1995). The focus
of current IAMs is global; however, a new generation of spatially explicit regional
integrated models is now emerging (Maxwell and Costanza, 1995). These models
have started to treat human decisions explicitly but are still too limited in the representation of human behavior and the heterogeneity of urban land uses (Alberti, 1998).
Recent progress in the study of complex systems (Schneider and Kay, 1994) and the
evolution of computer modeling capabilities (Brail, 1990) have made possible a more
explicit treatment of the link between human and ecological systems. The development
of GIS has provided the capability to integrate spatial processes. However, the greatest
challenge for integrating urban and environmental modeling will be in interfacing the
various disciplines involved. Urban subsystems have been studied for several decades
but progress in urban-ecological modeling has been limited because of the difficulty
in integrating the natural and social sciences. A recent National Science Foundation
workshop on urban processes pointed out that ecologists, social scientists, and urban
planners will need to work together to make their data, models, and findings compatible
with one another and to identify systematically where fruitful clusters of multidisciplinary research problems can be developed (Brown, 1997). Such an approach can offer
a new perspective on modeling urban systems.
In this paper I build on research in urban and ecological simulation modeling to
develop an integrated urban-ecological modeling framework. This framework is part of
a current effort to develop an urban-ecological model (UEM) at the University of
Washington as part of the Puget Sound regional integrated simulation model (PRISM).
UEM simulates the environmental impacts associated with human activities under alternative demographic, economic, policy, and environmental scenarios. Its objectives are to:
(1) Quantify the major sources of human-induced environmental stresses (such as landcover changes and nutrient discharges);
(2) Determine the spatial and temporal variability of human stressors in relation to
changes in the biophysical structure;
(3) Relate the biophysical impacts of these stressors to the variability and spatial heterogeneity in land uses, human activities, and management practices; and
(4) Predict the changes in stressors in relation to changes in human factors.
The development of an integrated urban-ecological framework has both scientific
and policy relevance. It provides a basis for developing integrated knowledge of the
processes and mechanisms that govern urban ecosystem dynamics. It also creates the
basis for modeling urban systems and provides planners with a powerful tool to
simulate the ecological impacts of urban development patterns.
2 The urban ecosystem
Early efforts to understand the interactions between urban development and environmental change led to the conceptual model of cities as urban ecosystems (Boyden et al,
1981; Douglas, 1983; Duvigneaud, 1974; Odum, 1963; 1997; Stearns and Montag, 1974).
Ecologists have described the city as a heterotrophic ecosystem highly dependent on
large inputs of energy and materials and a vast capacity to absorb emissions and waste
(Boyden et al, 1981; Duvigneaud, 1974; Odum, 1963). Wolman (1965) applied an 'urban


Modeling the urhan ecosystem

metabolism1 approach to quantify the Hows of energy and materials into and out of a
hypothetical American city. Systems ccologists provided formal equations to describe
the energy balance and the cycling of materials (Douglas, 1983; Oclum, 1983). Although
these efforts have never been translated into operational simulation models, they have
laid out the basis for urban-ecological research. Urban scholars were rightly skeptical
about the attempts to integrate biological and socioeconomic concepts into system
dynamics models. None of these models represented explicitly the processes by which
humans affect or are affected by the urban environment. At best, human behavior was
reduced to a few differential equations. These models simplified the interactions of
natural and social systems so much that they could provide little useful insight for
planners and decisionmakers. Since then, however, urban and ecological research has
made important progress with respect to understanding how urban ecosystems operate
and how they differ from natural ecosystems.
Urban-ecological interactions are complex. Urban ecosystems consist of several
interlinked subsystems -social, economic, institutional, and environmental each
representing a complex system of its own and affecting all the others at various
structural and functional levels. Urban development is a major determinant of ecosystem structure and influences significantly the functioning of natural ecosystems
through (a) the conversion of land and transformation of the landscape; (b) the use
of natural resources; and (c) the release of emissions and waste. The earth's ecosystems
also provide (d) important services to the human population in urban areas. Thus
(e) environmental changes occurring at the local, regional, and global scale such as
the contamination of watersheds, loss of biodiversity, and changes in climate -affect
human health and well-being. Humans respond to environmental change through
(f) management strategies (figure I).
Global ecosystem

Figure 1. Human - natural systems interactions.

2.1 Human systems
Human drivers are dominant in urban ecosystem dynamics. Major human driving
forces are demographics, socioeconomic organization, political structure, and technology. Human behaviorsthe underlying rationales for the actions that give rise to these
forcesdirectly influence the use of land and the demand for and supply of resources


M Alberti

(Turner, 1989). In urban areas these forces combine to affect the spatial distribution of
activities and ultimately the spatial heterogeneity of natural processes and disturbances. It is increasingly clear to both social (Openshaw, 1995) and natural (Pickett
et al, 1994) scientists that it is absurd to model the urban ecosystem without explicitly
representing humans in them. Would ecologists exclude other species from models of
natural ecosystems? However, as Pickett et al (1997) point out, simply adding humans
to ecosystems without representing the way they function is not an adequate alternative. Today, social and natural scientists have the tools to explore the richness of
interactions between the social and ecological functions of the human species.
Representing human actors and their institutions in models of urban ecosystems
will be an important step towards representing more realistically the human dimension
of environmental change. Many of the human impacts on the physical environment are
mediated through social, economic, and political institutions that control and order
human activities (Kates et al, 1990). Also, humans consciously act to mitigate these
impacts and build the institutional settings to promote such actions. They adapt by
learning both individually and collectively. How can these dimensions be represented?
Lynch (1981, page 115) suggested that "a learning ecology might be more appropriate
for human settlement since some of its actors, at least, are conscious, and capable of
modifying themselves and thus changing the rules of the game", for example by
restructuring materials and switching the path of energy flows. Humans, like other
species, respond to environmental change but in a more complex way.
2.2 Natural systems
Environmental forcessuch as climate, topography, hydrology, land cover, and humaninduced changes in environmental qualityare important drivers of urban systems.
Moreover, natural hazardssuch as hurricanes, floods, and landslidescan cause
significant perturbations in social systems. Most models of human systems, however,
simply ignore these forces. In urban models, biophysical processes are at best included as
exogenous variables and treated as constants. This is a severe limitation because human
decisions are directly related to environmental conditions and changes. Surprisingly,
urban modelers cannot remove the behavior of the job market or degradation of housing
stocks from their models but can represent the dynamics of urban systems without
considering the degradation of the environment and depletion of natural resources.
As we cannot simply add humans to ecological models, representing biophysical
processes in urban models will require going beyond simply adding environmental
variables to existing urban models. A number of models currently extend their modules
to include changes in environmental variables such as air quality and noise (Wegener,
1995). However, these models may misrepresent complex ecological responses. Before we
can model these responses, we need to recognize explicitly the properties of ecosystem
organization and behavior that govern them. According to Holling (1978, pages 25-26)
four properties of ecological systems determine how they respond to change. First, parts
in ecological systems are connected to each other in a selective way that has implications
for what should be measured. Second, events are not uniform over space, which has
implications for how intense impacts will be and where they will occur. Third, sharp
shifts in behavior are natural for many ecosystems. Fourth, variability, not constancy,
is a feature of ecological systems that contributes to their self-correcting capacity.
2.3 Integrated modeling
In modeling the interactions between human and natural systems, we need to consider
that many factors work simultaneously at various levels. Simply linking these models in
an 'additive' fashion may not adequately represent system behavior because interactions
occur at levels that are not represented (Pickett et al, 1994). On the basis of hierarchy

Modeling the urban ecosystem


theory* Pickett et nl (1994) argue that the consideration of interactions only at the
upper level may provide statistical relationship but cannot help explain or predict
important feedback for future conditions. This is particularly true in urban ecosystems
because urban development controls the ecosystem structure in complex ways. Landuse decisions affect species composition directly through the introduction of species
and indirectly through the modification of natural disturbance agents. Production and
consumption choices determine the level of resource extraction and generation of
emissions and waste. Decisions about investing in infrastructures or adopting control
policies may mitigate or exacerbate these effects. Because ecological productivity
controls the regional economy, interactions between local decisions and ecological
processes at the local scale can result in large-scale environmental change.
We also need to challenge the implicit assumption of most models that decisions
arc made by one single decisionmaker at one point in time. Urban development is the
outcome of dynamic interactions among the choices of many actors, including households, businesses, developers, and governments (WaddcII, 1998). These actors make
decisions that determine and alter the patterns of human activities and ultimately
affect environmental change. Their decisions arc interdependent; for example, housing
location is affected by employment activity and affects retail activity and infrastructure,
which in turn affect housing development.
Human and natural systems, including their equilibrium conditions, change over
time. One major problem in describing their relationships is that they operate at very
different temporal and spatial scales. The lag times between human decisions and their
environmental effects further complicate any attempt to understand these interactions.
Moreover, the environmental effects of human actions may also be distanced over
space (Moiling, 1986). Simulating the behavior of urban-ecological systems requires
not only an explicit consideration of the temporal and spatial dynamics of these
systems, but also achieving consistency across the different temporal and spatial scales
at which various processes operate.
Another source of difficulty in spelling out these interactions is their cumulative
and synergistic impacts. In general, environmental impacts become important when
their sources are grouped closely enough in space or time to exceed the ability of the
natural system to remove or dissipate the disturbances (Clark, 1986). Human stresses in
cities may cross thresholds beyond which they may irrevocably damage important
ecological functions. In most ecological systems, processes operate in a stepwise rather
than a smoothly progressive fashion over time (Holling, 1986). Sharp shifts in behavior
are natural This property of ecosystems requires the consideration of resilience: the
amount of disturbance a system can absorb without changing its structure or behavior.
In modeling urban-ecological systems we also need to consider feedback mechanisms between the natural and human systems. These are control elements that can
amplify or regulate a given output. At the global level, an example of negative feedback
in the biosphere described by ecologists is the homeostatic integration of biotic and
physical processes that keeps the amount of CO2 in the air relatively constant. Feedback loopsboth positive and negativebetween human and environmental systems
are not completely understood. We know that human decisions leading to the burning
of fossil fuels and land-use change affect the carbon cycle, and that in turn the
associated climate changes will affect human choices, but the nature of these interactions remains controversial. In particular, the feedback of environmental change on
human decisions is difficult to represent because environmental change affects all
people independently of who has caused the environmental impact in the first place,
whereas the impact of each individual decisionmaker on the environment depends on
the choices of others (Ostrom, 1991).


M Alberti

Modeling urban-ecological systems will require special attention to uncertainty.

Uncertainty can arise from limited understanding of a given phenomenon, systematic
and random error, and subjective judgment. Change in natural systems can occur in
abrupt and discontinuous ways, and responses can be characterized by thresholds and
multiple domains of stability. The knowledge of the environmental systems is always
incomplete and surprise is inevitable (Holling, 1995). The explicit characterization and
analysis of uncertainty should be a central focus of modeling integration.
3 The environmental dimension in urban models
Although extensive urban research has focused on the dynamics of urban systems, it
has been described only partially through numerical models. Most operational urban
models focus on a few subsystems such as housing, employment, land use, and transportation, with a limited set of elements influencing their dynamics. These models
predict the spatial distribution of activities based on simple spatial interaction mechanisms and economic axioms. No operational urban models have attempted to
describe the interactions between urban and environmental processes in a systematic
way. Recently a few modelers have started to address a number of direct impacts of
human activities, such as air pollution and noise, on the environment. However, as the
idealized urban model proposed by Wegener (1994) depicts quite well, only unidirectional links between urban systems and the environment have been conceived in urban
modeling. Today a vast literature synthesizes the theoretical and methodological foundation of urban simulation models (Batty and Hutchinson, 1983; Harris, 1996; Mackett,
1985; 1990; Putman, 1983; 1995; Wegener, 1994; 1995; Wilson et al, 1977; 1981). In this
section I draw on this literature to explore how environmental variables are considered
and how environmental processes are represented.
Operational urban models can be classified according to the approach they use to
predict the generation and spatial allocation of activities or according to the solution
proposed to a variety of model design questions (see table 1, over). It is difficult to
classify the vast literature on urban modeling because of the great variability in emphasis that authors place on theory, techniques, and applications. Moreover, the various
approaches are interrelated in complex ways. Six major classes of operational models
discussed in the literature are relevant here: those relying on gravity, the economic
market, optimization, input - output, microsimulation, and cellular automata.
3.1 Gravity, maximum entropy, and discrete-choice models

The dominant approach in urban modeling can be traced to Lowry's (1964) model,
a simple iterative procedure in which nine equations are used to simulate the spatial
distribution of population, employment, service, and land use. The model is based
on the simple hypothesis that residences gravitate toward employment locations.
Two schools of research have provided a statistical basis for the gravity model, guided
by Wilson (1967, the entropy-maximizing principle) and McFadden (1973, utility
maximization). The results obtained by the two methods were later shown to be
equivalent (Anas, 1983). The models most often used by planning agencies in the
USAthe disaggregated residential allocation model (DRAM) and the employment
allocation model (EMPAL)are derivatives of Lowry's model using maximum entropy
formulation. Developed by Putman (1979), and incrementally improved since the early
1970s, DRAM and EMPAL are currently in use in fourteen US metropolitan areas
(Putman, 1996). The integrated transportation land-use package (ITLUP), also developed by Putman (1983), provides a feedback mechanism to integrate DRAM, EMPAL,
and various components of the urban transportation planning system (UTPS) models
implemented in most metropolitan areas. Although these models substantially improve

Modeling the urban ecosystem


upon the initial Lovvry model, they are based on the same simple assumption. No
environmental variables are used in determining the spatial distribution of residence.
The allocation of residential and employment activities must of course meet physical
constraints and planning restrictions within the available zones. However, other than
these constraints no other environmental considerations are included in the equation.
3.2 Economic market-based models
A second urban modeling approach is based on the work of Wingo (1961) and Alonso
(1964), who introduce the notion of land-rent and land-market clearing. Wingo was the
first to describe the urban spatial structure in the framework of equilibrium theory.
Given the location of employment centers, a particular transportation technology, and
a set of households, his model determines the spatial distribution, value, and extent of
residential land requirements under the assumption that landowners and households
both maximize their return. Wingo uses demand, whereas Alonso uses bid-rent functions to distribute the land to its users. The aim of both models is to describe the
effects of the residential land market on location. Under this approach, households are
assumed to maximize their utility and select an optimum residential location by
trading off housing prices and transportation costs. The trade-offs are represented in
a demand or bid-rent functional form which describes how much each household is
willing to pay to live at each location. Anas (1983) introduced discrete-choice behavior
into models with economically specified behavior and market clearing. Two models
that use this approach arc UrbanSim developed by Waddcll (1998), and CUF2 developed by Landis and Zhang (1998a; 1998b). Both models arc based on random utility
theory and make use of logit models to implement key components. However, they
differ in a substantial way. UrbanSim models the key decisionmakershouseholds,
businesses, and developersand simulates their choices that impact urban development. It also simulates the land market as the interaction of demand and supply with
prices of land and buildings adjusting to clear the market. UrbanSim simulates urban
development as a dynamic process as opposed to a cross-sectional or equilibrium
approach. CUF2 models land-use transition probabilities based on a set of site and
community characteristics such as population and employment growth, accessibility,
and original use in the site and surrounding sites.
As indicated in table 1, most current operational models are based on an economic
market-based approach and rely on random utility or discrete-choice theory. In these
models, environmental variables are not part of the equation, except for environmental
constraints. The value of the ecological servicessuch as clean air, clean water, and
flood controlthat ecosystems provide to households are not reflected in market prices.
This is a severe limitation, because changes in environmental quality and other ecological services provided by ecosystems will affect the market behavior of the households
(Maler et al, 1994).
3.3 Mathematical programming-based models
A third approach to describing urban activity allocation is based on optimization
theory. By using mathematical programming, these models design spatial interaction
problems in order to optimize an objective function that includes transportation
and activity establishment costs. Herbert and Stevens (1960) used linear programming
to simulate the market mechanisms that affect location. Wheaton (1974) developed
an optimization model by using nonlinear programming. More recently Boyce et al
(1993) and Boyce and Southworth (1979) have explored the options for integrating
spatial interactions of residential, employment, and travel choices within a single
optimized modeling framework. The projective optimization land-use system (POLIS)
developed by Prastacos (1986) is one of the few optimization land-use models used in

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Table 1. Urban models.



Theory or approach

Population or sectors


Land use and/or cover

Complex systems
Cellular automata
Monte Carlo simulation



Land use

Random utility
Multinomial logit



Land use

Random utility
Network equilibrium
Land-use equilibrium
Monte Carlo microsimulation

Partially disaggregated


Land use
Land use

Random utility
Network equilibrium

Partially disaggregated

Random utility
General equilibrium


Random utility
Monte Carlo microsimulation


Land use
Land use
Land use
Land use

Random utility
Market clearing


Random utility


Random utility
Network equilibrium
Land-use equilibrium


Random utility
Partial equilibrium
Multinomial logit

Partially disaggregated







Modeling the urban ecosystem









Cirid cell

Clurkc etui, 1997



I00x 100 m
grid cell

Land cover
Percent slope




Zone space constraints

CO2 emissions by

Wegener, 1995




Zone space constraints

Mobile source emissions

Putman, 1983; 199!




Zone space constraints

Kim, 1989




Zone space constraints

Mackctt, 1990




Zone space constraints

Echcnique et al,




Zone space constraints

Prastacos, 1986




Zone space constraints

de la Barra, 1989




Stream buffers
100 years floodplain area

Waddell, 1998

Landis and Zhang,

1998a; 1998b


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planning practice. This model, which has been implemented in the San Francisco Bay
area, seeks to maximize both the location surplus and the spatial agglomeration
benefits of basic employment sectors. As in previous models, only land availability is
included as a determinant of employment allocation to zones.
3.4 Input-output models
Another important contribution from economic theory to urban modeling is the
spatially disaggregated intersectoral input-output ( I - O ) approach, developed initially
by Leontief (1967). The approach provides a framework for disaggregating economic
activities by sector and integrating them into urban spatial interaction models. This
transforms the basic structure of an I - O table, allowing the modeler to estimate the
direct and indirect impacts of exogenous change in the economy on a spatially disaggregated scale. Operational urban models that use such an approach include
MEPLAN, TRANUS, and the models developed by Kim (1989). MEPLAN includes
three modules: LUS, the land-use model; FRED, which converts production and
consumption into flows of goods and services; and TAS, a transportation model which
allocates the transport of goods and passengers to travel modes and routes. The landuse component of MEPLAN is based on a spatial disaggregation of production and
consumption factors that include goods, services, and labor. Total consumption is
estimated by using a modified I - O framework subsequently converted into trips.
MEPLAN, TRANUS, and Kim's models use I - O tables to generate interregional flows
of goods. MEPLAN uses the results of the I - O framework to evaluate environmental
impacts. I - O models have been extended to include environmental variables and incorporate pollution multipliers, but no urban model has attempted to implement this
approach for describing economic-ecological interactions. The regional applications of
such an approach have encountered various difficulties related to the specification of the
ecological interprocess matrix and the assumption of fixed coefficients. A major limitation is that inputs and outputs are measured in values as opposed to physical flows.
3.5 Micro simulation
One major limitation in the way most urban models represent the behavior of households and businesses stems from the fact that they are aggregated and static. Individuals
behave in ways that are influenced by their characteristics and the opportunities from
which they choose. Without the explicit representation of these individuals it is impossible to predict the trade-offs they make between jobs, residential locations, or travel
modes. A distinct approach to model the behavior of individuals is microanalytic
simulation that explicitly represents individuals and their progress through a series of
processes (Mackett, 1990). Microsimulation is a modeling technique that is particularly
suitable for systems where decisions are made at the individual unit level and where the
interactions within the system are complex. In such systems, the outcomes produced
by altering the system can vary widely for different groups and are often difficult to
predict. In microsimulation the relationships between the various outcomes of decision
processes and the characteristics of the decisionmaker can be defined by a set of rules
or by a Monte Carlo process. Furthermore, the actions of a population can be simulated through time and incorporate the dynamics of demographic change. An example
is the microanalytical simulation of transport, employment, and residence (MASTER)
model developed by Mackett (1990). The model simulates the choices of a given
population through a set of processes. The outcome of each process is a function
of the characteristics of the household or business, the set of available choices, and
a set of constraints. This approach is applied less extensively in Wegener's (1982)
Dortmund model. Although these models do not explicitly use microsimulation for
modeling environmental impacts, it is clear that the greater disaggregation of the

Modeling the urban ecosystem


actors and behaviors has enormous advantages for modeling consumer behavior and
environmental impacts,
3.6 Cellular automata
The use of cellular automata (CA) has been proposed to model spatially explicit
dynamic processes not currently represented in urban models (Hatty and Xie, 1994;
Couclclis, 1985; White et al, 1997; Wu, 1998). Existing operational models arc spatially
aggregated and, even when they use or produce spatially disaggregated data, they rely
on simple spatial geometric processing. A number of modelers have stressed the need
to represent more realistically the spatial behavior of urban actors (White and Engelen,
1997). CA consist of cells arranged in a regular grid that change state according to
specific transition rules. These rules define the new state of the ceils as a function of
their original state and local neighborhood, Clarke et al (1997) have developed a CA
urban growth model as part of the Human-Induced Land Transformations Project
initiated by the US Geological Survey. The model aims to examine the urban transition
in the San Francisco Bay area from a historical perspective and to predict regional
patterns of urbanization in the next 100 years (Clarke ct al, 1997). These predictions are
then used as a basis to assess the ecological and climatic impacts of urban change.
There are four types of growth: spontaneous, diffusive, organic, and road-influenced.
Five factors regulate the rate and nature of growth: a diffusion factor which determines
the dispcrsiveness; a breed coefficient which specifics the likelihood of a settlement to
begin its growth cycle; a spread coefficient which regulates growth of existing settlements; a slope resistance factor which influences the likelihood of growth on steeper
slopes; and a road gravity factor which attracts new settlements close to roads.
4 The human dimension in environmental models
Environmental models have been developed for several decades to simulate atmospheric, land, and ecosystem dynamic processes, and to help assess the effects of various
natural and human-induced disturbances. However, the use of these models in environmental management has become widespread only in the last three decades (J0rgensen
et al, 1995). Since the early 1970s major environmental problems such as eutrophication
and the fate of toxic substances have attracted the attention of environmental modelers,
and very complex models were developed. More recently, the prospect of major changes
in the global environment has presented the scientific community with the challenge of
modeling the interactions between human and ecological systems in an integrated way.
Over these decades a rich literature on'environmental models has developed, but this
is well outside the scope of this paper. In this review I focus on the treatment of the
human dimension in these models (table 2, over).
4.1 Climate and atmospheric models
Atmospheric models can be classified according to the scale of the atmospheric processes they represent. At the global scale, sophisticated coupled atmospheric-ocean
general circulation models (AOGCM) predict climate conditions by considering simultaneously the atmosphere and the ocean (Washington and Meehl, 1996). Using a set of
climate parameters (that is, solar constant) and boundary conditions (that is, land cover,
topography, and atmospheric composition), these models determine the rate of change
in climatic variables such as the temperature, precipitation, surface pressure, and soil
moisture associated with alternative scenarios of CO2 concentrations. These models are
currently being used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) to
assess the impact of alternative greenhouse-gases emission scenarios up to the year 2100.
Regional models have been developed primarily to tackle the issue of acid rain.
Aggregated emissions of sulfur and nitrogen compounds, estimated on the basis of


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Table 2. Environmental models.



Media or subsystems



general circulation

Climate - ocean



Atmospheric model

Meteorological emission,
Chemistry transport

Local or regional


Atmospheric model

Photochemical processes

Local or regional


Biogeochemical model

Terrestrial biosphere



Biogeochemical model

Terrestrial biosphere



Distributed hydrology
soil vegetation model




dynamic model




Biogeochemical model

Nutrient cycles



ecological model




landscape model

Terrestrial landscape



integrated simulation

Energy - industry
Atmosphere - ocean

Global, 13 regions


Optimization - simulation


Global, 7 regions


Optimization - simulation

Atmospheric transport
Soil acidification

Continental, Europe


Integrated simulation

Population or health
Energy or economics
Biophysics, land, soils,
or water

Global, 6 regions


Modeling the urban ecosystem

Human factors






100 years

CO? concentration
4.5" x 7.5
(latitude x longitude )
9 layers


8-hour to
72-hour period

Variable 3-D grid

Emissions of

Novak et al, 1995


8-hour to
72-hour period

Variable 3-D grid

Emissions of

Morris and Meyers,



1 year

2.5 x 2.5

Land use
CO2 concentration

Esser, 1991


6 days

0.5 x 0.5

Land use
CO2 concentration

Esser et al, 1994



30- 100 m

Land cover

Wigmosta et al,


Up to 500 years 10 x 10 m grid
1 year

Land cover

Botkin, 1984


1 month
of years

1 x 1 m grid cell

Land cover
CO2 concentration

Par ton et al, 1987


12 hours

1 km cell

Land cover

Fitz ct al, 1999


1 week

200 m grid
1 km grid

Land cover

Costanza et al,


1 day to 5 years Variable from
0.5 x 0.5 grid
to region

CO2 emissions
Land use

Alcamo, 1994


5 years

Latitude bands

Explicit treatment
of uncertainties

Dowlatabadi and
Ball, 1994


1 year

150 km x 150 km
in deposition
submodel and
0.5 x 1.0 impact

Energy use
Sulfur emissions

Alcamo et al, 1990


1 year


Energy use
Water use
Land cover

Rotmans et al,

Washington and
Mcchl. 1996


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emissions factors of point, area, and mobile sources, serve as inputs for long-range
transport models which predict the emissions and regional distribution of acid compounds. Two regional air-quality models developed by the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) are the regional oxidant model (ROM) (Young et al, 1989) and the
regional acid-deposition model (RADM) (Chang et al, 1990).
Emission factors for criteria pollutants are also used as inputs for urban atmospheric models. The EPA's urban airshed model (UAM) is a three-dimensional photochemical grid model designed to simulate the relevant physical and chemical processes
affecting the production and transport of tropospheric ozone (Morris and Meyers,
1990). The basis for the UAM is a mass balance equation in which all of the relevant
emissions, transport, diffusion, chemical reactions, and removal processes are expressed
in mathematical terms (Morris and Meyers, 1990). A more recent model developed by
EPA is the community multiscale air-quality (CMAQ) model. CMAQ is a third generation air-quality model that treats multiple pollutants simultaneously up to continental
scales and incorporates feedbacks between chemical and meteorological components.
The CMAQ modeling system contains three modeling components: a meteorological
model, emission models for human-made and natural emissions, and a chemistrytransport model. The target-grid resolutions and domain sizes for CMAQ range
spatially and temporally over several orders of magnitude. In these models human
decisions are represented by emission factors developed by the EPA (Novak et al, 1995).
4.2 Biogeochemical models
A number of global models aim to simulate the impacts of human activities on
biogeochemical cyclesthe continuous cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur through
the biosphere which sustains life. Two examples are the Osnabriick biosphere model
(OBM) and the high-resolution biosphere model (HRBM) developed in Germany
(Esser, 1991; Esser et al, 1994). These spatially explicit models simulate the dynamics
of the carbon cycle through the terrestrial biosphere in response to climate and CO2
forcing. OBM uses a grid cell of 2.5 x 2.5 (latitude x longitude) and an annual time
step. HRBM has a greater spatial resolution (0.5 x 0.5) and a finer (6 days) time step.
They compute the storage and transfer of carbon from each cell by using a series of
rate constants and coefficients. In these models human impacts are generated through
scenarios of land-use change and CO2 concentrations. However, these models do not
represent more complex interactions between human behavior and biogeochemical
cycles. For example, land-use decisions affect the carbon cycle not only directly but
also through its impact on transportation patterns and related CO2 emissions in the
4.3 Hydrological models
Human-induced changes in water and sediment fluxes have been modeled through runoff models. Human activities can cause four major impacts on the hydrological cycle:
floods, droughts, changes in surface and groundwater regimes, and water pollution
(Rogers, 1994). Primarily, changes in land uses and channelization cause these impacts.
The water balance model developed by Vorosmarty and Moore (1991) is an example of
a regional model used to predict changes in the water cycle. It uses spatially explicit
biophysical data including precipitation, temperature, vegetation, soils, and elevation to
predict run-off, evapotranspiration, river discharge, and floodplain inundation at a grid
resolution of 0.5 x0.5. Another example is the distributed hydrology soil vegetation
model (DHSVM), a spatially distributed hydrologic model developed by Wigmosta et al
(1994) for use in complex terrain. The DHVSM represents dynamically the spatial
distribution of land-surface processes (that is, soil moisture, snow cover, evapotranspiration, and run-off) at high resolution (typically 30-100 m). While their aim is to

Modeling the urban ecosystem


assess the hydrologic effects of land-use decisions, the human dimension in these models
is represented by static scenarios of climate and land-use changes.
4.4 Ecosystem models
Ecosystem dynamics can be simulated through three classes of models: plant physiology, population community, and ecosystem (Melillo, 1994). Plant physiology models
are used to predict plant growth and water balance and are particularly useful in the
analysis of plant responses to climate change and CO?,. Population community models
simulate the dynamics of tree growth on small forest patches as influenced by limiting
factors, space, and stand structure. Ecosystem models are process-based models that
take into account carbon and nutrient fluxes. These models, such as CENTURY
and GEM, simulate changes in ecosystem structure and function over a period from
decades to centuries. CENTURY computes the How of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus,
and sulfur through four compartments: soil organic matter, water, grassland, and forest
(Parton, 1996). GEM simulates ecosystem dynamics for a variety of habitats by incorporating ecological processes that determine water levels, plant production, and nutrient
cycling associated with natural and human-induced disturbances. Inputs in these models
are static scenarios of nutrient loads and climate change.
4.5 Karth systems models
Important progress in linking biophysical models has been made through the development of earth systems models (Meyer and Turner II, 1994). In 1990 the US Global
Change Research Program (USGCRP) set itself the goal of linking general circulation
models, land-surface paramctrization models, and ecosystem dynamics models to predict
energy and water fluxes between land and the atmosphere (US Global Change Research
Program Act, 1990). However, coupling atmospheric, terrestrial, and ecosystem dynamics
is not a straightforward task owing to the different spatial and temporal resolutions
between land-surface and ecosystem processes. Models can be integrated through a
nested approach that allows users to calculate parameter values across models of
various resolutions. With the help of advances in computer processing these models
are rapidly increasing in sophistication. However, earth systems models are still too
limited in representing the complex interactions between the earth's subsystems and
human systems. Human actions in these models arc represented by static scenarios of
highly aggregated land uses and pollution loads into the atmosphere, water, and land.
4.6 Integrated assessment models
In response to the need to incorporate a more realistic representation of human
and ecological processes in existing models, natural and social scientists have built
integrated assessment models (IAMs). IAMs incorporate two tasks. They allow users
(1) to integrate various knowledge domains to predict environmental changes associated
with the behavior of complex socioeconomic and environmental systems, and (2) to
assess the likelihood, importance, and implications of predicted environmental changes
to inform policymaking. IAMs have gained interest primarily as a new approach to
link biophysical and socioeconomic systems in assessing global environmental change
(Dowlatabadi, 1995; Parson and Fisher-Vanden, 1995; Rotmans et al, 1995; Weyant et al,
1996). Since 1994 the USGCRP has made IA modeling its central priority.
The integrated model to assess the greenhouse effect (IMAGE 2) developed by the
Dutch National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection (RIVM) is
designed to simulate the dynamics of the global society-biosphere-climate system
(Alcamo, 1994). IMAGE 2 is the first I AM to represent environmental phenomena
at a fine spatial scale. It performs many calculations on a global grid (0.5 x 0.5). The
time horizon extends to the year 2100 and the time steps of different submodels vary


M Alberti

between one day and five years. The model consists of three fully linked subsets of
models: the energy-industry system; the terrestrial environment system; and the
atmosphere - ocean system.
The energy - industry models compute the emissions of greenhouse gases in thirteen
world regions as a function of energy consumption and industrial production. End-use
energy consumption is computed from various economic driving forces. It includes four
submodels: energy economy, energy emissions, industrial production, and industrial
emissions. The terrestrial environment models simulate the changes in global land
cover on a grid scale based on climatic and economic factors. The roles of land cover
and other human factors are then taken into account to compute the flux of CO2 and
other greenhouse gases from the biosphere to the atmosphere. This subsystem includes
five submodels: agricultural demand, terrestrial vegetation, land cover, terrestrial carbon, and land-use emissions. The atmosphere - ocean models compute the buildup of
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the resulting zonal-average temperature and
precipitation patterns. Four submodels are included: atmospheric composition, zonal
atmospheric climate, oceanic climate, and oceanic biosphere and chemistry.
IMAGE 2 makes a major scientific contribution by representing many important
feedback mechanisms and linkages between models in the subsystems, and between
subsystems. IMAGE 2 links explicitly and geographically the changes in land cover
with the flux of CO2 and other greenhouse gases between the biosphere and atmosphere, and, conversely, takes into account the effects of climate in the changing
productivity of the terrestrial and oceanic biosphere. It also dynamically couples
natural and human-induced emissions with chemical and physical processes in the
atmosphere and ocean and then feeds climate change back to the biosphere.
Another example of IAM is ICAM-2, an optimization model developed at Carnegie
Mellon University to assess the effectiveness of climate change policies (Dowlatabadi
and Ball, 1994). Although most IAMs focus on climate changes, more recent efforts in
integrated modeling have attempted to address a broader set of policy questions.
TARGETS (tool to assess regional and global environmental and health targets for
sustainability) is an example of a model designed to inform the policy debate on a
broader set of global change issues related to economic development and sustainability.
TARGETS is currently being developed by RIVM as part of its research program on
global dynamics and sustainable development (Rotmans et al, 1994). This model aims
to assess simultaneously several human stresses on various global and regional issues
such as climate change, tropospheric ozone, deforestation, and the dispersion of chemicals. None of the current integrated modeling efforts, however, has addressed urban
5 A conceptual framework for modeling the urban ecosystem
In this section I present a framework to integrate urban and ecological modeling. This
framework is part of a strategy that Alan Borning, Paul Waddell, and I have developed
at the University of Washington to build an urban ecological model as part of PRISM,
which is a multidisciplinary initiative aimed at developing a dynamic and integrated
understanding of the environmental and human systems in the Puget Sound. Our aim is
to integrate the various components of the Puget Sound into a metamodel. The urbanecological model addresses the societal dynamics of environmental change.
5.1 Model objectives
One major aim of the PRISM human dimension is to describe how human actions
generate environmental stresses and to predict the impacts of changes in human actions
on the biophysical system. Human decisions in PRISM will be treated explicitly through


Modeling the urban ecosystem

the development of UEM which will represent the principal actors and behaviors
affecting environmental change. This model will predict the environmental stresses
associated with urban development and related changes in land-use and human activities under alternative demographic, economic, environmental, and policy scenarios.
We start with the assumption that urban development is the outcome of the interactions between the choices of households, businesses, developers, and governments.
These actors make decisions that alter the patterns of land-use and human activities.
UEM will be designed to model these processes in a dynamic and spatially explicit
framework that links these decisions to changes in the biophysical structure of the
Pugct Sound. This is a first step, we believe, toward coupling human and biophysical
processes in the urban ecosystem.
5.2 Conceptual framework
The urban ecosystem will be represented by a number of human and biophysical
variables. Figures 2(a) and 2(b) are schematic diagrams of the major subsystems
Urluiri processes ami
environmental stressors

Natural systems

I-Iumnn systems

Economics " H





[consumption |



Land development
and use


Upper level

ocean and




Lower level

Environmental change

Human systems

Economics *


Technology _^| Population

Buildin gs
Infrasti ructure
Natural resources

Job market
Land market
\ Housing

and nonprofit

Urban processes and

environmental stressors
Production and
Use of resources
Water *
- Energy.
Land conversion
, Impervious surface
Grassland \\
"* Forest
Land use
Wetlands*. 4
Land value
Emissions and waste
> Wastewater
and use
Solid waste

Environmental change
Figure 2. U r b a n ecological frameworks.



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considered in the model and their interactions. Human systems are represented by four
components: actors, resources, markets, and institutions. Major resource-stock variables
are population, economic activities (jobs), land, buildings (residential and nonresidential), infrastructure (transportation, energy, water supply, wastewater), and natural
resources (water, forests, and ecosystems). The actorshouseholds, businesses, developers, and governmentsmake decisions about production and consumption activities and
their location, leading to changes in land use. These decisions affect, directly and
indirectly, the biophysical system through land conversion, the use of resources, and the
generation of emissions and waste. Businesses make choices about production, location,
and management practices. Households make choices about employment, location,
housing type, travel mode, and other lifestyle factors leading to consumption. Developers make decisions about investing in development and redevelopment. Governments
make decisions about investing in infrastructures and services and adopting policies
and regulations. Decisions are made at the individual and community levels through
the economic and social institutions. The actors interact in three submarkets: the
job market, the land market, and the housing market. These actors also interact in
nonmarket institutions including governmental and other nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations. Decisions are influenced by demographic, socioeconomic, political, and technological factors represented in the model by exogenous scenarios, and
are affected by environmental conditions and changes predicted by the biophysical
modules. The types of activity and the context in which the activity takes place both
determine the level of pressure and the patterns of disturbances.
The output of the urban ecosystem model will serve as the input to several biophysical models such as the climate and atmospheric model, the hydrology model, and
the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem models. The urban-ecological framework is
designed to take into account the interactions between the ecological impacts and
urban processes at various levels of the hierarchy of processes. These include feedback
from the ecological changes on the choices of households and business locations,
market prices, availability of land and resources, and regulation. Feedback is also
included at the levels of the processes of production and consumption, and land
5.3 Model structure
Using the framework described above we plan to develop an object-oriented model
that links urban and ecological processes. We build on UrbanSim, an existing urban
simulation model developed by Waddell (1998), to predict three types of humaninduced environmental stressors: land conversion, use of resources, and emissions.
Figure 3 represents the urban-ecological dynamics that the integrated model will
address (Waddell and Alberti, 1998). Our initial focus will be on modeling changes
in land use and land cover. Instead of linking the urban and ecological components
sequentially, we propose to integrate them at a functional level. Our current strategy is
to extend the object properties and methods now implemented in the UrbanSim model.
UrbanSim predicts the location behaviors of households, businesses, and developers,
and consequent changes in land uses and physical development. These are among the
required inputs to predict the changes in land cover and ecological impacts. We propose
to add the production and consumption behaviors of households and businesses, and
link them through a spatially explicit representation of land and infrastructure to
ecological processes.
The UrbanSim data structure is currently being revised from the current aggregate
approach to one based on microsimulation and from a zone description of space to
a high-resolution grid structure (Waddell and Alberti, 1998). We use a combination of


Modeling the urban ecosystem

(Households J

(Developers j
New construction

(liusittcHHCN j

(< iowrmncitta)



Urban processes


Land value

Impervious surface


Point sources
Not point sourct

( Biophysical processes and impacts j

Figure 3. UEM structure. Note that processes in italics are new components not presently modeled
in UrbanSim (source: Waddell and Alberti, 1998).
the aggregated economic I - O methodology and a microsimukition approach to model
the production and consumption behavior of individual businesses and their location.
A microsimulation approach is also being implemented to model households' choices
of jobs, location, and lifestyles. A highly disaggregated representation of households
(that is, individuals) and businesses (that is, the standard industruil classification) will
allow us to represent explicitly detailed production, consumption, and location behaviors of various actors and to link these behaviors to ecological impacts.
The urban ecosystem model simulates three types of human-induced environmental
stressors: land conversion, use of resources, and emissions. Changes in land use-cover
will be modeled based on a set of land use - cover determinants, including original use,
accessibility, environmental conditions, cost of conversion, and policy constraints.
Land conversion will be predicted based on the changes in housing and commercial
buildings, household and business characteristics occupying these buildings, and the
biophysical characteristics of the land parcels. The resource models will be represented
by various modules, each predicting the use of water, energy, and materials, which will
be linked to the UEM on the basis of consumption and infrastructure capacity. The
emission modules are mass-balance models that will simulate pollution loads into the
atmosphere, water, and soil, and relative contributions from the various media.


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5.4 Spatial and temporal dynamics

Efforts to represent more realistically the spatial and temporal dynamic behavior of
urban ecosystems are particularly relevant if urban and ecological processes need to be
integrated. An explicit treatment of space will be realized in two steps. First, we will
develop and implement a grid of variable resolution to georeference all spatially
located objects in the model. This gives us the flexibility to vary spatial resolutions
for different processes and to test spatial scale effects on model predictions. The second
step will involve the explicit treatment of spatial processes across the area. The grid
provides a foundation for linking urban spatial processes to processes that occur in the
natural environment.
We will also improve the treatment of time. Most urban models assume a static crosssectional approach. The current UrbanSim model uses annual time steps to simulate
household choices, real-estate development and redevelopment, and market-clearing
and price-adjustment processes within the market (Waddell, 1998). Travel accessibility
is updated by a travel model simulation run every ten years, or when significant
changes in the transportation system have occurred. Improvements can be achieved
by implementing different time steps for different behaviors represented in the model,
such as location choices and real-estate development.

5.5 Feedback mechanisms

The modest framework accounts for the interactions between the ecological impacts
and urban processes. Ecological changes will feed back on the location choices both of
households and businesses, and on the availability of land and resources. For example,
the amount and distribution of vegetation-cover canopy in urban areas and its health
have both social and ecological functions. Among the most obvious social functions
are the attractiveness of the area and its consequent economic value. Important ecological functions include removal of air pollutants, mitigation of microclimate, and
consequent savings in building energy, and reduction of storm water run-off. All these
factors improve urban environmental quality and provide ecological services to urban
residents. These benefits are not currently reflected in land values but eventually will
affect long-term urban development. We will define a set of environmental quality
indices (for example air quality, water quality, etc) and risk indices (for example floods,
landslides, etc) that influence location choices and profitability of development.
6 Implications for future research
In this paper I have argued that integration between urban and environmental models
needs to be achieved at a functional level to answer critical planning questions. The
question is how to represent human processes explicitly in ecological models, and
ecological processes explicitly in human models. Although there is no universally valid
protocol for designing an integrated UEM, a few considerations emerge from recent
experience in the two lines of modeling research. Based on the discussion offered in
this paper I indicate a set of attributes that need to be considered to integrate urbanecological modeling. Above all it is critical that the modeling effort is transparent to
users (Smith, 1998). It is important to emphasize that a model is not an end in itself,
but rather a tool that will provide its developers and users with a new perspective on
the problem being analyzed.
Problem definition. One major concern of Lee's (1973) famous "Requiem for largescale models" was that modeling efforts had failed to reproduce realistically the problems that planning agencies face and thus to provide useful tools for decisionmaking.
The first critical step in defining rules for modeling is to be clear about the questions
that need to be answered (Wilson, 1974). The current impasse in coupling ecological

Modeling the urban ecosystem


and human systems models would suggest that even more important is the way we
formulate such questions. The integration of urban and ecological models, I have
said, cannot be achieved simply by inserting humans into ecosystems or biophysical
elements into human systems because the interactions occur at various levels. This
implies that the traditional questions, such as how humans affect natural systems and
how natural systems affect humans, need to be reformulated to reflect an integrated
approach. For example, we will ask how natural and human-generated landscape
patterns and energy Hows affect natural disturbance regimes and how land-use choices
and practices are controlled by human-induced environmental change.
Multiple actors. Urban decisionmakers are a broad and very diversified group of
people who make a series of relevant decisions over time. In order to model urbanecological interactions we must represent explicitly the location, production, and consumption behavior of these multiple actors. This requires a highly disaggregated
representation of households and businesses. Disaggregation of economic sectors could
be achieved by using a revised version of the I -O model methodology. Microsimulation
could help address the difficult trade-offs that households and businesses make between location, production, and consumption preferences (Wegener and Spiekermann,
1996). Morgan and Dowlatabadi (1996) suggest that new methods must be developed
to incorporate separate multiattributc utility functions by different social actors in
integrated models.
Time. Time needs to be treated explicitly if relevant temporal dynamics of urban
and environmental change are to be represented. Time can be represented as a discrete
or continuous variable. Though treating time continuously is certainly a daunting task,
introducing time steps or using multiple time steps for different processes modeled
can provide an important improvement over current models. Today, most operational
urban models are based on a cross-sectional, aggregate, equilibrium approach.
Improvement over these models could be achieved by representing time explicitly as
a discrete variable. A more ambitious continuous approach to the treatment of time
will need to be explored.
Space. We need to represent more realistically the spatial behavior of urban processes, both human and ecological. Existing operational urban models are spatially
aggregated and, even when they use or produce spatially disaggregated data, they rely
on simple spatial geometric processing. Several scholars have developed various functionalities in modeling spatial processes that can be implemented in UEMs. Additional
research is required to explore the potential for using CA to model spatially explicit
urban dynamic processes efficiently. A more flexible conception of space could help
reconcile the spatial resolution needed to model different urban processes. This will
require implementing a data structure that will accommodate process resolution
ranging from cells to various land units as well as various levels of aggregation across
several hierarchical scales.
Scale. The appropriate scales for modeling depend not only on the problem being
tackled, but also on considerations of consistency across spatial and temporal aggregations (Lonergan and Prudham, 1994). Modeling urban ecosystem dynamics requires
crossing spatial and hierarchical scales. According to hierarchy theory, landscape processes and constraints change across scales (O'Neill et al, 1986). Because landscapes are
spatially heterogeneous areas, the outcome of changes in driving forces can be relevant
only at certain scales. Yet our current understanding of spatial scale links is still
limited. Two scale issues must be addressed in modeling land-use and land-cover
change (Turner II et al, 1995). First, each scale has its specific units and variables.
Second, the relationships between variables and units change with scale. To tackle these
issues, a hierarchical approach needs to be developed.


M Alberti

Feedback. Representing feedback mechanisms in U E M s could improve substantially

the ability to predict human behaviors and their ecological impacts. This could be
achieved by developing a set of environmental quality indices derived from the biophysical models. We could evaluate n o t only the relative magnitude of human and
natural systems controls in urbanized regions, but also how this will vary in relation
to alternative urban structure and management strategies. The explicit representation
of feedback loops is also crucial in analyzing the interaction between multiple resource
uses and in assessing their overall ecological impact.
Uncertainty. The behavior of ecological and human systems is highly unpredictable
owing to their inherent complexity. Modeling these systems is subject to uncertainty.
The treatment of uncertainty goes beyond the scope of this paper. It is clear that the
use of advanced techniques, such as the Latin hypercube sampling techniques to m a p
the relevance of uncertainty in input data and model parameters needs to be explored.
The integrated knowledge of the processes and mechanisms that govern urban
ecosystem dynamics is crucial to advance both ecological and social research and to
inform planners and policymakers. It is also crucial to planning education to provide a
new framework and more sophisticated tools for the next generation of urban planners
and practitioners.
Acknowledgements. This paper has benefited enormously from discussions with Paul Waddell
and Alan Borning (University of Washington), co-principal investigators of the PRISM human
dimension project. The description of the model structure is based on a strategy that we have
developed together as part of the PRISM project.
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The Changing Metabolism

of Cities
Christopher Kennedy, John Cuddihy, and Joshua Engel-Yan

global cities
industrial ecology
materials flow analysis (MFA)
sustainable cities
urban environment
urban metabolism

e-supplement available on the JIE

Web site

Address correspondence to:

Prof. Christopher Kennedy
Department of Civil Engineering
University of Toronto
35 St. George Street
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1A4, Canada
2007 by the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and Yale University

Data from urban metabolism studies from eight metropolitan regions across five continents, conducted in various years
since 1965, are assembled in consistent units and compared.
Together with studies of water, materials, energy, and nutrient
flows from additional cities, the comparison provides insights
into the changing metabolism of cities. Most cities studied exhibit increasing per capita metabolism with respect to water,
wastewater, energy, and materials, although one city showed
increasing efficiency for energy and water over the 1990s.
Changes in solid waste streams and air pollutant emissions are
The review also identifies metabolic processes that
threaten the sustainability of cities. These include altered
ground water levels, exhaustion of local materials, accumulation of toxic materials, summer heat islands, and irregular accumulation of nutrients. Beyond concerns over the sheer magnitudes of resource flows into cities, an understanding of these
accumulation or storage processes in the urban metabolism is
critical. Growth, which is inherently part of metabolism, causes
changes in water stored in urban aquifers, materials in the
building stock, heat stored in the urban canopy layer, and potentially useful nutrients in urban waste dumps.
Practical reasons exist for understanding urban metabolism.
The vitality of cities depends on spatial relationships with
surrounding hinterlands and global resource webs. Increasing metabolism implies greater loss of farmland, forests, and
species diversity; plus more traffic and more pollution. Urban
policy makers should consider to what extent their nearest resources are close to exhaustion and, if necessary, appropriate
strategies to slow exploitation. It is apparent from this review
that metabolism data have been established for only a few
cities worldwide, and interpretation issues exist due to lack of
common conventions. Further urban metabolism studies are

Volume 11, Number 2

Journal of Industrial Ecology



Cities grow in complex ways due to their
sheer size, social structures, economic systems,
and geopolitical settings, and the evolution of
technology (Hall 1998). Responding to waves of
new technology, cities have grown outward from
small dense cores, first as linear transit cities and
then as sprawling automobile cities. Changes in
industry have also been important; obsolete factories have often closed down, leaving behind
contaminated soil and groundwater. Risks associated with rebuilding on such brownfield sites
have encouraged developers to pursue greenfield
sites on the edges of cities. Ever-growing urban
populations also fuel the expansion of cities. Yet
even cities showing no change or decreasing populations, such as some older industrial cities, are
still growing outward.
Forty years ago, in the wake of rapid urban
expansion, Abel Wolman published a pioneering article on the metabolism of cities. Wolman
(1965) developed the urban metabolism concept
in response to deteriorating air and water quality
in American citiesissues still recognized today
as threatening sustainable urban development.
Wolman analyzed the metabolism of a hypothetical American city, quantifying the overall fluxes
of energy, water, materials, and wastes into and
out of an urban region of 1 million people.
The metabolism of an ecosystem has been defined by ecologists as the production (via photosynthesis) and consumption (by respiration) of
organic matter; it is typically expressed in terms
of energy (Odum 1971). Although a few studies
have focused on quantifying the embodied energy
in cities (Zucchetto 1975; Huang 1998), other
urban metabolism studies have more broadly included fluxes of nutrients and materials and the
urban hydrologic cycle (Baccini and Brunner
1991). In this broader context, urban metabolism
might be defined as the sum total of the technical and
socioeconomic processes that occur in cities, resulting
in growth, production of energy, and elimination of
Since Wolmans work, a handful of urban
metabolism studies have been conducted in urban
regions around the globe. By reviewing these
studies, this article describes how the urban
metabolism of cities is changing. It also demon44

Journal of Industrial Ecology

strates how understanding of accumulation processes in the urban metabolism is essential to the
sustainable development of cities.
Sustainable development can be understood
as development without increases in the throughput of materials and energy beyond the biospheres capacity for regeneration and waste assimilation (Goodland and Daly 1996). Given this
definition, a sustainable city implies an urban region for which the inflows of materials and energy and the disposal of wastes do not exceed the
capacity of its hinterlands. As discussed in this
article, this definition presents difficulties in the
context of cities dependent on global markets;
nevertheless, it provides a relative bar against
which progress may be measured. In quantifying material and energy fluxes, urban metabolism
studies are valuable for assessing the direction of
a citys development.
The objectives of this article are twofold.
The first objective is to review previously published metabolism studies to elucidate what we
know about how urban metabolism is changing.
A previous review article on energy and material flows to cities has been presented by Decker
and colleagues (2000), but it made only minor
reference to the metabolism concept; it did not
include reference to many of the studies considered here; and it did not specifically ask how
urban metabolism is changing. The number of
metabolism studies is not sufficient to apply any
form of statistical analysis, and therefore, some
might argue, to identify any generalizable trends.
Nevertheless, the balance of evidence generally
points to increasing urban metabolism.
The second objective is to identify critical processes in the urban metabolism that threaten the
sustainable development of cities. It has been argued that high levels of urban resource consumption and waste production are not issues about
sustaining cities per se, but reflect concerns over
the role of cities in global sustainable development (Satterthwaite 1997). Although partially
agreeing, we aim to show that there are also processes within the urban metabolism that threaten
urban sustainability itself. In particular we highlight storage processeswater in urban aquifers,
heat stored in urban canopy layers, toxic materials in the building stock, and nutrients within
urban waste dumpsall of which require careful


long-term management. Understanding the

changes to such storage terms in some cities may
be as important as reducing the sheer magnitudes
of inputs and outputs.
The cities studied are metropolitan regions,
that is, similar to standard metropolitan statistical areas (SMSAs) in the United States, which
often encompass several politically defined cities,
that is, cities under the jurisdiction of a local municipal government. These metropolitan regions
can generally be regarded as commutersheds, although the basis for definition may differ between
The metabolism of cities will be analyzed in
terms of four fundamental flows or cyclesthose
of water, materials, energy, and nutrients. Differences in the cycles may be expected between
cities due to age, stage of development (i.e., available technologies), and cultural factors. Other
differences, particularly in energy flows, may be
associated with climate or with urban population
density (table 1). Each of the two objectives will
be addressed sequentially within a discussion of
the four cycles.

Previous Metabolism Studies

Insights into the changing metabolism of
cities can be gained from a few studies from
around the world, conducted over several
decades. These studies are typically of greater
metropolitan areas, including rural or agricultural
fringes around urban centers. One of the earliest and most comprehensive studies was that of
Brussels, Belgium by the ecologists Duvigneaud
and Denaeyer-De Smet (1977), which included
quantification of urban biomass and even organic
discharges from cats and dogs (figure 1)! In studying the city of Hong Kong, Newcombe and colleagues (1978) were able to determine inflows
and outflows of construction materials and finished goods. An update of the Hong Kong study
by Warren-Rhodes and Koenig (2001) showed
that per capita food, water, and materials consumption had increased by 20%, 40%, and 149%,
respectivelyfrom 1971 to 1997. Upward trends
in per capita resource inputs and waste outputs
were also reported in a study of Sydney, Australia
(Newman 1999). Studying a North American
city, Sahely and colleagues (2003) found that al-

though most inputs to Torontos metabolism were

constant or increasing, some per capita outputs,
notably residential solid waste, had decreased
between 1987 and 1999. Metabolism studies of
other cities include those for Tokyo (Hanya and
Ambe 1976), Vienna (Hendriks et al. 2000),
Greater London (Chartered Institute of Wastes
Management 2002), Cape Town (Gasson 2002),
and part of the Swiss Lowlands (Baccini 1997).
Some studies have quantified urban metabolism
less comprehensively than others. Bohle (1994)
considers the urban metabolism perspective on
urban food systems in developing countries. A
few studies of nutrient flows in urban systems have
been undertaken (Nilson 1995; Bjorklund et al.
1999, Baker et al. 2001), whereas others have
specifically investigated metals or plastics in the
urban metabolism. Collectively these metabolism
studies provide a quantitative appraisal of the different ways that cities are changing worldwide.
Related to the urban metabolism concept is
the application of the ecological footprint technique to cities (Wackernagel and Rees 1995).
The ecological footprint of a city is the amount
of biologically productive area required to provide
its natural resources and to assimilate its wastes.
Published studies include those for Vancouver
(Wackernagel and Rees 1995), Santiago de
Chile (Wackernagel 1998), Cardiff (Collins
et al. 2006), and cities of the Baltic region of
Europe (Folke et al. 1997). The equivalent areas
of ecosystems for sustaining cities are typically
one or two orders of magnitude greater than the
areas of the cities themselves.

In terms of sheer mass, water is by far
the largest component of urban metabolism.
Wolmans calculations for the 1960s for a onemillion-person U.S. city estimated the input of
water at 625,000 tonnes1 per day compared to
just 9,500 tonnes of fuel and 2,000 tonnes of food.
Most of this inflow is discharged as wastewater,
with the remainder being lost by activities such
as the watering of lawns. Data from the cities
in table 1 show that wastewater represents between 75% and 100% of the mass of water inflow
(figure 2a). The six studies since 1990 typically
have higher per capita water inputs than the four

Kennedy, Cuddihy, and Engel-Yan, The Changing Metabolism of Cities



Journal of Industrial Ecology

Duvigneaud and
Denaeyer-De Smet 1977
Hanya and Ambe 1976

Newcombe and colleagues 1978

Warren-Rhodes and Koenig 2001
Newman 1999

Sahely and colleagues 2003

Hendriks and colleagues 2000

Chartered Institute of
Wastes Management 2002
White 2003
Gasson 2002


Hong Kong
























density (cap/km2 )

0 W
34 S
18 E














50 N
4 E
35 N
139 E
22 N
114 E
33 S
151 E
43 N
79 W
48 N
16 E
51 N


Altitude (m)










Av. temperature ( C)

(geographic coordinates)

Note: cap = capita. One square kilometer (km2 , SI) = 100 hectares (ha) 0.386 square miles 247 acres. One meter (m, SI) 3.28 feet (ft). (Celsius temperature [ C] 9/5) + 32 =
Fahrenheit temperature [ F].

Cape Town



Wolman 1965


U.S. typical



Table 1 Characteristics of cities (metropolitan areas) where urban metabolism studies have been conducted



Figure 1 The urban metabolism of Brussels, Belgium in the early 1970s. Source: Duvigneaud and
Denaeyer-De Smet 1977.

from the early 1970s, although Tokyo in 1970 and

London and Cape Town in 2000 are significant
exceptions. In the case of Toronto, per capita
water use slightly declined over the 1990s, due
largely to a reduction in industrial consumption.
Nevertheless, none of the cities has quite reached
the level of water use of the average U.S. city
reported by Wolman.
The impacts of water on the sustainability of
cities have further dimensions, beyond the crucial need for inhabitants to have a safe, reliable
water supply. For those that rely on ground water, the long-term relationship between cities and
their ground water environments is illustrative.
As cities evolve from small settlements they typically go through several stages of development
in which the relationship with an underlying
aquifer changes (Foster et al. 1998). In the early
settlement stage, water supply is obtained from
shallow urban wells and boreholes, and wastewater and drainage waters are discharged to the
ground or to a watercourse (figure 3a). As the
settlement grows into a small city the underly-

ing water table falls with increased extraction,

so deeper wells are drilled. Overexploitation of
ground water often occurs. Moreover, as a result
of urban activities, often including continued discharge of wastewater to the ground, the shallow
ground water in the city center becomes polluted.
Subsidence may begin to occur, depending on
soil characteristics. The paving of land surfaces
and the growth of drainage systems also begin to
have a discernible impact on the ground water
system (figure 3b). As the city expands further
and matures, a turnaround can sometimes occur.
With widespread contamination of the aquifer
below the city, or a movement of heavy, waterextracting industry away from city centers, pumping of the urban aquifer ceases. The city now relies on periurban well fields or expensive water
imports from distant sources. With the cessation
of pumping, the water table below the city begins
to rise. Because of changes in the surface recharge,
the water table may rise above that under virgin
conditions, potentially causing flooding or damage to infrastructure (figure 3c). In this evolving

Kennedy, Cuddihy, and Engel-Yan, The Changing Metabolism of Cities






Water Supply




Cape Town (2000)

London (2000)

Toronto (1999)

Hong Kong (1997)

Vienna (1990s)

Sydney (1990)

Toronto (1987)

Hong Kong (1971)

Tokyo (1970)

Sydney (1970)

Brussels (1970s)

av. US. city (1965)



Cape Town (2000)

London (2000)

Toronto (1999)

Hong Kong (1997)

Vienna (1990s)

Sydney (1990)

Toronto (1987)

Hong Kong (1971)

Tokyo (1970)

Sydney (1970)

Brussels (1970s)


av. US. city (1965)




Figure 2 Metabolism parameters from selected cities. (a) Fresh water inputs and wastewater releases.
(b) Solid waste disposal. (c) Energy inputs. (d) Contaminant emissions. Missing bars indicate data unavailable.
Date refers to the date of measurement; t refers to tonnes. For sources see table 1. The data behind this
figure are available in an electronic supplement (e-supplement) on the JIE Web site. One tonne (t) =
103 kilograms (kg, SI) 1.102 short tons. One gigajoule (GJ) = 109 joules (J, SI) 2.39 105 kilocalories
(kcal) 9.48 105 British Thermal Units (BTU). SO2 = sulfur dioxide; NOx = nitrogen oxides; VOC =
volatile organic compounds.

process cities can go from exploiting ground water

resources to potentially being flooded by them.
Problems of overexploiting ground water
have occurred in many cities. One example is
Beijing, China, where the water table dropped by
45 m between 1950 and 1990 (Chang 1998). In

Journal of Industrial Ecology

coastal cities, overpumping has caused salt water

intrusion, threatening ground water supplies; examples include Gothenburg, Perth, Manila, and
Jakarta (Volker and Henry 1988). Decades of
lowering of water tables in Mexico City have
caused land subsidence of 7.5 m in the center of



Cape Town (2000)

London (2000)

Toronto (1999)

Hong Kong (1997)

Sydney (1990)

Toronto (1987)

Hong Kong (1971)

Tokyo (1970)

Sydney (1970)

Brussels (1970s)


av. U.S. city (1965)





Cape Town (2000)

Toronto (1995)

Hong Kong (1997)

London (1995)

Sydney (1990)

Hong Kong (1971)

Sydney (1970)

Brussels (1970s)


av. US. city (1965)




Figure 2


the city, altering surface drainage and damaging

infrastructure (Ortega-Guerrero et al. 1993).
Concerns over the potential impact of rising
water tables applies to at least one of the study
cities. Because industrial withdrawals decreased
in London during the 1960s, the water table in an
underlying chalk aquifer has been rising at a rate
of 1 to 2.5 m per year under central London (Cox
1994; Castro and Swyngendow 2000). Moreover,
leakage from Londons water distribution systems,
estimated to make up 28% of the total water
supply, may be adding to this rise in the water
table. Where the water table will reach equilibrium is an open question, especially given the

change in surface features and local climate over

the past decades.
Rising water tables have also been recorded for
several cities in the Middle East: Riyadh, Jeddah,
Damman, Kuwait, Al-Ajman, Beirut, Cairo, and
Karachi (Abu-Rizaiza 1999). In many cases the
cause is subterranean discharge of wastewater
flows, where there is no surface water outlet. Such
rising of ground water levels threatens urban infrastructure, including basements, foundations,
tunnels, and other subsurface pipes and cables.
Resulting cracks in columns, beams, and walls
were reported in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In many
respects the physical integrity of cities depends

Kennedy, Cuddihy, and Engel-Yan, The Changing Metabolism of Cities



Water Table

(a) Early settlement

Water Table

(b) Town grows into a city

Imports of Water from Distant

Surface or Ground Water Sources
Water Supply from
Peri-urban Wellfields

Water Supply from

Peri-urban Wellfields

(c) Mature city

Figure 3 Evolution of water supply and wastewater disposal for a typical city underlain by a shallow
aquifer. The arrows indicate water flows; the line with dots indicates the water table. Source: Adapted from
Figure 1.2 of Foster et al. 1998.

on achieving equilibrium in the ground water

component of the urban metabolism.

Material inputs to cities are generally less
well quantified than water inputs, despite their
significance to urban infrastructure. Detailed
analyses, however, have been conducted for
Hong Kong and Vienna. Material flow analyses
have also been conducted for Hamburg and a few

Journal of Industrial Ecology

other European cities (Hammer et al. 2003). In

1997, Hong Kongs daily material inputs included
363 tonnes of glass; 3,390 tonnes of plastics;
9,822 tonnes of cement; 2,095 tonnes of wood;
7,240 tonnes of iron and steel; and 2,768 tonnes
of paper. Relative to 1971, inputs of plastics had
risen by 400%; iron and steel increased by close
to 300%; cement and paper inputs were both up
by 275%; and wood inputs had more than doubled. In comparison, the population only rose by
78%. The historical trend in the construction


material input to Vienna is also upward. In most

decades prior to the 1970s, the per capita use of
construction materials was 0.1 m3 /yr (the 1930s
being a significant exception at 1.4 m3 /cap/yr).2
The volumes of input in the 1970s, 1980s, and
1990s, however, were 2.4, 3.3, and 4.3 m3 /cap/yr,
respectively (Brunner and Rechberger 2004).
Upward per capita trends, for the period 1992
and 2001, were also estimated for direct material
input and domestic material consumption for the
City of Hamburg (Hammer et al. 2003).. This evidence suggests that cities are becoming increasingly material-intensive.
Measures of solid waste outputs are available
for most of the cities in table 1, although these
data need careful interpretation. Where cities
have introduced significant recycling schemes,
the disposal of residential household waste may
be declining in per capita terms. For example,
in Toronto, per capita residential waste declined
by 27% between 1987 and 1999. If other waste
streams such as the commercial and industrial
are included, however, the overall trend may
well be upward; three of the cities studied in the
1990s have total waste outputs greater than 1.5
t/cap/yr, whereas all cities studied in the 1970s,
except Tokyo, had outputs below 1 t/cap/yr (figure 2b). Some caution has to be taken in interpreting material outputs. Construction waste
is often the largest solid waste component (e.g.,
57% for Tokyo), but because much of it is considered inert and can be recycled or used as fill,
it may not appear in calculations of total waste
In Vienna, where some of the most extensive
material flow studies have been conducted, the
production of holes from mining of aggregates
by far exceeds the citys output of waste materials. Construction materials, of course, go into
the building stock and typically remain within
the urban fabric for many decades. In Vienna
the stock of materials in the buildings and infrastructure is estimated to be 350 t/cap. This
stock is clearly growing: the input of construction
materials and consumer products is on the order
of 12 to 18 t/cap/yr, whereas solid waste is only
3 t/cap/yr. Taking a slightly different perspective,
it is evident that the production of holes due
to the excavation of construction materials by far
exceeds the rate at which they are backfilled. The

cumulative hole in the vicinity of Vienna due to

excavation of materials since 1880 is estimated
to be over 200 million m3 , and growing rapidly
(Brunner and Rechberger 2004).
A dimension of material flows that impacts
the sustainability of a city is the distance over
which materials are transported. As cities grow
and transportation infrastructure develops, raw
materials seemingly travel increasingly long distances into cities. During the first half of the
twentieth century, mineral aggregates used by
the construction industry in Toronto came from
quarries within a few kilometers of the city. By
1970, the aggregates were traveling an average of
160 km from various counties around the Toronto
region (figure 4), the former sources having been
exhausted or consumed within the urban area.
Douglas and colleagues (2002) describe similar
effects during the growth of Manchester, England, since the industrial revolution. In some respects the city is like a plant stretching its roots
out further and further until its resource needs
are meta concept that parallels the ecological
footprint. One aspect of this growth is that cities
require greater expenditure of transportation energy as materials travel from increasing distances.

The quantification of urban energy fluxes as
a component of urban metabolism has varied
in depth and breadth between studies. One of
the most comprehensive was that of Brussels, for
which both natural and anthropogenic energy
sources were quantified. Most other studies have
focused directly on anthropogenic sources, neglecting net all-wave radiation and heat transfer
due to evapotranspiration, local advection, soil
conduction, and mass water transfer. The importance of urban heat islands, discussed below, however, indicates the significance of incorporating
anthropogenic sources into the natural surface
energy balance of cities.
Comparisons of the anthropogenic energy inputs for the cities of table 1 need to distinguish between the direct energy consumed and
the primary energy consumption, which includes
energy losses in the production of electricity
(figure 2c). With its cold winters, and fairly warm
summers, Toronto has the highest per capita

Kennedy, Cuddihy, and Engel-Yan, The Changing Metabolism of Cities



Figure 4 The distribution of mineral aggregate sources for Metropolitan Toronto in 1972. Metropolitan
Toronto, in the center of the figure, is the destination of all flow shown. Source: Ontario Ministry of Natural

energy use of the cities. London and Sydney use

significantly more energy per capita than Hong
Kong, potentially due to its warm winters and
higher urban density. A further interesting contrast is that between London in 2000 and Brussels
in the early 1970s. Both cities lie at approximately the same latitude and have similar climates and almost identical population densities,
yet per capita consumption in modern-day London is an order of magnitude higher. Upward
trends in energy consumption since the 1970s
are also evident for Sydney and Hong Kong.
A minor reduction has been experienced in
Toronto since 1987, perhaps due to changing industrial demands and increasing efficiency. With
the exception of Toronto, none of the other cities
have reached the energy consumption levels of
Wolmans average U.S. city.
The relationship between transportation energy demand and urban form has been widely
studied, but with various conclusions. Trans52

Journal of Industrial Ecology

portation accounts for a significant proportion

of urban anthropogenic energy. Among the most
significant and highly debated findings are those
of Newman and Kenworthy (1991), which illustrate per capita transportation energy consumption decreasing as population density increases
(figure 5). All of the cities from table 1 except
Cape Town were included in the study, which
used data from the 1980s. Hong Kong is the
prime example of a dense city with low transportation energy; the European trio Brussels, London, and Vienna are less energy-intensive than
the newer cities of Sydney and Toronto. Although the premise that urban form influences
transportation energy has been criticized, most
notably by Gordon and Richardson (1989), studies have demonstrated that although population
density may not in itself contribute to explaining
transportation demand, distance from the central business district and other employment centers does (Miller and Ibrahim 1998). As such,


Figure 5 Variation in annual transportation energy consumption and population density among several
global cities during the 1980s. 000 MJ = one thousand megajoules = one gigajoule (GJ) = 109 joules
(J, SI) 2.39 105 kilocalories (kcal) 9.48 105 British Thermal Units (BTU). One hectare (ha) =
0.01 square kilometers (km2 , SI) 0.00386 square miles 2.47 acres. Source: Newman and Kenworthy
1991. Reprinted with permission.

the hypothesis linking transportation demand,

energy consumption, and urban spatial structure
is valid. The higher per capita energy consumption reflected in the urban metabolism of North
American cities may thus be explained at least in
part by their expansive urban form.
A further aspect of the urban energy balance influencing sustainability is the urban heat
island. Most mid- and high-latitude cities exhibit high urban air temperatures relative to
their rural surroundings, particularly during the
evening (Taha 1997). On a calm clear night after a sunny windless day, elevated temperatures
at the canopy layer can be as much as 10 C different in large cities. This urban heat island has
been identified as a consistent phenomenon by
urban climatologists (Landsberg 1981; Oke et al.
1991; Oke 1995). Much of the heat island effect is due to the built form distorting the natural
energy balancerooftops and paved surfaces absorb heat and reduce evaporation, whereas street
canyons and other microscale effects can act as
heat traps. An interesting issue, however, is the
relative importance of anthropogenic energy in-

puts in elevating temperatures. All of the energy that is pumped into cities will eventually
turn into heat. Estimated anthropogenic contributions range from 16 W/m2 for St. Louis to
159 W/m2 for Manhattan (Taha 1997).3 Santamouris (2001) summarizes a collection of studies,
some of which present contradictory findings, or
at least highlight the importance of city-specific
Increases in temperature directly impact summer cooling loads, thus introducing a potentially
cyclic effect on energy demand. For U.S. cities
with populations greater than 100,000, peak electricity loads increase by about 1% for every
degree Celsius increase in temperature (Santamouris 2001). For high ambient temperatures,
utility loads in Los Angeles have demonstrated a
net rate of increase of 167 megawatts (MW)4 per

C. In Toronto, a 1 C increase on summer days

corresponds to roughly a 1.6% increase in peak
electricity demand. Hot summer days are critical
in Toronto in that they cause the highest electricity demand throughout the year. Such demands
are often met through increased coal-generated

Kennedy, Cuddihy, and Engel-Yan, The Changing Metabolism of Cities



power, elevating emissions of greenhouse gases

and other air pollutants. Thus to the extent that
anthropogenic energy contributes to the summertime heat island, there is a small positive feedback
loop raising both temperature and contaminant
As air contaminants are largely associated
with energy production or utilization, it is perhaps
appropriate to analyze them with the energy cycle. Unlike air quality, which can be directly measured, contaminant emissions can be difficult to
quantify due to their wide range of sources within
an urban region. With the exception of some unpublished values for London in 1995, per capita
sulfur dioxide (SO2 ) and nitrogen oxides (NOx )
emissions in the group of cities (appearing in
figure 2d) are all lower than for Wolmans U.S.
city. The data from Hong Kong and Sydney
show that although SO2 emissions are decreasing,
NOx has increased since the 1970s. Emissions
of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are fairly
similar for Toronto in 1997, Sydney in 1990,
Brussels in the early 1970s, and the average U.S.
city in 1965; the highest values seen were those
for Sydney in 1970, whereas Hong Kong has had
consistently low emissions of VOCs. Particulate
emissions reported in the past two decades are
significantly lower than the 0.05 t/cap for the average 1965 U.S. city.
As urban air quality is a concern, it may be
more appropriate to express emission intensities
in kg per unit area, rather than kg per capita, as in
figure 2d. (The data behind figure 2 are included
in an e-supplement for interested readers.5) Note
that cities can also be subject to external sources
of air pollution.
Greenhouse gases are a further form of air pollutant of concern for global sustainability. Carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emissions from the group of
cities correspond quite closely with energy inputs. Emissions from Toronto are estimated to
be around 14 t/cap/yr, followed by Sydney at
close to 9 t/cap/yr. Yet there is still quite a
high level of uncertainty in urban greenhouse gas
emissions; for example, CO2 emissions reported
for London in the late 1990s range from 5.5 to
8.5 t/cap/yr. Overall, the emissions of contaminants remain quite closely tied to anthropogenic
energy emissions; but this link could weaken as
cities learn to exploit renewable energy sources,

Journal of Industrial Ecology

for example, using photovoltaics, solar water

heating, or energy recovery from wastewater.

Understanding the flow of nutrients through
the urban system is vital to successful nutrient management strategies and urban sustainability. Consequences of improper management include eutrophication of water bodies, release of
heavy metals onto agricultural lands, acid rain,
and groundwater pollution (Nilson 1995; Baker
et al. 2001). The Hong Kong metabolism study
(Warren-Rhodes and Koenig 2001) included an
analysis of key nutrients: nitrogen and phosphorus. A nitrogen balance for the Central Arizona
Phoenix (CAP) ecosystem (Baker et al. 2001), a
phosphorus budget for the Swedish municipality
of Gavle (Nilson 1995), and a study of Bangkok
(Faerge et al. 2001) also provide insight into the
flow of nutrients through urban systems.
The studies reveal the extent to which natural
nutrient flows are altered in human-dominated
ecosystems. In the CAP and Gavle regions, approximately 90% of nitrogen and phosphorus inputs are human-mediated. Whereas the majority of phosphorus fluxes are related to human
food production, import, and consumption (agricultural production and food import), nitrogen
fluxes in urban systems are becoming increasingly linked to combustion processes (Bjorklund
et al. 1999, Baker et al. 2001). In the CAP region
(which includes agricultural land and desert in
addition to urban Phoenix), fixation from NOx
emissions from combustion is the single largest
nitrogen input, greater than nitrogen inputs from
commercial fertilizers applied to both crops and
landscapes! In Hong Kong, 42% of the nitrogen
output is NOx from combustion, which is equivalent to nitrogen outputs from wastewater. Thus,
reductions in nitrogen inputs and outputs might
be most readily achieved by reducing NOx emissions (Baker et al. 2001).
In addition to managing nutrient inputs and
outputs of the urban system, nutrient storage
must also be considered. Nutrients may remain
in the urban system through accumulation in soil
or groundwater by inadvertent losses or direct
disposal or through nutrient recycling, such as
the use of food waste for agricultural fertilizer.


Accumulation often results in negative environmental consequences, such as groundwater pollution. All study areas exhibit high levels of nutrient storage. Approximately 60% of all nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to Hong Kong, 60%
of phosphorus inputs to the Gavle municipality,
20% of nitrogen inputs to the CAP region, and
51% of phosphorus (but only 3% of nitrogen) in
Bangkok do not leave the system. Although a
small amount of these nutrients are recycled, the
majority are accumulated in municipal and industrial waste sites, agricultural soils, and groundwater pools (Nilson 1995; Baker et al. 2001; WarrenRhodes and Koenig 2001).
The relatively low levels of nutrient recycling
practiced in these study areas highlight the lack
of synergy that exists between urban centers and
their hinterlands. Girardet (1992) suggests that
for cities to be sustainable from a nutrient perspective, they must practice fertility exchange, in
which the nutrients in urban sewage are returned
to local farmland. This relationship between the
city and its hinterlands requires adequate sewage
treatment and an appropriate means of sewage
transportation, as well as a good supply of local
agriculture. The process of urbanrural nutrient
recycling was prevalent in the United States during the nineteenth century, until the development of the modern fertilizer industry (Wines
1985). Similar processes existed more recently in
China, where 14 of the countrys 15 largest cities
were largely self-sufficient in food, supplying a
majority of their food requirements from agricultural suburbs, which were kept fertile using
treated human waste (Girardet 1992); such practices have since changed. In contrast, Hong Kong
produces only 5% of its food needs locally, and
human food wastes, which used to be recycled as
bone meal fertilizers, are now disposed of in landfills (Warren-Rhodes and Koenig 2001). Given
that the Hong Kong model is more representative of most modern cities than the former Chinese case, what can be done to improve urban
sustainability from a nutrient perspective?
It is not clear that the fertility exchange between a city and its hinterlands described by
Girardet (1992) is an appropriate goal for the
modern city. Traditionally, there was a symbiotic relationship between cities and their surrounding rural areas, but this relationship has

been significantly weakened by modern changes

in transportation technology and access to global
markets. As cities grow and sewage treatment
becomes more centralized, the costs of transporting sewage sludge to local agricultural lands become more prohibitive. Moreover, pharmaceuticals and other toxics present in wastewater may
make sludge recycling hazardous to health without expensive treatment. These challenges may
make other sewage resource recovery alternatives, such as energy and water reclamation, more
attractive for implementation.
The extent to which a city should be dependent on its hinterlands to maintain a sustainable
food supply is a difficult question. Many cities
obtain their food from continental or global networks of suppliers. For example, 81% of Londons
6.9 million tonnes of annual food is imported
from outside the United Kingdom (Chartered
Institute of Wastes Management 2002). Clearly,
cities have grown away from dependence on the
surrounding landscape. The relationship of mutual dependence between the city and its hinterlands described by von Thunens (1966 [originally published 1826]) isolated state no longer
holds. Peet (1969) shows how the average distance of British agricultural imports increased
from 1,820 miles (from London) in 18311835
to 5,880 miles by 19091913; he argues that a
continental-scale von Thunen-type agricultural
system has operated since the nineteenth century. Being part of a continental food network
may have economic advantagesand the network as a whole may be more resilient than a single city. But the sustainability of entire continental food webs is itself in question. In the United
States for example, agriculture is heavily reliant
on fossil fuels; 7.3 units of energy are consumed
to produce one unit of food energy; depletion
of topsoil exceeds regeneration; and groundwater
withdrawals exceed recharge in major agricultural
regions (Heller and Keolian 2003). Further research is needed to determine whether more locally grown food production, either within urban
areas or periurban surroundings, offers a more sustainable agricultural system.
Even though cities have grown away from dependence on the surrounding landscape, they
cannot function in isolation from their natural environment. The most effective nutrient

Kennedy, Cuddihy, and Engel-Yan, The Changing Metabolism of Cities



management strategies are those that are specifically tailored to individual ecosystems (Baker
et al. 2001). The creation of such strategies requires an understanding of nutrient input, accumulation, and output, which can be acquired
from detailed nutrient balances within an urban
metabolism study.

With data from metabolism studies in eight
cities, spread over five continents and several
decades, observation of strong trends would not
be expected from this review. Moreover, there
are concerns over the commensurability of data
from different cities, especially for waste streams.
Nevertheless, with three different cities having been analyzed at different times, and other
supporting evidence, some sense of how the
metabolism of cities is changing can be gleaned.
Many of the data suggest that the metabolism of
cities is increasing: water and wastewater flows
were typically greater for studies in the 1990s
than those in the early 1970s; Hamburg, Hong
Kong, and Vienna have become more materialsintensive; and energy inputs to Hong Kong and
Sydney have increased. However, some signs
point to increasing efficiency, for example, per
capita energy and water inputs leveling off in
Toronto over the 1990s. Other changes are
mixed; for example, cities that have implemented
large-scale recycling have seen reductions in residential waste disposal in absolute terms, but
other waste streamssuch as commercial and
industrialmay well be on the increase. Similarly, emissions of SO2 and particulates may have
decreased in several cities, whereas other air pollutants such as NOx have increased. Changes
in urban metabolism are quite varied between
Future studies might attempt to identify different classes of urban metabolism. These are
perhaps apparent from the transportation energy
data, where old European, dense Asian, and New
World cities are distinctive. Climate likely has
an impact on the type of metabolism; cities with
interior continental climates would be expected
to expend more energy on winter heating and
summer cooling. The cost of energy may also influence consumption. The age of a city, or its

Journal of Industrial Ecology

stage of development, could be a further factor in

the type of urban metabolism.
Beyond concerns over the sheer magnitudes
of resource flows into cities, there are more subtle
imbalances and feedbacks that threaten sustainable urban development. Access to large quantities of fresh water is clearly vital to sustaining a city, but the difference between the input
from and output to surface waters may be as important as the sheer volume of supply. Where a
city imports large volumes of water, but releases
water into underlying aquifers, whether through
leaking water pipes, septic tanks, or other means,
changing water tables may threaten the integrity
of urban infrastructure. Whether it is water in
an urban aquifer, construction materials used as
fill, heat stored in rooftops and pavements, or nutrients accumulated in soils or waste sites, these
accumulation processes should be understood so
that resources can be used appropriately. Further
examination of how resources are used and stored
within a city may yield some surprises. For example, Brunner and Rechberger (2001) suggest
that Modern cities are material hot spots containing more hazardous materials than most hazardous landfills. . . . Moreover, growth, which is
inherently part of a citys metabolism, implies a
change in storage. Thus, in addition to quantifying inputs and outputs, future studies should aim
to characterize the storage processes in the urban
Beyond scientific interest in the nature of city
growth, there are practical reasons for studying
urban metabolism. The implications of increasing
metabolism, at least with current predominant
technologies, are greater loss of farmland, forests,
and species diversity, plus more traffic and more
pollution. In short, cities will have even larger
ecological footprints.
The vitality of cities depends on spatial relationships with surrounding hinterlands and
global resource webs. As cities have grown and
transportation technologies have changed, resources have traveled greater distances to reach
cities. For heavier materials, which are more expensive to transport, the exhaustion of the nearest, most accessible resources may at some point
become a constraint on the growth of cities.
For many goods, including food, modern cities
no longer rely on their hinterlands; rather, they


participate in continental and global trading networks. Thus, full evaluation of urban sustainability requires a broad scope of analysis.
Urban policy makers should be encouraged to
understand the urban metabolism of their cities.
It is practical for them to know if they are using
water, energy, materials, and nutrients efficiently,
and how this efficiency compares to that of other
cities. They must consider to what extent their
nearest resources are close to exhaustion and,
if necessary, appropriate strategies to slow exploitation. It is apparent from this review that
metabolism data have been established for only
a few cities worldwide and there are interpretation issues due to lack of common conventions;
there is much more work to be done. Resource
accounting and management are typically undertaken at national levels, but such practices may
arguably be too broad and miss understanding of
the urban driving processes.

This research was supported by the Natural
Sciences and Engineering Research Council of

1. One tonne (t) = 103 kilograms (kg, SI) 1.102
short tons.
2. One cubic meter (m3 , SI) 1.31 cubic yards (yd3 ).
3. One watt (W, SI) 3.412 British Thermal Units
(BTU)/hour 1.341 103 horsepower (HP).
One square meter (m2 , SI) 1.20 square yards
(yd2 ).
4. One megawatt (MW) = 106 watts (W, SI) = 1
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About the Authors

Christopher Kennedy is an associate professor and
John Cuddihy and Joshua Engel-Yan are former graduate students in the Department of Civil Engineering
at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada.

Kennedy, Cuddihy, and Engel-Yan, The Changing Metabolism of Cities


Environmental Pollution 159 (2011) 1965e1973

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Environmental Pollution
journal homepage:


The study of urban metabolism and its applications to urban planning and design
C. Kennedy a, *, S. Pincetl b, P. Bunje b

Department of Civil Engineering, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

Institute of the Environment, UCLA, CA, United States

a r t i c l e i n f o

a b s t r a c t

Article history:
Received 12 October 2010
Accepted 15 October 2010

Following formative work in the 1970s, disappearance in the 1980s, and reemergence in the 1990s,
a chronological review shows that the past decade has witnessed increasing interest in the study of
urban metabolism. The review nds that there are two related, non-conicting, schools of urban
metabolism: one following Odum describes metabolism in terms of energy equivalents; while the second
more broadly expresses a citys ows of water, materials and nutrients in terms of mass uxes. Four
example applications of urban metabolism studies are discussed: urban sustainability indicators; inputs
to urban greenhouse gas emissions calculation; mathematical models of urban metabolism for policy
analysis; and as a basis for sustainable urban design. Future directions include fuller integration of social,
health and economic indicators into the urban metabolism framework, while tackling the great
sustainability challenge of reconstructing cities.
2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Urban planning
Urban design
Greenhouse gas emissions
Sustainability indicators

1. Introduction
The concept of the urban metabolism, conceived by Wolman
(1965), is fundamental to developing sustainable cities and
communities. Urban metabolism may be dened as 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). In practice, the study of an urban metabolism involves big picture quantication of the inputs, outputs and
storage of energy, water, nutrients, materials and wastes for an
urban region. While research on urban metabolism has waxed and
waned over the past 45 years, in the last decade it has accelerated.
Moreover, as this review will show, practical applications of urban
metabolism are emerging.
The notion of urban metabolism is loosely based on an analogy
with the metabolism of organisms, although in other respects
parallels can also be made between cities and ecosystems. Cities are
similar to organisms in that they consume resources from their
surroundings and excrete wastes. Cities transform raw materials,
fuel, and water into the built environment, human biomass and waste
(Decker et al., 2000). Of course, cities are more complex than single
organisms e and are themselves home to multitude of organisms e
humans, animals and vegetation. Thus, the notion that cities are

* Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (C. Kennedy).
0269-7491/$ e see front matter 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

like ecosystems is also appropriate. Indeed, the model of a natural

ecosystem is in some respects the objective for developing
sustainable cities. Natural ecosystems are generally energy selfsufcient, or are subsidized by sustainable inputs, and often
approximately conserve mass, through recycling by detrivores.
Were cities to have such traits, they would be far more sustainable.
Contemporary cities, however, have large linear metabolism with
high through ows of energy and materials.
The rst purpose of this paper is to review the development of
the urban metabolism concept largely through academic research
literature. The chronological review shows that after a few formative studies in the 1970s, interest in urban metabolism almost
disappeared in the 1980s. Then after slowly reemerging in the
1990s, study of urban metabolism has grown in the past 10 years,
with over 30 papers produced. The review also describes how two
related, non-conicting, schools of study have developed. One,
primarily based on the work of Odum, aims to describe urban
metabolism in terms of energy equivalents. The other takes
a broader approach, expressing a citys ows of water, materials
and nutrients in terms of mass uxes.
The second purpose of this paper is to ask: What use are urban
metabolism studies for urban planning and design? Most studies of
urban metabolism have primarily been accounting exercises. These
are useful in that they provide indicators of urban sustainability,
and the measures of energy consumption, material ows and
wastes from the urban metabolism are also necessary to quantify
greenhouse gas emissions for cities. Beyond accounting exercises,


C. Kennedy et al. / Environmental Pollution 159 (2011) 1965e1973

moreover, the review of applications shows how study of urban

metabolism is also being used as a basis for sustainable urban
design, and how a few mathematical models of urban metabolism
have been used for policy analysis.

2. Development of the urban metabolism concept

Since the rst study of an urban metabolism by Wolman in 1965,
about 15e20 comprehensive studies of urban metabolism have
been undertaken, in addition to numerous related studies (Table 1).
This section describes the evolution of methodological approaches
for studying urban metabolism. The primary focus is on quantitative studies, as opposed to works that invoke urban metabolism in

a political science context (e.g., Heynen et al., 2005), or in a qualitative historical context (e.g., Tarr, 2002).
In his seminal study, Wolman (1965) used national data on
water, food and fuel use, along with production rates of sewage,
waste and air pollutants to determine per capita inow and outow
rates for a hypothetical American city of one million people (White,
2002). His approach to determining material ows, even with the
omission of important inputs such as electricity, infrastructure
materials, and other durable goods, helped focus attention on
system-wide impacts of the consumption of goods and the generation of wastes within the urban environment (Decker et al., 2000).
The rst metabolism studies of real cities were conducted in the
1970s. Interestingly the rst three studies of Tokyo (Hanya and
Ambe, 1976), Brussels (Duvigneaud and Denayeyer-De Smet,

Table 1
Chronological review of urban metabolism studies.
Author (year)

City or region of study


Wolman (1965)

Hypothetical US city of
1 million people
1850s Paris

Seminal study

Includes natural energy balance

Hong Kong

Particularly comprehensive metabolism study

Zucchetto (1975)
Stanhill (1977); Odum (1983)
Hanya and Ambe (1976).
Duvigneaud and
Denayeyer-De Smet (1977)
Newcombe et al. (1978);
Boyden et al. (1981)
Girardet (1992)
Bohle (1994)
European Environment
Agency (1995)
Nilson (1995)
Baccini (1997).
Huang (1998).
Newman (1999);
Newman et al. (1996)
Stimson et al. (1999)
Hermanowicz and Asano (1999)
Hendriks et al. (2000).
Warren-Rhodes and Koenig (2001).
Baker et al. (2001)
Srme et al. (2001)
Svidn and Jonsson (2001)
Obernosterer and Brunner (2001)
Frge et al. (2001)
Chartered Institute of
Wastes Management (2002)
Gasson (2002)
Barrett et al. (2002)
Obernosterer (2002)
Sahely et al. (2003).
Emmenegger et al. (2003)
Burstrom et al. (2003)
Gandy (2004)
Lennox and Turner (2004)
Hammer and Giljum (2006)
Kennedy et al. (2007)
Schulz (2007)
Barles (2007a)
Forkes (2007)
Zhang and Yang (2007)
Ngo and Pataki (2008)
Chrysoulakis (2008)
Schremmer and Stead (2009)
Barles (2009, 2007b)
Zhang et al. (2009)
Niza et al. (2009)
Deilmann (2009)
Baker et al. (2001)
Thriault and Laroche (2009)
Browne et al. (2009)

Prague (comprehensive
metabolism study)
Gvle, Sweden
Swiss Lowlands
Brisbane & Southeast Queensland
Vienna & Swiss Lowlands
Hong Kong
Phoenix & Central Arizona
Cape Town
York, UK

Hamburg, Vienna and Leipzig

Shenzhen, China
Los Angeles


Greater Moncton,
New Brunswick
Limerick, Ireland

Emergy approach
Emergy approach

Recognized link to sustainable development of cities

Critiqued metabolism perspective for studying food in
developing cities
Energy use data for Barcelona and seven other European
cities given in the report.
Phosphorus budget
Emergy approach
Adds liveability measures
Framework relating urban metabolism to quality of life.

Nitrogen balance
Heavy metals
Nitrogen & Phosphorus


Nitrogen & Phosphorus

State of the Environment report
Review of changing metabolism
Historical study of nitrogen in food metabolism
Nitrogen in food metabolism
Develops eco-efciency measure
New project under EU 7th framework
New project under EU 7th framework
Analysis of central city, suburbs and region.
Emergy approach
Studies relationship between metabolism and city surface
Develops measure of metabolic efciency

C. Kennedy et al. / Environmental Pollution 159 (2011) 1965e1973

1977) and Hong Kong (Newcombe et al., 1978) were conducted by

chemical engineers, ecologists and civil engineers respectively,
recognizing the interdisciplinary nature of the topic. Given Hong
Kongs status as a quasi-independent city state, the study by
Newcombe et al. was particularly rich, including description of
material inputs that were difcult to establish in later studies. The
Hong Kong study was conducted under a UNESCO Man and the
Biosphere project, which also included work on Barcelona and
Rome (Barles, 2010; data on energy ows through Barcelona from
Pares et al. (1985), are given by the European Environment Agency,
1995). The Brussels metabolism study was also unique in that it
went beyond quantication of anthropogenic energy inputs to
include a natural energy balance (Fig. 1).
Also during the 1970s, systems ecologists primarily under the
leadership of Odum were studying urban metabolism from
a slightly different perspective. The Odum school was primarily
concerned with describing metabolism in terms of solar energy
equivalents (or emergy with an m). Using Odums systems notation, Zucchetto (1975) produced a study of Miamis urban metabolism. Odum (1983) applied his approach to data presented by
Stanhill (1977) for 1850s Paris, producing in a sense the oldest
study of an urban metabolism. Although Odums approach to
studying urban metabolism has not become mainstream, it
continues today through the work of Huang, primarily for Taipei
(Huang, 1998; Huang and Hsu, 2003) and Zhang et al. (2009) for
During the 1980s and early 1990s, progress in the study of urban
metabolism was modest. There was an international symposium on
urban metabolism held in Kobe, Japan, September 6e11, 1993, but
few of the papers were published. One exception was the paper by
Bohle (1994) which considered the potential to use an urban
metabolism perspective to examine urban food systems in


developing countries, and was critical of its application. Writers

such as Girardet (1992), however, began to see the key connection
between urban metabolism and the sustainable development of
During the 1990s, there was progress in the development of the
method of material ow analysis (MFA), which included application
to cities. Baccini and Brunners (1991) Metabolism of the Anthroposphere was followed by a substantial textbook Regionaler Stoffhaushalt on regional material ow analysis by Baccini and Bader
(1996). Differing from Odums focus on energy, MFA reports
stocks and ows of resources in terms of mass. As an example, in
the EUROSTAT guidelines for MFA, quantities of fossil fuels are
reported in units of kilotonnes or kilotonnes per year. The work of
Baccini and Brunner, however, building upon the earlier metabolism studies of the 1970s, more usually reports energy ow in terms
of joules, with a citys ows of water, material and nutrients
expressed as mass uxes. This is arguably the approach of the
mainstream school of urban metabolism.
From a deep sustainability perspective there is some merit to
Odums emergy approach, but the mainstream school of urban
metabolism uses more practical units. The approach of Odum and
co-workers is an attempt to apply a biophysical value theory that is
applicable to both ecological and economic systems (Huang, 1998).
It recognizes that there is variation in the quality of different forms
of energy, i.e., different forms of energy (fuels, electricity, solar)
accomplish different amounts of work. Hence solar energy equivalents are used as a universal metric. The mainstream school of
urban metabolism, however, essentially just uses the units that
local government ofcers would use, recognize and understand,
e.g., in water works departments, solid waste management, or
utilities, etc. Nevertheless, the two schools are not that far apart;
they quantify the same items, but just use different units.

Fig. 1. The urban metabolism of Brussels, Belgium in the early 1970s (Duvigneaud and Denayeyer-De Smet, 1977).


C. Kennedy et al. / Environmental Pollution 159 (2011) 1965e1973

The turn of the millennium saw rejuvenation in studies of urban

metabolism: Newman (1999) published a study of the metabolism
of Sydney; Baccini, Brunner and co-workers provided applications
of MFA to Vienna and part of the Swiss Lowlands (Hendriks et al.,
2000; Baccini, 1997); and Warren-Rhodes and Koenig (2001)
produced an update of the metabolism of Hong Kong. This latter
study was particularly powerful in demonstrating the need to
understand urban metabolism. It described the increasing environmental impacts that of Hong Kongs transition from
a manufacturing centre to a service-based economy with the addition of more than 3 million people between 1971 and 1997. Per
capita food, water and materials consumption increased by 20%, 40%
and 149%, respectively over 1971 values. Moreover, total air emissions, carbon dioxide outputs, municipal solid wastes and sewage
discharges rose by 30%, 250%, 245% and 153% respectively (WarrenRhodes and Koenig, 2001). These increases in the per capita
metabolism of Hong Kong may be linked to higher consumption
related the citys substantially increased wealth, although the
authors do not fully explore the reasons behind the changes.
Newmans work on the metabolism of Sydney was conducted as
part of a State of the Environment (SOE) report for Australia
(Newman, 1999; Newman et al., 1996). Of particular note, was
Newmans inclusion of liveability measures. He proposed an
extended metabolism model, which included indicators of health,
employment, income, education, housing, leisure and community
activities. Connections between urban metabolism and quality of
life have subsequently been made by other Australian researchers
(Stimson et al., 1999; Lennox and Turner, 2004).
Kennedy et al. (2007) conducted a review of urban metabolism
studies with a focus on understanding how metabolism was
changing. Incorporating analyses of Greater Toronto (Sahely et al.,
2003), Cape Town (Gasson, 2002), and Greater London (Chartered
Institute of Wastes Management, 2002) with earlier studies, the
review showed that the metabolism of cities is generally increasing.
Kennedy et al. also highlighted the importance of understanding
changes in stocks within the urban metabolism. Accumulation
processes such as water in urban aquifers, construction materials,
heat stored in rooftops and pavements, and nutrients deposited in
soils or waste sites, need to be appropriately managed.
Studies of nutrients in the urban metabolism are amongst narrower studies focused on individual substances. Two key nutrients:
nitrogen and phosphorus, were studied for Bangkok (Frge et al.,
2001) and Stockholm (Burstrom et al., 2003), as well as in the
Hong Kong metabolism studies. Nitrogen uxes in food metabolism
have been studied for Toronto (Forkes, 2007) and historically for
Paris (Barles, 2007a). A full nitrogen balance was also conducted for
the Central Arizona-Phoenix (CAP) ecosystem (Baker et al., 2001),
and a phosphorus budget for the Swedish municipality of Gvle
(Nilson, 1995). These studies have generally found that nutrients
are accumulating in cities.
Further work has invoked the urban metabolism when addressing
urban water issues. For example, see: Hermanowicz and Asano
(1999), Gandy (2004), Thriault and Larcohe (2009), Sahely and
Kennedy (2007) and Baker (2009).
Other studies have focused primarily on urban material stocks and
ows. These include studies of Lisbon (Niza et al., 2009), Singapore
(Schulz, 2007) and York, UK (Barrett et al., 2002). Hammer and Giljum
(2006) quantied material ows for Hamburg, Vienna and Leipzig.
Some researchers have studied specic metals in the urban metabolism, recognizing them to be both environmental burdens, but also
potentially future resources (Srme et al., 2001; Svidn and Jonsson,
2001; Obernosterer and Brunner, 2001; Obernosterer, 2002). Further
material ow studies for Shenzhen, China (Zhang and Yang, 2007)
and Limerick, Ireland (Browne et al., 2009) are notable for the
development of measures of efciency of the urban metabolism.

As Table 1 reveals, there has been an increasing amount of

research on urban metabolism in recent years. In addition to the
studies in the paragraphs above, quantication of urban metabolism has been conducted for Los Angeles (Ngo and Pataki, 2008),
Geneva (Emmenegger et al., 2003) and Paris (Barles, 2007b, 2009).
Broader work has linked urban metabolism to: ecosystem appropriation by cities (Folke et al., 1997); the accumulation of toxic
materials in the urban building stock (Brunner and Rechberger,
2001); historical growth in the transportation of materials
(Fischer-Kowalski et al., 2004); economies of scale for urban
infrastructure systems (Bettencourt et al., 2007); and differences in
greenhouse gas emissions from global cities (Kennedy et al.,
2009a). There is rich variety in the scope of research: Deilmann
(2009) studies spatial attributes of urban metabolism; Kaye et al.
(2006) review urban biogeochemical cycles in the urban metabolism; and Fung and Kennedy (2005) develop links with urban
macroconomic models. Further research papers may be expected
from two projects on urban metabolism recently funded under the
EU 7th framework: SUME (Schremmer and Stead, 2009) and
BRIDGE (Chrysoulakis, 2008).
3. Applications
From its conception by Wolman, urban metabolism was studied
for practical reasons; Wolman was particularly concerned with air
pollution and other wastes produced in US cities. So beyond the
study of urban metabolism to understand it, in a scientic sense,
there are practical applications. Here we review applications in
sustainability reporting, urban greenhouse gas accounting, mathematical modelling for policy analysis, and urban design. This list of
four is perhaps not exhaustive; urban metabolism studies are data
rich and may have other potential applications. These four serve as
examples that demonstrate practical applications of urban
metabolism for urban planners and designers.
3.1. Sustainability indicators
Study of the urban metabolism is an integral part of State of the
Environment (SOE) reporting and provides measures that are
indicative of a citys sustainability. The urban metabolism includes
pertinent information about energy efciency, material cycling,
waste management, and infrastructure in urban systems. The
parameters of the urban metabolism generally meet the criteria for
good sustainability indicators as outlined by Maclaren (1996); they
are: scientically valid (based on principles of conservation of
energy and mass), representative, responsive, relevant to urban
planners and dwellers, based on data that is comparable over time,
understandable and unambiguous. The main objectives of SOE
reporting are to analyze and describe environmental conditions
and trends of signicance and to serve as a precursor to the policymaking process (Maclaren, 1996).
3.2. Inputs to urban greenhouse gas accounting
With many cities and communities aiming to reduce their
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a particularly useful application
of urban metabolism metrics is their role in quantifying urban GHG
emissions. The actual emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and
other GHGs that are directly emitted from a city are legitimate
components of the urban metabolism in themselves. The GHG
emissions that are attributed to a city are, however, usually broader
in scope including some emissions that are produced outside of
urban boundaries, e.g., from electricity generation or disposal
of exported waste. Whether the GHG emission occurs inside or
outside of city boundaries, its calculation requires measures of

C. Kennedy et al. / Environmental Pollution 159 (2011) 1965e1973


Table 2
Components of urban metabolism that are required for the inventorying of GHG emissions for cities and local communities.
Components of urban metabolism

Preferred units

Total electricity consumption

Consumption of heating and industrial fuels by each fuel type
(e.g., natural gas, fuel oils, coal, LPG e includes fuels used in combined heat and power plants).
Total consumption of ground transportation fuels (gasoline, diesel, other) based on sales data.
Volume of jet fuel loaded onto planes at airports within the boundary of the city/urban region.
Volume of marine fuel loaded onto vessels at the citys port (if applicable).
Tonnage and composition of landll waste (% food, garden, paper, wood, textiles,
industrial, other/inert) from all sectors; and percentage of landll methane that is captured
Tonnage of solid waste incinerated (if applicable)
Masses of steel, cement, and other materials or chemicals produced in the city causing
non-energy related industrial process emissions.

TJ for each fuel type

energy consumption, material ows and wastes from the urban

According to the IPCC guidelines, GHG emissions for many
sectors are broadly calculated by multiplication of an activity level
by an emissions factor. For example, GHG emissions for a communities electricity supply are calculated by multiplying the level of

Million litres for each fuel type

Million litres
Million litres
t and %

consumption by the GHG intensity of the regional/state/provincial

or national electricity supply. Emissions factors for fuels used in
heating, transportation or industrial combustion are well established from national GHG inventory reporting; they are based on
the combustion properties of the fuel. While the calculations are
more complex for some sectors (e.g., waste), for urban GHG

Table 3
GHG emissions for cities and metropolitan regions (adapted from Kennedy et al., 2009b; note see Table 2 in source for differences in methodology).




Metropolitan region
Capital region
Frankfurt/Rhein Main
Glasgow and the Clyde Valley
Metropolitan region
Capital region
Greater London
Osrednjeslovenska region
Comunidad de Madrid
Metropolitan region
Ile de France
Metropolitan region
Greater Prague
Metropolitan region
Metropolitan region
Metropolitan region





Los Angeles
New York

City and county
Greater Toronto Area
District of Columbia





Mexico City
Rio de Janeiro
Sao Paulo







Beijing Government administered area
Metropolitan area
National capital territory
Shanghai Government administered area
Seoul City
Tianjin Government administered area
Tokyo metropolitan government admin. area





Cape Town






Excludes aviation and marine emissions.

Total emissions
million t CO2 e

Per capita
emissions t CO2 e

City or metropolitan region


C. Kennedy et al. / Environmental Pollution 159 (2011) 1965e1973

inventories, the urban metabolism parameters essentially provide

the required measures of activity levels (Table 2).
A comparison of the GHG emissions from ten global cities was
undertaken by Kennedy et al. (2009a, 2010), largely drawing upon
urban metabolism studies. Results from a wider study of GHG
emissions from forty cities are shown in Table 3 (Kennedy et al.,
3.3. Dynamic mathematical models for policy analysis
While most researchers have primarily used the urban metabolism as the basis of an accounting framework, others have begun
to develop mathematical models of processes within the urban
metabolism. Such mathematical models have mainly been developed by the MFA community, usually to study specic substances e
metals or nutrients in the urban or regional metabolism. Example
model platforms include SIMBOX (Baccini and Bader, 1996) and
STAN (Cencic and Rechberger, 2008; Brunner and Rechberger,
2004). These models include representation of sub-processes,
stocks and ows within the metabolism, sometimes linked to
economic inputeoutput models.
While the models are useful for determining present material
stock and ows, they can also be used to simulate future changes to
the urban metabolism as a result of technological interventions or
policies. The models are particularly useful for identifying solutions
to environmental issues beyond end of pipe approaches.
3.4. Design tools
The potential to use the concept of urban metabolism in an
urban design context is a relatively new development. Perhaps the
rst serious attempt to move beyond analysis to design is described
in Netzstadt by Oswald and Baccini (2003). Fernandez and students
in MITs School of Architecture have used the perspective of urban
metabolism in considering redesign of New Orleans, while students
in Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto study the urban
metabolism in order to design infrastructure for sustainable cities.
In Netzstadt, Oswald and Baccini begin to demonstrate how
a combination of morphological and physiological tools can be used
in the long process of reconstructing the city. Their starting point is
recognition that the centereperiphery model of cities is outdated,
but the new urbanity is not sustainable. They proceed to provide
four principles for redesigning cities: shapability; sustainability;
reconstruction; and responsibility. Five criteria of urban quality:
identication; diversity; exibility; degree of self-sufciency; and
resource efciency, are then sought in a design approach that
includes analysis of urban metabolism. The four major urban
activities: to nourish and recover; to clean; to reside and work; and
to transport and communicate, as identied by Baccini and Brunner
(1991) are assessed in terms of four major components of urban
metabolism: water, food (biomass), construction materials, and
energy. Several examples partially demonstrate the integration of
morphological and physiological perspectives.
Urban metabolism has also been invoked in the much more
rapid reconstruction of New Orleans that followed after Hurricane
Katrina. John Fernandez and students at MIT, use material ow
analysis to help with producing more ecologically sensitive designs
for the city (Quinn, 2007).
Civil Engineering students at the University of Toronto also use
the urban metabolism as a tool to guide sustainable design (Fig. 2).
The students are faced with design challenges typically at the
neighborhood scale, which involve integration of various infrastructure using the concept of neighborhood metabolism (Codoban
and Kennedy, 2008; Engel Yan et al., 2005; Kennedy, 2007). The
students use best practices in green building design, sustainable

Fig. 2. Representation of a sustainable metabolism for the Toronto Port Lands,

designed by graduate students at the University of Toronto.

transportation and alternative energy systems in their work. By

tracing the ows of water, energy, nutrients and materials through
an urban system, it can be designed to close loops, thus reducing
the input of resources and output of wastes.
The urban metabolism analysis of one group shows just how
close it came to a fundamentally sustainable design (Fig. 3). Greywater was used for toilets, and outdoor use; sludge from waste
water was used on community gardens for food production. Energy
from the imported municipal waste not only powered the buildings, it also provided for the light rail system and returned some
excess electricity to the grid. Moreover, y-ash from the waste
gasication plant was recycled as building material. By partially
closing these loops, inputs of energy, water, materials, and nutrients were signicantly reduced.
The tracking of energy and material ows in urban design in
order to reduce environmental impacts is also conducted by practitioners. Arups Integrated Resource Modelling (IRM) tool which
was used for master planning of Dongtan and the Thames Gateway
is essentially an urban metabolism model. It is used to assess the
sustainability performance of different strategies for the built

4. Future directions
There is a growing body of knowledge on urban metabolism.
Over 50 papers have been referenced here, some of which are
relatively comprehensive studies of metabolism, others that
analyze particular components, such as energy, water, nutrients,
metals etc. These studies provide valuable insights into the functioning of specic cities at particular points in time, but there is still
more to learn. There are only few cross-sectional studies of multiple
cities and a lack of time series studies of urban metabolism.
As Barles (2010) observes much of the research on urban
metabolism is now being conducted within the industrial ecology
community, which has broadened from its initial focus on industrial metabolism to include social and urban metabolism. A workshop held by industrial ecologists at MIT in January 2010, identied
several research needs, including:
 work on the relationship between urban metabolism and the
urban poor
 efforts to collect and combine energy use data from world cities

C. Kennedy et al. / Environmental Pollution 159 (2011) 1965e1973


Fig. 3. The urban metabolism of the Toronto Port Lands shows reduction in inputs of energy, water, materials, and nutrients due to the partial closing of these loops (designed by
a second group of graduate students at the University of Toronto).

 development of a standard classication system for stocks and

ows in the urban metabolism.
Another important future direction is fuller integration of social,
health and economic indicators into the urban metabolism framework. While others, such as Newman (1999), have previously
proposed that social indicators be included in the urban metabolism, such indicators have tended to be added on. Social, heath and
economic impacts are, however, inherently related to the urban
metabolism. For example, high consumption of gasoline and high
rates of obesity are both related to an auto dependent lifestyle.
Hence, a framework for sustainable city/community indicators,
developed for the Public Interest Energy Research Program (PIER) of
the California Energy Commission, links social, health and economic
indicators to the urban metabolism in the form of a matrix.
The advantages of using an urban metabolism framework as
a unifying research theme are that it (Pincetl and Bunje, 2009):

explicitly identies of the systems boundaries;

accounts for inputs and outputs to the system;
allows for a hierarchical approach to research;
includes decomposable elements for targeted, sectoral
5. necessitates analysis of policy and technology outcomes with
respect to sustainability goals;
6. is an adaptive approach to solutions and their consequences; and
7. integrates social science and biophysical science/technology.
While there is much interest in the science of urban metabolism, great efforts are still required to get it established in the

practice of urban planning and design. The need to do so has been

clearly articulated. For example, in contemplating what is required
to approach sustainability, Oswald and Baccini (2003) suggest that
it will require no less than the reconstruction of our cities. They
Reconstruction . means launching an intelligent experiment in
a democratic society in order to ensure the survival of the
contemporary city. We cannot foresee the nal state of this process.
We are dening the quality goals of a new regionally customized
urban life
Customization means that every society consisting of several
million people must, for instance, develop concrete ideas on
where they will obtain water, food, material and energy over the
long term, without depleting regional or global resources; ideas
on how they will renew experiential knowledge, promote creative capabilities and create symbols, without poisoning their
relationship to their own origins or disrupting global
Signicant progress has been made over the past decade by the
green/sustainable building industry in tracking energy and material
ows at the building scale. There is arguably a need for the planning
and design community e specically architects, engineers and
planners e to step up to higher level. Studies of resource ows for
neighborhood developments or entire cities needs to become
mainstream practice, rather than just a rare exercise for experimental Dongtan-like developments. This requires the design
community to become much more numerate in energy and material ows. The challenge ahead is to design the urban metabolism of
sustainable cities.


C. Kennedy et al. / Environmental Pollution 159 (2011) 1965e1973

The authors are grateful for the support of the California Energy
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Entangled Practices: Governance, Sustainable Technologies, and Energy

Ritsuko Ozaki and Isabel Shaw
Sociology 2014 48: 590 originally published online 13 September 2013
DOI: 10.1177/0038038513500101
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SOC48310.1177/0038038513500101SociologyOzaki and Shaw


Entangled Practices:
Governance, Sustainable
Technologies, and Energy

2014, Vol. 48(3) 590605
The Author(s) 2013
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0038038513500101

Ritsuko Ozaki

Imperial College London, UK

Isabel Shaw

Imperial College London, UK

In this article we provide a timely account of how sustainable technologies become entangled
with cultural practices and thus co-evolve, influencing energy consumption. In doing so,
we critique the approach current UK policy takes towards energy renewal and carbon
reduction. We investigate the effectiveness of the social housing sectors efforts to implement
environmental policy initiatives that use a technology-driven approach. By looking at how social
housing residents consume energy as part of domestic practices, we identify tensions between
strategies to influence energy consumption by a housing association, and the ways residents
incorporate sustainable technologies into everyday practices. Our findings reveal how sustainable
technologies become enrolled in established practices: residents creatively develop novel routine
strategies to accommodate new technologies to their daily routines. We contend that policy
efforts to engender behaviour change through a technology-driven approach have limitations.
This approach ignores how practices become entangled, affecting energy consumption.

energy consumption, environmental sustainability, governance, practices, technologies

In the UK nearly 30 per cent of energy consumption and carbon emissions are attributed to the residential sector.1 Current UK policy recommends the installment of
Corresponding author:
Ritsuko Ozaki, Imperial College Business School, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus,
London W7 2AZ, UK.

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Ozaki and Shaw

sustainable technologies (e.g. solar thermal panels), which are designed to help energy
and carbon reduction, into homes. Yet, the story does not end here. In order for the
sustainable technologies to deliver on their promise of energy renewal and carbon
reduction, the technologies require particular forms of use by residents, but the process
of user-technology interactions is not straightforward. Current policy asks that individuals simply change their behaviours in accordance with the characteristics and
requirements of the technologies. In doing so, policy makers place responsibility for
environmental outcomes on households by making environmental sustainability a matter of individual choice (Webb, 2012). We argue that such an approach is partial and
simplistic: it ignores (a) practices of routine domestic consumption, as well as (b) the
actions of actors involved in energy infrastructure provision and policy implementation (Barr et al., 2011; Shove, 2010; Spaargaren, 2011; Webb, 2012). Heading
Spaargarens (2011) call for research into the relations between consumption practices
and sustainable technologies, we take these two points as our focus of analysis to
investigate how energy is consumed as part of everyday domestic practices that engage
with sustainable technologies, and consider the effectiveness of efforts to implement
environmental policy initiatives that use a technology-driven approach. In doing so,
we examine tensions between performing and governing practice, focusing on how
practices are constituted, conducted and transformed.
In 2006, a UK government policy called the Code for Sustainable Homes was
launched as a building standard to tackle environmental sustainability issues such as
energy security, resource scarcity and the environmental impacts of activities that contribute to increased levels of carbon dioxide from domestic arenas (DCLG, 2006a).2 The
Codes target is to make all new-built homes zero carbon by 2016, with a 25 per cent
improvement in energy use before 2010 and a 44 per cent improvement by 2013, against
the 2006 Building Regulations (Part L). Pressure to comply with the Code is significant
in the social housing sector because housing schemes require Code certification as part
of the conditions set by the funding agency in order to qualify for grant subsidy.
Furthermore, local authorities often set a minimum Code level in planning conditions for
future builds. The installation of sustainable technologies is one recommendation made
by the Code. A zero-carbon home is defined as a home with zero net emissions of carbon
dioxide from all energy use (DCLG, 2006a). This definition encompasses all cooking
and electrical appliances, as well as all those energy uses that are currently part of building regulations, such as space heating and hot water (DCLG, 2006b). The home is thus a
prime site for policy interventions.
Actors seeking to operationalise policy initiatives to alter individual behaviour
deal with energy reduction as a matter of pro-environmental consumer choice
(Wilhite, 2008: 122). In doing so, they promote a technology-driven discourse by
focusing on the implementation of technologies (e.g. photovoltaic cells) within
domestic spaces, which aim to intervene in and encourage energy-saving behaviour.
In these approaches, firstly, the consumer is cast as an isolated rational individual
(Winch, 2006: 32; see also McMeekin and Southerton, 2012) whose practices are supposedly objective and neutral and thus open to intervention and governance (Webb,
2012: 113). Much criticism has been levied at this model. For example, technology is
frequently held by policy makers as the magic bullet to environmental problems,

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Sociology 48(3)

which fails to engage with the big questions of what our needs are and how they are
constructed and reproduced (Shove, 2004: 1053; see also Slater, 1997). Secondly,
these approaches sideline questions of collective responsibility for energy reduction,
which allows governments to treat the operations of markets and corporations per se
as above or outside the societal frame of reference (Webb, 2012: 111). By reducing society to the sum of rationally self-interested individual choices (2012: 113) a
range of actors affiliated to government efforts to affect energy consumption, as
diverse as energy providers and housing associations, are excluded from consideration. As Spaargaren (2011) argues, this is inherently problematic because the consumption of energy is invariably achieved through the social and material
infrastructures through which energy is provided.
In line with these arguments, we examine how a key actor responsible for implementing UK environmental policy a social housing association promotes normative
assumptions about use through the implementation of policy-recommended sustainable
technologies. We focus on how these assumptions are operationalised by housing association professionals to encourage pro-environmental practices by residents. To better
understand how these technologies affect residents domestic energy consumption, we
then investigate how residents adapt to the sustainable technologies and creatively manage their routines.
From our empirical analysis we identify tensions between strategies mobilised by the
housing association to influence technology use and energy consumption, and the incorporation of sustainable technologies as part of everyday practices by residents. Our findings reveal how sustainable technologies participate in the performance and transformation
of established practices, as residents creatively develop new routine strategies to incorporate those technologies and to juggle activities. The socio-cultural conditions of residents home lives with the use of sustainable and mundane technologies affect how
practices are performed and then become entangled. Energy is consumed in those complex entanglements of practice. We conclude that by ignoring these tensions and practices, current environmental initiatives that promote a technology-driven view to
influence energy consumption exclude fundamental considerations about routine practice and the pervasive effect of social and technological relationships on energy

Technology Use and Social Practices

There exists a substantial body of work now widely referred to as the social practice
approach to energy consumption (see McMeekin and Southerton, 2012; Shove, 2003;
Southerton, 2006; Spaargaren, 2011) that brings back into the debate questions of how
routine practices develop and change, since it is through the conduct of practices that
energy consumption occurs (Wilhite, 2004). Addressing these questions, researchers advocate a shift from the analysis of technological efficiency to that of socio-technological
relations and practices, which encompass the practices of both users and producers,
inclusive of material infrastructures and technologies that shape how energy is consumed
(e.g. Guy, 2006; Shove, 2004, 2006; Southerton et al., 2004; Spaargaren, 2011; Wilhite,
2004, 2008). The emphasis here is therefore less on the provision of consumer choice,

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than an understanding of how different actors practices and technologies co-develop to

shape energy consumption.
Current energy reduction strategies continue to frame consumption as a rational and
static matter of deciding to act in ways that induce environmental benefits (McMeekin
and Southerton, 2012: 346). For example, housing associations put into practice these
strategies by encouraging so-called correct technology use by households and adopt
methods such as the provision of information (e.g. instruction manuals) or incentives
such as price to affect behaviour - methods promoted by environmental policy (e.g.
Code for Sustainable Homes).
With the prevalence of such rational-choice approaches, a focus on how routine practices are influenced by different actors is imperative. Indeed, technologies are used differently to carry out daily practices, such as cooking. As Wilhite (2005: 1) argues, energy
is of little use in and of itself it must be converted before it becomes transformed
into something useful. With this understanding, much of current research shows how
mundane technologies play a pivotal role in shaping everyday practices through which
energy is consumed (Shove, 2003; Wilhite, 2008). To account for the growing popularity
of showering and its association with convenience and speed, Hand et al. (2005), for
example, identify different elements that constitute showering practice: infrastructural
(e.g. plumbing, electrification and hot water provision), appliance and technology (e.g.
power-showers), moral (e.g. notions of cleanliness and hygiene) and temporal (e.g.
organisation of time and daily schedules). There is, however, little research that looks at
the interrelations between practices and both sustainable and mundane technologies. The
prevailing research suggests that residents may develop local strategies to manage energy
supply and demand by adapting their practices to sustainable technologies, such as photovoltaic cells (Chappells and Shove, 2004: 139). Or, people might not use sustainable
technologies in ways intended by their producers, and hence not generate the sustainable
outcomes anticipated by environmental policy (Ozaki et al., 2013). To understand how
energy is routinely consumed we need to examine how practices are mutually configured
by both sustainable and mundane technologies, whilst carrying out activities and conducting relationships.
Heading this call, we focus on the socio-technological relationships that arise between
residents and sustainable and mundane technologies in doing practical activities (Schatzki,
2001: 3). In this perspective, the effects of technologies emerge from a combination of
persons and materials (Barry, 2001: 11). According to Reckwitz (2002: 24950):
a practice a way of cooking, of consuming, of working of taking care of oneself or of
others etc. forms so to speak a block whose existence necessarily depends on the existence
and specific interconnectedness of these elements [e.g. practices such as cooking and
showering], and which cannot be reduced to any one of these single elements.

This notion of practices being interrelated, and thus inseparable from one another, is
echoed in Shove and Walkers (2010: 476) observation that patterns and practices of
daily life interrelate, erode and reinforce each other. Despite such theorisations, empirical accounts of the interrelations between practices are significantly lacking. Addressing
this, we focus on the performance of practices with regards to the sphere of culture

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Sociology 48(3)

(Pickering, 1995: 4) in which they are both situated and constituted by. Pickering
describes the sphere of culture as comprising skills, social relations, technologies and
concepts/knowledge; where practice is conceptualised as the work of cultural extension
(1995: 3). We attend to the conditions and means surrounding how practices become
interrelated, considering how sustainable and mundane technologies participate in this
process of shaping activities, and vice versa. In doing so, we do not consider technologies in isolation, but as active in practical activities (Barry, 2001: 11). With people, technologies and practices are mutually constitutive (see Barry, 2001; Pickering, 1995;
Reckwitz, 2002; Schatzki, 2001) in shaping activities and energy consumption. This
raises pertinent questions about how residents adapt to sustainable technologies, which
can disrupt and alter established routines. How do residents interactions with sustainable
technologies match up to normative notions of correct use promoted by policy and
housing association professionals? What consequences does this have for how practices
become interrelated and energy is consumed?

We have collaborated with a large social housing provider in South East England; the
case study site is located in South East London and consists of 80 terraced houses. It is
part of a large urban regeneration site; those living on the housing scheme have moved
from an estate that was made up of tower blocks built in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Residents were not billed individually for the consumption of water, gas and electricity,
but paid a fixed amount each month that was included as part of their rent. In contrast,
their new homes are terraced houses with solar water heating and heat recovery ventilation systems. Residents are billed individually according to the amount of water, gas and
electricity they use. The mechanical ventilation for heat recovery system exchanges stale
air for fresh air and recovers heat in the process; and the solar water heating system uses
heat from the sun to warm domestic hot water. The aim of these technologies is to reduce
energy consumption from heating water and space, which accounts for half of all thermal
energy consumption in the UK (Hawkes et al., 2011: 2), and to ultimately reduce carbon
This study has two parts: interviews with (a) social housing professionals and (b) residents. A detailed information sheet was provided to each participant before the interview
explaining the aims of the project: that the interview was voluntary and anonymous, and
that they could withdraw from the project at any time. All interviews took between 30
and 60 minutes, and were recorded and fully transcribed. The interviews were coded
openly and analysed thematically to capture emerging themes (Thomas, 2006).
The first strand of research comprises 20 semi-structured interviews between June
2010 and August 2011with professionals working for the housing association. Each professional was a front-line actor involved in the design, management or maintenance of
housing schemes developed under the directive of the UK governments policy the
Code for Sustainable Homes. These actors included architects, a building contractor,
development managers, a community regeneration officer, maintenance managers and
council employees. Interviews were carried out in two phases. Interviews were gained
with the assistance of actors working for the housing association.

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Table 1. Residents profile.

Household composition



4 (mother, father, two pre-teen children)

3 (mother, two teenage children)
6 (mother, father, two teenage children,
two pre-teen children)
3 (mother, grown-up son, teenage
4 (mother, father, two pre-teen children)
4 (mother, father, two pre-teen children)
2 (husband, wife)
3 (mother, two pre-teen children)




In the interviews we explored how different professionals operationalised the Code

through the installation of sustainable technologies, examining diverse engagements
with these technologies. As part of this line of questioning, we enquired into how residents were introduced to sustainable technologies within the home, and how certain
forms of use were encouraged by the housing association. Interviews with professionals
working in direct relation to the case study are referenced for our analysis.
The second strand of our research is a study with residents consisting of 24 in-depth
face-to-face interviews with eight households from January 2011 to April 2012.
Interviews were carried out in three stages: (1) a few months after moving into new properties (JanuaryFebruary 2011); (2) nine months later (OctoberNovember 2011); and
(3) subsequently five to six months after the second interviews (MarchApril 2012).
Repeat interviews allowed us to establish a rapport with the residents and gain an indepth understanding of the routine practices and strategies developed by them to manage
these technologies, their everyday lives and energy consumption over a sustained period
of time. Because of issues of confidentiality, the collaborating housing association made
initial contact with the residents to see if they were willing to participate, using our introductory material that summarised the aims and conditions of the study. Thereafter we led
the recruitment process. The eight households interviewed consisted of first-generation
immigrants from Vietnam (1), China (1), and Africa (5) as well as a household from
Britain. Their cultural backgrounds and daily practices vary. Details of their profiles are
presented in Table 1. Interviews were conducted in their homes and residents were
encouraged to discuss how they carried out their everyday routine activities and engaged
with the sustainable technologies.

Governance and Normative Assumptions about

Sustainable Consumption
Government presents its role as acting through multiple stakeholders in public, private and
third sectors, resulting in an image of an individual consumer targeted by a dense network of
complex institutional actors, each seeking to re-channel the choices of the self-interested
consumer into a calculus of carbon reduction. (Webb, 2012: 114)

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Diverse actors are involved in the enactment of environmental governance which seeks
to affect individual behaviour. The social housing association is a key organisation that
implements government environmental strategies by installing and encouraging correct
use of sustainable technologies. To meet funding and planning criteria, the development
of social housing needs to demonstrate the potential for its buildings to achieve targets of
carbon reduction and energy renewal set out by the Code. In the analysis that follows, we
identify three strategies mobilised by the housing association that aim to disseminate and
implement assumptions about the consumption of energy and the conduct of everyday
life what is good, normal, healthy, efficient and profitable (Miller and Rose, 2008: 55)
which are closely tied to technology use. Specific forms of knowledge about technology use and energy consumption are promoted. In attempts to achieve this, the housing
association adopts a rational-choice model firmly grounded within a technology-driven
discourse: choice and education are two approaches used to try and engender environmental behaviour change through the use of technologies.

Technological Determinism: Do Not Switch Off!

To educate the residents about how to use sustainable technologies and reduce the consumption of energy, leaflets are given to residents informing them that the technologies
are energy efficient. For example, the housing associations booklet states that solar
panels will help reduce the amount you pay for hot water. Sustainable technologies are
positioned as the primary means through which environmental change occurs. Efforts to
try and ensure technological efficiency include applying stickers and signs to switches
that inform the residents not to turn off the solar panel and air ventilation systems:
We did make little stickers saying do not switch off and stuck it over the socket hoping
that they [residents] wouldnt. Most of them havent, but some of them did have the mentality
that if its a switch it needs to be off otherwise youre paying for it With the solar panels
if they just left the system running they wouldnt pay for the hot water. In the summer
certainly not pay for it, and in the winter probably half and half. (Housing Development

This approach promotes the view that sustainable technologies alone will produce the
desired environmental effects if left switched on. As the quote suggests, however, there
exists a concern that residents will worry about the cost of keeping the sustainable technologies switched on and that by turning the technologies off, this will make them redundant. To try to counteract this potential for technological failure, as well as limit energy
consumption, a cost-based incentive is presented to residents.

Cost-based Incentives: How to Reduce Energy Consumption

In addition to written instructions, the housing association seeks to regulate energy consumption by offering advice to residents about how to reduce energy costs. As mentioned
earlier, residents recently moved from a nearby estate to the newly developed one, which
entailed significant changes to the type of residence, technologies used to generate hot

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water and ventilation, and billing method. Because of the different nature of energy provision and payment method, financial considerations are viewed as pivotal to changing
residents behaviour:
There was going to be quite a big increase in rent charges and service charges [In the
previous homes] the residents paid a certain amount, which included unlimited heating hot
water and cold water So if they had the heating on 24 hours a day they would be charged
the same amount if they had the heating on for 30 minutes It seemed that rather than turning
the heating down they would just open a window because they werent paying for it. So
its educating residents about the changes that are going to happen when they move into their
new homes. (Housing Regeneration Officer)

To manage the transition to a different means of energy provision, workshops were

devised to tackle budgeting and money management, and information leaflets disseminated among residents:
We did information booklets for residents we were making it clear to them that, you
know, you will pay for the amount of heating and hot water you use [If] you had concerns
about the heating and water charges we gave residents the opportunity to sit down with an
independent financial advisor. (Housing Regeneration Officer)

Residents do have concerns over the higher cost of living in the new houses. Yet despite
this apprehension, strategies that focus on cost alone do not significantly affect the routine practices of residents, as we discuss later. An additional strategy is used to try to
create the environmentally beneficial outcomes imagined with the installation of the
sustainable technologies. The housing association and affiliated professionals disseminate standardised advice about correct usage of sustainable and mundane technologies
within the home.

Standardised Advice: How to Conduct Your Life and Save Energy

Normative concepts about correct technology use are reflected in the advice provided
to residents by the housing association to save energy by, for example, regulating water
usage by reducing the length of time to take a shower (described below). In the following
quote a development officer tries to give advice to residents on how to live in the new
house on the moving-in day, whilst it is evident that residents concentrate on making it
their home:
[Residents] have a familiarisation process [to the new home], it lasts an hour per household
and they get leaflets to say this is what this does But obviously, the day they get their keys
is so exciting that anything they [we] say goes straight over their heads Youre going through
the house pointing out where things are and how things should be used. Theyre thinking
when can I get my carpets in, how big are these windows, can I measure them up for my
curtains? Completely different wavelength. Youre trying to go through this is how you live in
your home and theyre thinking about dcor, carpets and all the things that are exciting about
moving into a new home [our emphasis]. (Housing Development Officer)

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Housing association professionals promote ways of living within the home that are tied
to normative notions of technology use. This is clear in the advice given to residents on
how to reduce their energy consumption:
You can cut down on your water by taking a shower than a bath always load the washing
machine when it is completely full. Were directing a lot of residents to the Thames Water
website it gives information about how much a family of four would expect to spend if they
have a water meter property. (Housing Regeneration Officer)

This advice neglects socio-cultural practices and related meanings, such as notions of
cleanliness. Indeed, a resident described how she had been given a timer device to reduce
her shower time to four minutes. This was not sufficient enough time for her to feel
clean: Im not using it [the timer] any more Its too short for me. Im like, oh my God,
Ive not cleaned properly! (FO).
It is evident that potential tensions exist between the housing associations efforts to
introduce energy efficient practices within the home and residents daily socio-technological practices, which we investigate in detail in the next section. We have discussed
three strategies adopted by the housing association that try to govern the behaviour of residents. The first strategy assumes that sustainable technologies alone will achieve the
desired environmental effect. The second approach employs cost-based incentives to
reduce energy usage, making it a matter of choice to decide to use less heating and hot
water, for example. The third strategy offers standardised advice for resource intensive
practices such as showering, which assumes that consumption practices are universal and
remain constant with time. The desire for efficient sustainable technology use embodied
in these strategies thus neglects the cultural and social concepts and practices that underpin energy consumption (see Shove, 2010; Southerton et al., 2004; Spaargaren, 2011).
We next examine residents routine practices and their use of both sustainable and
mundane technologies as part of accomplishing their daily lives, which, we argue, have
a significant impact on the ways in which practices interrelate and the diverse ways in
which energy is consumed.

Juggling Practices: Cooking, Showering, and Organising

Social Life
In our analysis of residents practices we find that they conflict with standardised and
normative notions about the use of sustainable technologies. We argue that sustainable
technologies do influence how everyday practices are conducted, but in ways unexpected
by policy makers and the housing association. Adapting to the new technologies as part
of carrying out their lives, residents creatively develop novel practices that build on
existing cultural practices, which in turn affect processes of energy consumption. We
focus on two particular practices that are closely linked to the installed sustainable technologies: cooking, and showering/bathing. We argue that with mundane technologies,
sustainable technologies reciprocally and mutually participate in shaping the wider
socio-cultural lives of residents, through which resource intensive practices become
entwined and energy is consumed.

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The heat recovery ventilation system installed in the residents homes is purportedly
energy efficient by offering a means to control the indoor climate through providing
fresh air. The regulation of the indoor climate is supposed to require a lessened need to
open windows and thus allow the heat of the property to increase in the winter and
decrease in the summer. We found that some households adapted their cooking practice
to try to control steam and cooking smell, developing their own strategies to manage
ventilation as the ventilation system did not remove smells from cooking:
I have not used it [heat recovery ventilation]. I dont bother any more Sometimes I go in
there [the kitchen], I see theyve [other household members] left it on for two or three days and
I just switch it off. But if Im cooking I dont even bother because it doesnt work I have to
leave the front door open, leave the back door open. All the windows upstairs are open If I
am in the house the front door, kitchen window [is open] so that the smell will go. And I
dont cook in the evening, I cook in the morning so that will give it time [for the smell to go]
if I have to fry fish, I cant fry fish in this house because for the next three months the smell
with stay in the house. I will have to take it [a cooking hob] out [to the patio] and fry it there.

In addition to these strategies of scheduling cooking to the morning so that the smells
have time to dissipate, and changing the location of cooking from the kitchen to the garden patio, households also manage ventilation by cooking particular dishes, such as an
African stew. Residents cook the stew in bulk so that only one day a week is dedicated
to intensive cooking (producing smells and steam). Bulk cooking is scheduled when the
rest of the household is out of the house. This is important in colder months when opening windows and doors results in heat loss, but other family members are not affected:
[I shop] maybe two weeks ahead I buy my meat and fish, I have two [freezer] drawers that I
have left for that. Thats for the stew If youre doing all this cooking, it takes the whole day
to boil it, fry it, bag them in the freezer When you cook and you leave this door open, even
though you switch on the vent you can still smell it upstairs in the house but once you leave
the kitchen window open, at least the smell escapes immediately Its colder but then
Im the only one cooking in the kitchen and I do the cooking when no one is home. (MO)

Bulk shopping and cooking, as well as strategically using doors and windows, aids
households to manage ventilation. This process reciprocally shapes how families organise their time and leisure practices. Assembling the stew offers flexibility to conduct
these practices and achieve ventilation. This flexibility is also facilitated by technologies
such as the refrigerator-freezer to store large quantities of food and the microwave to
provide instant meals (see Shove and Southerton, 2000), which frees up residents
time for other activities:
[Now that we have bought a fridge freezer] she [his wife] will cook stew and then put them
in small containers and just freeze them. So you just go to the freezer as and when you need
them put them in the microwave just like those ready-made foods that you buy She
does a major cooking and she spends something like three hours in the kitchen And that will

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last sometimes nearly two months Its sort of freed up time to attend to other things, like
maybe go to the library, go to the pub, and you know, do the shopping. (IA)
I cook for the week the stew can be eaten with rice or whatever If I cook it on Saturdays
it lasts by [till] Wednesday or Thursday and Friday we just eat out. Once its cooked it can
be left in the fridge. [The stew] would be a mixture of fish, beans, and chicken, everything
goes together spiced up The boys can just come back from school they will just go in the
freezer, get it and, you know, put it in the microwave Some weekends we have weddings
So I tend to do [bulk shopping and cooking], like I did last weekend, so for the next three weeks
now Im OK, I dont have to get to the market If you have an African wedding you have to
go from about 12 pm, all day practically My son [also] has football on Saturday then you
have people who want to visit you we dont have any free weekends any more we dont
have any free day, let me just put it like that. (MO)

The incorporation of a new technology with existing ways of living in the home culminates in the emergence of novel socio-technological practices and arrangements. We see
next how these new arrangements have a knock-on effect on the conduct of other
resource intensive practices, such as showering. How these practices are adapted and
become entangled influences how energy is consumed. For instance, to manage ventilation one household made changes to the hardware and techniques of practice, such as
the tools and methods of cooking, giving up their traditional Vietnamese food, and cooking by not frying, but steaming:
The housing [association] dont give us permission to fit the extractor hood, so that means
were not allowed to make the food like before We have to change the way we cook
before [we moved in] we can [could] cook our dishes like traditional [Vietnamese food], but
since we move here we prefer to steam [rather than fry] Mostly we have for dinner is
vegetables, and we mix our fish which [we] make very quickly We dont cook as complicated
as before, so the ingredients we find [are] very simple We prefer the taste before more than
[to] now, but we have to get used to it. (TN)

This change has consequences for ways in which the resident organises her daily life and
other practices. The cooking is now simpler but with less flavour; because of this, alternative efforts were sought to introduce flavour by marinating food. This process demands
a significant period of time to complete and so the respondent schedules her food preparation for each morning:
You have to leave it [food] for a couple of hours at least and then it turns out very tasty. If you
do it too quickly it turns out like not tasty. Thats why I always prefer to do it in the morning
the gap between preparing and the meal is about four or five hours if I prepare in advance
the time I cook is less And when we have dinner I dont feel so tired Thats why I prefer
a shower in the morning because I prepare the food, after that I have a shower and in the
evening I cook it just 1520 minutes and we have dinner You have a nice dinner with your
family and were talking, my children are talking about what is happening at school. (TN)

Adopting a new cooking method and arranging her time in this way affects the scheduling of her shower and the demarcation of family time. It is evident that one strategy to

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cope with a new technology embodied in a new practice has a domino effect on the
arrangement of other activities during the day.
Residents alter their practices: the tools (ingredients), methods (steaming, frying) and
techniques (recipes) of cooking, to enact unique strategies for ventilation. These strategies are entwined in efforts to juggle family activities and time. The notion that adequate
ventilation will occur if you just keep the vent switched on promotes the idea that there
exists a universal home and user, separating sustainable technologies from these wider
social and cultural practices. Yet in reality we see that the varied practices of food preparation and cooking mutually shape residents engagement with technologies and their
energy consumption. Clearly, a standard ventilation system alone cannot control the
indoor climate and improve energy efficiency, as it overlooks the creative and culturally
diverse practices of residents. Sustainable technologies can change established routines
(Spaargaren, 2011) in ways unanticipated by the housing association: residents actively
adapt to these technologies with varied implications for use. Through these processes
new cultural practices emerge with potentially diverse and conflicting consequences for
anticipated environmental outcomes.

Showering and Bathing

As we saw above, changes in residents practices affected by newly installed sustainable
technologies have repercussions for alternative practices, such as the scheduling of
showering. Indeed, Hand et al. (2005) suggest it is important to:
acknowledge the temporal and sequential scheduling of everyday practices and to know
where showering or bathing fit into the daily or weekly routine the shower belongs to a set
of domestic devices whose popularity has grown precisely because they promise to help people
cope with the temporal changes of modern life (Warde, 1999). (Hand et al., 2005: 78).

The arrangement of time, family members and work, for example, demands careful planning and coordination and the shower aids this by allowing for speed and convenience
(Hand et al., 2005: 78). In the following quote, a family morning timetable is scheduled around showering:
Everyone takes a shower and leaves We wake up around 6.30. I think we finish, all of us, by
7.30. Within one hour everyone has finished, six people And by eight oclock weve all left.
First me or their mum, because of the nature of our work. It might be delayed. Otherwise my
bigger daughter, she has to leave by 7.30. She always gets to her job early. Theres a boy, the
same thing, he might leave at quarter or ten to eight. Theres one she leaves at ten past eight,
and the other one, the youngest daughter leaves at 8.30. (GT)

Current work on practices sheds light on the relations between showering and strategies
of time management (Southerton, 2006; Warde, 1999). Building on this, we argue that
residents wider socio-cultural organising praxis is shaped by sustainable and mundane
technologies, and vice versa, affecting how practices become interrelated, in turn, influencing other resource intensive practices. As part of the praxis of daily life, routine practices are closely interconnected; we cannot view them in isolation.

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Showering and bathing practices are also part of, and intertwined with, residents
social life:
[My daughter] doesnt have a bath in the morning, she has a bath in the night But if its
weekend when Im at home, she has to have a bath in the morning because we have to go to
church, so I cant leave and go out of the house without having a proper wash. (OO)
We all take a shower in the morning You use a bath for your children, maybe in the evening
We do baths in the evening if the kids have been to sports, and you know, summertime, because
they roll on the grass, they do a lot in summer, we do both morning and evening (MO)

In the latter household, the demarcation of morning showering (adults) and evening bathing (children) is closely tied to the practices in which adults (work) and children (sports)
are involved. The consumption of energy services, such as showering, and energy itself,
are together accomplished as part of peoples daily lives (Wilhite, 2008).
Practices (re)configure and sustain one another; they are intertwined with and constitutive of existing ways of doing things, which are adapted and transformed through
negotiating new social, cultural, and technological arrangements. Efforts to govern residents practices and energy consumption through strategies that essentially bracket off
sustainable technologies from the lives and activities of residents disregard how sustainable technologies contribute to how residents arrange their daily lives. During these
juggling acts new forms of practice are created, which do not conform to the technologies characteristics and technological potential anticipated by housing professionals.
Advice, such as taking a shower instead of a bath, therefore, does not lead to so-called
behaviour change as imagined by policy makers.

Discussion and Conclusion

There are clear tensions between the assumed normative ways of use of technology and
actual use. From the social practices perspective it is evident that domestic energy management and consumption is shaped by peoples attempts to juggle everyday routines
and wider socio-cultural praxis, rather than driven by sustainable technologies alone, as
policy makers and housing providers imagine. The heat recovery ventilation system does
not manage indoor climate by itself. Rather, it is affected by culturally diverse cooking
practices, ventilation strategies creatively developed by residents, and the scheduling of
other resource intensive practices. The solar water heating system is not used according
to its technical characteristics (e.g. generating hot water when the sun is out). Instead,
residents adapt showering and bathing practices to manage time as well as family and
social activities, reflecting divergent cultural norms and priorities. In most cases, these
processes of adaptation dominate over efforts to conform to the requirements of the sustainable technologies demanded of residents to achieve sustainable outcomes. Strategies
that rely upon consumer choice as a mechanism to deliver sustainable outcomes are thus
problematic. Residents socio-technological practices, which comprise sustainable and
mundane technologies, and are affected by the wider socio-cultural conditions and management of everyday life, influence energy consumption. Simply offering cost-incentive

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and standardised advice overlooks how energy consumption is achieved. The policy
approach of asking individuals to change their behaviours in accordance with the characteristics and requirements of the sustainable technologies simply does not work.
Residents narratives not only reinforce well-established sociological criticisms of the
policys rational-choice model, but also further our understanding of the relations between
sustainable technologies, practices and energy consumption. The narratives offer deeper
insights into how practices mutually shape and sustain each other. Analysing these, we
have empirically demonstrated and furthered our understanding of the interconnectedness of practices (Rechwitz, 2002; Shove and Walker, 2010), by broadening this theoretical contention in relation to the contingent socio-cultural and technological frames of
residents lives and their implicated ways of engaging with technologies. In doing so, we
have demonstrated how the entanglement of practices shapes energy consumption.
We contend that the relations between mundane practices (e.g. cooking and showering
or bathing) are entwined and constitutive of activities as residents creatively adapt to the
sustainable technologies, generating new forms of cultural practice. Despite recent work
that examines how mundane technologies become enrolled as part of objectual elements of
practice and energy consumption, there needs to be a greater appreciation of how both
sustainable and mundane technologies affect the interrelations between residents practices
in the sphere of culture (Pickering, 1995: 4) that influence how energy is consumed.
Governance attempts to promote normative concepts of correct use, which depend
on consumer choice, do not materialise in practice and thus have limitations.
Environmental sustainability cannot be achieved without understanding how sustainable
technologies reciprocally shape and are incorporated into residents activities and lives.
The rational-choice model excludes fundamental questions about routine practice and
the pervasive effect of social and technological relationships on energy consumption.
There is no linear relationship between sustainable technologies and sustainable energy
consumption. Rather, future research needs to investigate the different trajectories of
use that materialise out of the interrelations between practices. The varied practices that
emerge have important implications for how energy is consumed.
We thank the collaborating housing association and residents for their participation in this research.
This article was jointly written.

This research was funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EP/

1. UK domestic energy consumption comprises 28.4 per cent of total energy consumption
(BERR, 2008) and residential carbon emissions account for 29.4 per cent (DECC, 2011).
2. The Code for Sustainable Homes provides recommendations for house builders to make new
buildings environmentally sustainable. Developers and builders are able to choose technologies for each development. Points, which are calculated into Code levels, are given depending
on how much improvement they make (DCLG, 2006a).

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Ritsuko Ozaki is Senior Research Fellow in the Imperial College Business School. Her background is sociology and her research focuses on the adoption and consumption of new technologies and initiatives, with a particular focus on energy and environmental sustainability. Her current
research explores the acceptance and use of new energy services, such as time-of-use tariffs.
Isabel Shaw is Research Associate in the Imperial College Business School. Her research interests
include environmental sustainability, material and visual culture, and cultural economy from a science and technology studies perspective. Her background is in anthropology and sociology, having
obtained her PhD from the sociology department at Lancaster University in 2008.
Date submitted February 2013
Date accepted May 2013


The Sociological Quarterly ISSN 0038-0253

THREE ECOLOGIES: Urban Metabolism and

the Society-Nature Opposition
David Wachsmuth*
New York University

This article is an intellectual history of two enduring binariessociety-nature and citycountrysideand their co-identification, told through evolving uses of the concept of urban
metabolism. After recounting the emergence of the modern society-nature opposition in the
separation of town and country under early industrial capitalism, I interpret three ecologies
successive periods of urban metabolism research spanning three disciplines within the social sciences. The first is the human ecology of the Chicago School, which treated the city as an
ecosystem in analogy to external, natural ecosystems. The second is industrial ecology: materialsflow analyses of cities that conceptualize external nature as the source of urban metabolisms raw
materials and the destination for its social wastes. The third is urban political ecology, a reconceptualization of the city as a product of diverse socio-natural flows. By analyzing these three
traditions in succession, I demonstrate both the efficacy and the limits to Catton and Dunlaps
distinction between a human exemptionalist paradigm and a new ecological paradigm in

Louis Wirth opened his celebrated article Urbanism as a Way of Life with the observation that nowhere has mankind been farther removed from organic nature than
under the conditions of life characteristic of great cities (Wirth 1938:12). Historically, this has been a common sentiment, but one we now know is wrong. Nature is as
much present in city concrete as in a farmers field. Indeed, Wirths statement eloquently expresses the society-nature oppositionthe idea that the social and the
natural are distinct and perhaps opposed realms of reality. This article is an urban
intellectual history of that opposition, told via one specific concept that is particularly
expressive of the evolution of the theme over time: urban metabolism.
The term metabolism was coined in the early 19th century to describe chemical
changes within living cells. Within 50 years, its use was widespread in biology and what
would become biochemistry to characterize processes of organic breakdown and
recomposition, within individual organisms (at a cellular scale) and between organisms and their environment. Ever since, metabolism has lived a dual existence in the
natural sciences, referring both to processes by which bodies change and reproduce
themselves and to more holistic conceptions of ecosystem relations (Fischer-Kowalski
1998; Foster 1999).
*Direct all correspondence to David Wachsmuth, Department of Sociology, New York University, 295
Lafayette St, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10012; e-mail:

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It was in the latter register that the metabolism concept entered the social sciences,
via Karl Marx, who appropriated it to describe first the human transformation of
nature through labor and second the capitalist system of commodity exchange. Marx
was also the first to use the concept of social metabolism to question the apparent
separation between human beings and their environment:
What requires explanation is not the unity of living and active human beings with
the natural, inorganic conditions of their metabolism with nature. . . . What we
must explain is the separation of these inorganic conditions of human existence
from this active existence. (Marx 1964:8687; emphasis in original)
This is the society-nature divide, which Marx elsewhere referred to as a metabolic
rift (Foster 2000). In this article, I reexamine it as a distinctively urban phenomenon.
I begin by recasting familiar arguments about the production of nonhuman nature
to emphasize that the society-nature opposition took its modern form in the separation of town and country under the emergence of industrial capitalism. The
co-identification of these two oppositionssociety-nature and city-countrysideis
the rubric I use to interpret changing uses of the metaphor of urban metabolism. I
analyze three ecologies: three successive periods of urban metabolism research
spanning three disciplines within the social sciences.
The first is the human ecology of the Chicago School. In what was to become the
dominant sociological understanding of the city for much of the 20th century, Robert
Park and Ernest Burgess treated the city as an ecosystem in analogy to external, natural
ecosystems, and conceptualized urban metabolism as a process of social (i.e., nonnatural) change internal to the city. The second era of the urban metabolism concept is that
of industrial ecology: materials-flow analyses of cities, following Wolmans (1965)
foundational text The Metabolism of Cities. Like the Chicago School, it locates
society spatially within cities, but adds external nature as the source of raw inputs and
the destination for social wastes. The final era is the rise of urban political ecology
(UPE), a hybrid approach to studying urban natures premised on an analytical dissolution of the society-nature division. These scholars explicitly reconceptualize the city as
a product of diverse socio-natural flows.
The succession of the three ecologies demonstrates a progressively greater awareness of the role of nature within urbanization and thus within human society, but also
a changing real relationship between these terms. Nature begins as entirely absent from
the city, proceeds to inhabit its outside, and ends up profoundly implicated in its production and reproduction. The history I present here thus offers a qualification to
Catton and Dunlaps (1980) influential elaboration of a break in sociology between a
human exemptionalist paradigm, which holds human society to be exempt from
natural forces and constraints, and a new ecological paradigm, which incorporates
natural forces into its analysis. On the one hand, I demonstrate that a similar break
occurred outside the domain of mainstream sociology, lending support to their argument that changing material conditions have driven changing awareness of the role of
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environmental factors in the social world. But on the other hand, the limits of the new
ecological paradigm are illustrated by further developments in urban metabolism
research in recent decades that have been slow to occur in either environmental or
urban sociology. I return to these considerations in the conclusion.
The city is now frequently presumed to be the future proving ground for the relationship between human beings and their natural environment. Here, for example, is a
recent edition of UN-HABITATs influential State of the Worlds Cities report:
From a sustainable development perspective, the welfare of future generations
depends on how well present generations tackle the environmental burdens associated with urban living. Environmental harmonybetween rural and urban areas,
and within citiesis a growing concern among urban planners, policymakers and
environmentalists. (UN-HABITAT 2008:122)
Many such statements are contextualized with reference to a dawning urban age: 50
percent of the worlds population now live in cities. This is a round number, but ultimately not a very compelling quantitative justification for an apparently qualitative
shift in the relationship between cities, society, and the environment. If urbanization
has indeed provoked a metabolic rift in the social relation to nature (Foster 2000), it is
hard to see how any particular demographic threshold could be decisive. In fact, this
relationship is not as novel as contemporary discourse often assumes: the modern form
of the society-nature opposition is to a large extent a consequence of the separation of
town and country under 19th-century capitalism.
The basic proposition is that modern Western understandings of nature were set in
the emergence of industrial capitalism. In particular, what I take to be the most important feature of the society-nature oppositionthe idea that nature is a realm external
to human society and in some sense even antithetical to itowes its modern, recognizable existence to the social transformations wrought by the industrial revolution. This
argument is a common one, in some form or another (e.g., Polanyi 1944; Williams
1973, 1980; Berger 1980; Cronon 1995; Foster 2000; Smith 2008). The scholars who
have made it have persuasively demonstrated the role that the society-nature opposition has played in (1) legitimizing both the human domination of nature in the name
of progress, and (2) naturalizing socially produced injustices such as inequality, racism,
sexism, war, and imperialism.
But much of this research has tended to downplay the specific aspect of industrial
capitalism most responsible for the setting the terms of the modern society-nature
opposition: the separation of town and country.1 We see this clearly in William
Cronons brilliant article on the creation of wildernessanother term for external,
nonhuman nature. Echoing the seminal work of Nash (1967), Cronon (1995:69) argues
that wilderness is quite profoundly a human creationindeed, the creation of very
particular human cultures at very particular moments in human history, and locates

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this creation in 19th-century North America and Western Europe. He identifies two
important causes of the production of external nature: the sublime and the frontier.
The former is a Romantic sense of spiritual wonder imbued in certain remote landscapes, common, according to Cronon, to European and American imaginaries of
nature. The latter is a more distinctively American concept of promise and renewal
outside the bounds of civilization.
Cronon demonstrates the positive origin of wilderness as both sublime and frontier,
but only hints occasionally at its negative origin. That is, what was wilderness being
defined in contrast to, beyond industrial civilization in general? The closest we get in his
account is the following line: The dream of an unworked natural landscape is very
much the fantasy of people who have never themselves had to work the land to make a
livingurban folk for whom food comes from a supermarket or a restaurant instead
of a field, and for whom the wooden houses in which they live and work apparently
have no meaningful connection to the forests in which trees grow and die (Cronon
1995:80). But of course there were urban folk who did not grow their own food long
before either the sublime or the frontier separated the idea of nature from the idea of
society. So what changed?
The answer is the separation of town and country into distinctive and apparently
autonomous social realities, a process ushered in by the new spatial division of labor of
European industrial capitalism. As Sennett (1969:3) observes of Western Europe, up to
the time of the Industrial Revolution, the city was taken by most social thinkers to be
the image of society itself, and not some special, unique form of social life. We find a
paradigmatic example in the first book of Rousseaus Social Contract, where the term
city simply describes the body politic. Such a usage does not imply a contrast of city
with any other social sphere, and certainly not with an agricultural or pastoral countryside. Indeed, it would have been strange had Rousseau drawn such a contrast. For historically, as Weber (1958:70) notes concisely, The relation of the city to agriculture has
not been clear cut.
In England by the 19th century, however, manufacturing (previously dispersed
throughout the countryside in so-called cottage industries) was concentrating along
with a growing working class in the cities (Polanyi 1944; Thompson 1963). And
embattled rural communities, increasingly finding their ways of life threatened by the
new political and economic weight of the cities, engaged in radical acts of resistance
that paralleled the better known urban oppositional movements such as Luddism
(Calhoun 1982). The result was a widespread (i.e., both intellectual and popular)
imaginary of town and country as opposing but inextricably linked forces in English
society. The new industrial cities were not contrasted with smaller towns (as, for
instance, Rousseau earlier contrasted the metropolis with the town [Ellison 1985]) but
with the countryside. And the fate of the countryside was held to be a question of
reining in the destructive influence of the city (Spirn 1985).
In other words, within the citycountry relationship, the city came to occupy the
socially decisive position by the late 19th century. (This despite the fact that the majority of the English population continued to reside in villages and small towns.) The city
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became the active, social subjectthe place where society really is locatedwhile the
countryside was progressively reduced to a dominated, nonsocial other (Haila
This is the context that Cronon was no doubt aware of but did not emphasize in his
account of the creation of wilderness. When he quotes Wordsworths Prelude, with its
solemn depiction of sacred nature, he might plausibly have paired it with William
Blakes And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time, a poem composed in 1804, within a few
years of Wordsworths:
And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills? (Blake 1994:114)
Here, wildernessexternal, nonhuman natureis put in its proper historical context,
next to the dark Satanic Mills of the newly industrializing city. We might likewise juxtapose Walt Whitmans Leaves of Grassits reflections on external nature readily locatable within the American transcendentalist traditionwith his later, modernist work
about New York City. It is the same coin: on one side, society in the city; on the other,
nature in the countryside.
Finally, here is Ebenezer Howard, writing in 1898, describing the magnets of town
and country that pull on individuals:
But neither the Town magnet nor the Country magnet represents the full plan and
purpose of nature. Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be
enjoyed together. The two magnets must be made one. As man and woman by their
varied gifts and faculties supplement each other, so should town and country.
(Howard 1965:9)
Notice with how little hesitation Howard moves between town and country and
society and nature as expressions of the same opposition. Such an attitude was perfectly sensible in England by the end of the 19th century, but would have been nearly
incomprehensible 150 years earlier. This is the fundamental development I wish to
identify: the social separation of town from country in the rise of industrial capitalism,
and as a consequence, the perceived separation of human society from nonhuman
nature. In this sense, both the society-nature opposition and its manifestation in mainstream sociology as the human exemptionalist paradigm are constitutively urban
phenomena (Dunlap and Catton 1994:6; Clement 2010:292).

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The metaphor of metabolism was present almost from the very beginning of urban
sociology, in Burgesss (1925) article on The Growth of the City. Although Burgess
did not use this language, his concept of urban metabolism can be readily restated
along the lines of the society-nature opposition; like human ecology more generally, he
spatially mapped the social onto the city while relegating nature to an unspecified
Burgesss The Growth of the City is most famous for its concentric-circle model
of urban growth, whereby socioeconomic zones tend to expand outward and thus
invade neighboring zones in a process of succession (a term borrowed, like metabolism, from the natural sciences). But the way Burgess characterizes the process of
growth is what concerns us here:
[Questions about the growth of the city] may best be answered, perhaps, by thinking of urban growth as a resultant of organization and disorganization analogous
to the . . . processes of metabolism in the body. (Burgess 1925:53)
Burgess emphasizes two features of urban metabolism. First, he identifies the specific
process at work in the metabolism as mobility, which he defines as nonroutine movement, in contrast to later traditions in urban sociology that have tended to emphasize the importance of routine commuting patterns for constituting the
urban social fabric. Second, he distinguishes between two metabolic pathways
disorganization and organizationand argues that mobility leads to the former, while
consistency leads to the latter. While he holds some disorganization to be necessary for
subsequent reorganization ( la creative destruction), a surplus of disorganization
that is, too much mobility and not enough consistencywill unbalance the citys
metabolism and manifest as areas of demoralization, of promiscuity, and of vice
(Burgess 1925:59).
Despite the wide attention Burgesss article received as one of the foundational
documents of Chicago School human ecology, his specific treatment of urban metabolism has been overshadowed by the accompanying concentric-circle model of the city.
Little more than scattered applications of Burgesss metaphor appeared over the
decades after he published the article (e.g., Terpenning 1928; Hansen 1954), and an
otherwise comprehensive history of metabolism in the social sciences does not
mention or cite Burgess (Fischer-Kowalski 1998). Meanwhile, one recent study of
exactly Burgesss conception of urban metabolism as the mobility of people and their
interactions, despite using the metabolism terminology, fails to mention Burgess at all
(Townsend 2000).
Despite its relative obscurity, Burgesss urban metabolism speaks eloquently to the
human ecology project in general. To a significant degree, Burgess simply applied a
plausible metaphor to the theme of social order and disorder that was already emerging as a major concern of the Chicago School. But the very use of biological metaphors

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is telling: there was always a tension within the Chicago Schoolas in early
20th-century sociology more generallyabout which were appropriate, and about how
far to take them. In the first pages of his seminal article, Park (1915:57778) proposes
to study the city as a mechanism, but immediately hedges by suggesting it might also
be characterized as a growth. In Burgesss The Growth of the City, there is a basic
incompatibility between the metabolism metaphor, which implies that the city should
be treated as an organism (a sort of scaling down of Herbert Spencers conception of
society as an organism), and the succession metaphor, which implies that the city
should be treated as an ecosystem.
Human ecology was above all an investigation of how humans adapt to their
environment, with the city serving as the privileged environment for the Chicago
Schools research program. But, as Burgesss urban metabolism demonstrates, the relevant environment was conceived of as entirely a social one (for the same tendency
in subsequent mainstream sociology, see Catton and Dunlap 1980:22). All the biological metaphors remain just thatmetaphors. Burgess uses the concept of metabolism in analogy to natural metabolism, but nature itself makes no appearance in
Burgesss account whatsoever, nor does it figure significantly into human ecology
more generally.
The lack of a real role for naturewhether as resources, local flora and fauna, landscape, weather and climate, and so onin Burgesss explanatory agenda leads to some
remarkable tensions. For Burgess, the city is a self-contained system, within which
people and their social ties circulate, integrate, and disintegrate with no reference to the
outside world except ongoing human immigration. But at the same time, he is studying
the growth of the city: he understands urban metabolism to be a process of transformation, not simply reproduction, and growth itself is a premise rather than something
to be explained. In other words, Burgess approaches the city as (1) a self-contained
system (either in analogy to an organism or an ecosystem) (2) that is ceaselessly
growing. These two attributes are, of course, mutually exclusive. Any plant ecologist
who found a bounded system that grew indefinitely would be surprised indeed.
This is the society-nature opposition mapped onto town and country in its barest
form. The study of society is the study of the city, while nature lurks as an unmentioned backdrop, at best to inform the study of primitive folk societies in the countryside. There could be no clearer example of Catton and Dunlaps (1980) human
exemptionalist paradigm in action. But to observe the absence of a substantive role for
nature from human ecology is not to retrospectively accuse Burgess and the rest of the
Chicago School of incompetence or blindness. These scholars sought to understand a
novel social systemthe industrial citythat appeared to be operating under its own
autonomous, self-perpetuating logic. In this sense, urban metabolismand human
ecology more generallyfollows directly from the separation of town and country discussed above. A purely social urban metabolism, endlessly growing but nevertheless
self-contained, only became a plausible idea once cities were sufficiently large as a
result of rural-urban migration, sufficiently autonomous as social realms, and sufficiently significant in the general course of social life.

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While Burgesss use of urban metabolism ended up an orphan, the next time the
concept surfaced it made a considerable impact on scholarly understandings of
urbanization and society-nature relations. This was via industrial ecology: the discipline concerned with materials and energy flows through industrial systems.
Although industrial ecologists study systems at a variety of scalesfrom individual
factories and industrial districts up to national economies and the entire globea
distinctive subfield has grown up around measuring materials flows through cities
and urban regions. It is here that the concept of urban metabolism made its second
important appearance (Fischer-Kowalski 1998; Fischer-Kowalski and Httler 1999).
Like human ecology, industrial ecology uses the concept of metabolism to understand the growth of cities; but unlike the former, the latter explicitly grounds its
understanding of urban growth in resource consumption and environmental constraints. Emerging in the 1960s and 1970s, industrial ecology thus expressed the
beginnings of Catton and Dunlaps new ecological paradigm in parallel to similar
developments within environmental sociology.
The story begins with Wolmans (1965) The Metabolism of Cities, in which he
pioneered the practice of studying the city as a machine for converting natural
resources into wastes. Fresh water enters the urban metabolism and exits as sewage;
iron enters the urban metabolism and exits via the scrapheap. Wolmans study was
stylized with respect to a hypothetical US city with a population of one million, but it
inspired a number of more detailed investigations. Although difficulties with data collection and comparability have limited the pace of this research, subsequent metabolic
studies have managed to quantify flows of water, materials, energy, and nutrients into
and out of a growing number of metropolitan regions (Decker et al. 2000; Kennedy,
Cuddihy, and Engel-Yan 2007). And while most of these studies have simply been
tallies of materials and energy, Newman (1999) has tentatively extended the metabolism idea to encompass other dimensions of sustainability, such as livability and health,
thus bringing the industrial ecology model of urban metabolism closer to the social
concerns of Burgesss original formulation.
The theoretical underpinnings of the industrial ecology approach to urban
metabolism have best been elaborated by the environmentalist Girardet (1996), who
for decades has banged the drum for urban sustainability. Most significantly, he draws
a distinction between circular and linear metabolisms: the former supposedly characterizes the natural worldone organisms waste is anothers sustenanceand the
latter characterizes the urban worldresources in, waste out. Girardet thus understands the dawning global environmental crisis to be an over-proliferation of linear
metabolisms as cities grow and spread.
Environmental sociologists may recognize the similarity between this diagnosis of
environmental crisis and that of Foster (1999, 2000), whose theory of metabolic rift
has become increasingly influential in the last decade. Foster builds on Marxs observation that the concentration of industry (and population) in cities that accompanied

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early industrial capitalism opened a rift in the circulation of soil nutrients. Nutrients
still left the soil as food, and yet, since this food was consumed far from its point of
origin, the waste products were no longer returned to the soil as fertilizer but were
simply expelled out the sewers. What had previously been a circulatory metabolism
was becoming a one-way flow. Foster generalizes this idea into a critique of capitalisms
tendency to undermine the conditions for its own survival (although one still rooted in
the imbalance between the city and the countryside), and other researchers have fruitfully applied the concept of metabolic rift to a variety of environmental questions (e.g.,
Moore 2000; Clark and York 2005). In all cases, the basic formulation resembles Girardets distinction between linear metabolism and circular metabolism, although the etiology differs and the political thrust is more radical.
Girardet presents the underlying conception behind these approaches to urban
metabolism in an unusually clear form:
Cities transform raw materials into finished products. They convert food, fuels,
forest products, minerals, water, and human energy into buildings, manufactured
goods, and financial and political power: all the components of civilization. (Girardet 1996:20)
In other words, urban metabolism is the conversion of nature into society. Likewise, in Newmans model of urban metabolismthe most holistic of the empirical
studies within industrial ecologynatural resources remain the sole inputs, to be
metabolized through dynamics of settlements into both livability and waste
outputs (Newman 1999:22021). Correspondingly, from Wolmans initial intervention to the present, industrial ecology has approached urban sustainability specifically
as the need for cities to consume fewer natural resourcesthat is, consume less
nature. (Not surprisingly, the focus of urban metabolism studies has increasingly
shifted from resources to carbon emissions [e.g., Chen and Chen 2012], reflecting
the larger transition in environmental concern from limits to growth to climate
The consequence is that industrial ecology implicitly maps the society-nature
opposition onto town and country in the same fashion as human ecology, although
natures role is elaborated. The country is the geographical area where natureraw
materialsis located, while the city is the geographical area where the society that
metabolizes this nature is located. The difference is that for human ecology, the object
of investigation was the growth of the city in social terms, so Chicago School sociologists could import analogies with nature into a purely social account of city growth,
while for industrial ecology the object of investigation is the sustainability of urban
resource use, so for Wolman, Girardet and the rest the city is only understandable in
relation to the external natural environment that supplies the raw materials for its
If industrial ecology gives a greater role in its urban metabolism to nature than
does human ecology, it gives a lesser role to humans. This is hardly surprisingthat

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materials science would pay more attention to materials, and sociology would pay
more attention to the socialbut it is worth emphasizing, because it strongly
informs the way that both environmental problems and their potential solutions are
approached. The industrial ecology approach is ultimately technocratic: it presents
environmental problems as technical problems rather than social ones. Girardet
(2008:124), for example, after discussing the imperative for cities to adopt circular
metabolisms, asks What does a circular metabolism mean in practice? The answer,
it turns out, is a discussion of cooperation on waste diversion between corporations
and the municipal government in a Danish town. We are told that such cooperation
is desirable and that other cities should emulate it. But what led the corporations and
municipality to cooperate? What were the politics at work? The power structures and
forms of contestation? In other words, where are the social and the historical?
For Girardet, the problem of linear urban metabolisms and thus unsustainable
urban society is one of insufficient local will. Nature stands at the ready, in a static
fashion, to be used in more or less harmonious ways. Cities (consistently and uncritically imbued with agentic properties in his account) each need to adopt more sustainable environmental practices with respect to that static nature to convert their
linear metabolisms into circular onesto close their individual metabolic rifts and
thereby reduce the resource pressure they put on the earth. But this raises the question: why should we look for municipal solutions to the pathologies of urban
metabolism when the environmental pressures are universally understood to be
regional or indeed planetary? Are problems in the city necessarily problems of the
Throughout the industrial ecology literature on urban metabolism, we frequently
find self-consciously global environmental questions mapped onto the city. Wolman
(1965:179; emphasis added) is paradigmatic in this regard, introducing his foundational text with the observation that the planet cannot assimilate without limit the
untreated wastes of civilization, and then pivoting to a discussion of the city. Where
there is a justification for such logical leaps in more contemporary scholarship, it is
usually an invocation of the urban age thesis discussed briefly above. Our global
society is now an urban society, so solutions to our global problems must be urban
solutions. It is worth noting that Foster, whose diagnosis of the pathologies of contemporary urban metabolism has a lot in common with Girardet, makes no such
assumption. For Foster, the metabolic rift is a feature of global capitalism, and repairing the rift means confronting capitalism at a global scale. Marshaling the local will
of cities may well be part of such a confrontation, but cannot be the confrontation
itself. Still, Girardets assumption, widely shared as it is, demonstrates the potency of
the conflation of the society-nature and town-country oppositions. Society is in the
city, nature is in the country, so if there is a crisis in the relationship of society to
nature, the thinking goes, we must look for solutions in the city. The same tendency
is present in environmental sociology, where many analyses of urbanization have
treated it as a source of environmental degradation (Clement 2010:294)cities consuming nature.
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The final phase in the history of urban metabolism belongs to urban political ecology
(UPE), a hybrid field at the intersection of political ecology and urban geography.
While Wolman and industrial ecology developed the metabolism concept independently of Burgess and human ecology, from the outset, UPEs leading practitioners
have analyzed industrial ecology metabolism and have developed their own distinctive
position to some extent as a critique of industrial ecology (e.g., Gandy 2004:374; Keil
and Boudreau 2006:4142; Swyngedouw 2006:3334). The key transition has been
from the proposition that social worldsincluding citiesare constructed on natural
foundations and subject to natural constraints (the new ecological paradigm perspective) to the proposition that nature does not stop at the foundations: the city is constitutively social and natural from the bottom to the top, and urban nature is just as
political as urban society. In this regard, UPE holds valuable lessons for environmental
and urban sociology, which still generally treats nature as a fuel in urban societys
Political ecologythe study of the politics of environmental degradation and environmental rehabilitationemerged in the same post-exuberant 1970s moment
(Catton and Dunlap 1980) of increasing environmental awareness as did industrial
ecology and environmental sociology. By the late 1990s the field was undergoing a
poststructuralist reassessment, in the midst of which Swyngedouw (1996) made his
initial call for a UPE. Until then, political ecology, like its cognate field of rural sociology, had concerned itself more or less exclusively with rural and wilderness areas. In a
sense, with respect to the relationship between the town-country and society-nature
oppositions, political ecology was the inverse of Chicago School human ecology: an
insightful analysis of the production of nature, but spatially mapped exclusively onto
the countryside, just as the Chicago Schools analysis of the social was mapped onto
the city. It is no coincidence, then, that Swyngedouws argument for a UPE was simultaneously an attempt to rethink the society-nature opposition in general.
The concept of urban metabolism that Swyngedouw (1996, 2006) develops
borrows heavily from Marxs original formulation of social metabolism as the human
transformation of nature through labora creative and social process that produces
and reproduces both human life and the natural world. But to avoid the traps of the
society-nature and material-discursive binaries, Swyngedouw introduces the neologism
socio-nature, insisting upon the ubiquity of nature in social realms (including the
city), while denying that nature can ever be independent of the social. The implication
is that we do not needand indeed cannot havespecific conceptual or methodological tools for investigating the place of nature in the city, as industrial ecology assumes.
All the features of modern urbanization are socio-natural, including the production of
dams, the re-engineering of rivers, the management of biodiversity hotspots, the transfiguration of DNA codes, the cultivation of tomatoes (genetically modified or not) or
the construction of houses (Swyngedouw 2006:27).

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Swyngedouw focuses particularly on water, one of the natural resources Wolman

included in his initial metabolism study. And while he endorses the basic insight of
industrial ecologythat natural resources flow through cities to be transformed
into the conditions of urban lifehe expands the metabolic analysis to include
political, economic, and cultural dimensions that Wolman and his successors largely
did not. The result is that, whereas industrial ecology metabolism studies see the city
as a specific, fixed site for the conversion of resources into products and wastes
something like a distributed factorySwyngedouw argues that the city, in the broadest sense of the term, is itself a product of socio-natural metabolism. So while the
UPE approach to urban metabolism builds on industrial ecology in some senses, it
discards the latters relegation of nature to nothing more than raw materialsan
inert participant in urban metabolism (Keil and Boudreau 2006). Instead, UPE gives
a process-oriented account of metabolism that emphasizes the interplay of local,
regional, and global socio-natures (e.g., respectively, urban heat-island effects, a river
system and its hydroelectric infrastructure, and international commodity trade flows)
in constituting any specific city or urban space (Heynen, Kaika, and Swyngedouw
We can thus see in UPE at least a tentative unraveling of the intertwining of city
and countryside with society and nature. Of course, simply renaming society and
nature socio-nature does not make the binary disappear through force of will, but in
substantive terms urban political ecologists have been more successful at dismantling
the persistent conflation of society with the city and nature with the countryside than
any other research program in the social sciences. By drawing on political ecologys
insights about agency and political struggle in the production of socio-nature, UPE
offers a means of escaping the either humans or nature dilemma represented in the
two poles of human ecology and industrial ecology.
Against the Chicago Schools view of urban societyin analogy to nature and
thus with urban power structures and injustices naturalizedUPE demonstrates
the often unexpected ways in which nature intervenes in the urban social order. In
his analysis of something as apparently banal as the suburban lawn, Robbins (2007)
is able to document not just a sprawling political economic web of grasses, weeds,
and chemicals but a two-way process of subject formation linking lawns and the
people who own the lawns: just as we make the lawns, the lawns make us who we
are. Such arguments build on the insights of actor-network theory about distributed
agency (Callon 1986), but do so within a political economic framework that remains
attentive to questions of power and inequality (Brenner, Madden, and Wachsmuth
And against the technocratic implications of industrial ecologys urban
metabolismwhere flows of materials are neutral objects to be mobilized in more or
less sustainable waysUPE asserts the importance of history and politics. The industrial ecology perspective on urban nature is a general (ontological) proposition that
cities metabolize nature and an analysis of in what quantities they do so. Urban political ecologists, by contrast, have explored the historical struggles that have caused the
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urban socio-natural landscape to take the form it does, and the differential environmental impacts that landscape has on different classes and groups within the city
(Gandy 2003; Domene and Saur 2007).
To assess the potential contributions for environment and urban sociology of
UPEs approach to urban metabolism, we can compare it briefly to what is probably
the most influential work on urban and environmental change in recent decades:
Cronons (1991) Natures Metropolis. Like UPE, Cronons history of Chicago and its
agricultural hinterland foregrounds the role of nature in constituting the city, in his
case by tracing the flow of commodities from raw materials to social institutions such
as railroads and the Chicago stock exchange. But there are two features of Cronons
work that place him more comfortably in the tradition of new ecological paradigm
environmental sociology and industrial ecology. First, he treats nature and the environment overwhelmingly as the fuel for the development of the urban social system
(although in his case the system spans city and hinterland). This is by design, of
coursethe book sets out explicitly to chart commodity flowsbut the consequence
of this design is that while Cronon is able to document the role of nature in the production of the social, he fails to grapple with the social production of nature (Smith
2008), which has been a major emphasis of UPE and is slowly filtering into urban
sociology (Capek 2010). Second, Natures Metropolis is largely silent on the class politics and power relations corresponding to the transformations of nature that it documents. Again, Cronon acknowledges that he deliberately left these questions aside,
but this will not likely be a satisfactory response to urban and environmental sociologists, for whom power relations are key concerns, and who would do better in this
regard to follow UPEs lead in investigating not just urban nature but the politics of
urban nature.
There are still some gaps in the UPE project though. Most notably, there is a contradiction between the most influential UPE theorizations of urbanizationwhich
stress its planetary dimensions and its juxtaposition of the global and the
local (Swyngedouw 1996; Keil 2003; Heynen et al. 2006)and the nearly exclusive
empirical focus on cities, traditionally understood (but see Pellow [2006] for an
insightful exception). This is methodological cityism: the city is taken to be the
privileged analytical lens for studying contemporary processes of urban social transformation that are not necessarily limited to the city (Angelo and Wachsmuth 2012).
So, while scholars working within the UPE tradition have produced insightful analyses of cities as products of global socio-natural processes, they have largely failed to
investigate noncity products of those same processes. In this respect, Cronons
mutual investigation of the city and the countryside has not yet been equaled within
UPE, where the city is richly theorized and investigated in socio-natural terms, but
the countryside remains inert by default, inasmuch as it is not explored in these same
Still, UPE has advanced a notion of urban metabolism that manages in important
respects to overcome the limitations of the human ecology and industrial ecology
models that came before. It does so while being in some ways a hybrid of the two, com518

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bining in the concept of socio-nature the social and political concerns more traditionally associated with urban sociology and the attention to the natural world associated
with ecology.
The intellectual history I have told about urban metabolism is a story of natures
steady march on the city. For human ecology, urban metabolism is analogous
to nature, but only analogousthe natural environment itself is simply a backdrop
to a purely social process of urbanization. For industrial ecology, nature is the source
of the urban metabolisms fuel and the destination for its wastes. In both cases,
the two terms of the society-nature opposition are mapped exclusively onto the
city and the countryside. For UPE, by contrast, urbanization is a constitutively
socio-natural process, where the city is not merely the site of urban metabolism but
rather its product. These successive understandings are summarized graphically in
Figure 1.
But there have been, in fact, two armies marching. On the one hand, conceptions of
urban metabolism have changed as social scientists have become better at thinking
about nature and the city. This somewhat modernist notion is, I think, undeniable, and
while the story as I have presented it here inevitably has imposed some measure of

Human ecology

Industrial ecology








Input (resources)

Output (waste)

Urban political ecology




FIGURE 1. Varieties of the Intertwined Society-Nature and Town-Country Oppositions in Different Models of Urban Metabolism.
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simplifying linearity, there is no harm in acknowledging that urban political ecologists

have an overall more adequate conception of urban nature than the Chicago School
did. Conversely, and more importantly: conceptions of urban metabolism have changed
as urban metabolism has changed.
Roger Keil and John Graham argue that successive transformations in capitalist
urbanization have historically led to new societal relationships to nature. They identify three periods of the city-nature relationship in modern capitalism: the early
industrial period, where the city pretends to shed its dependency on natural
metabolisms, the Fordist period, where the separation of the city and the countryside became most deeply implicated in the destructive trajectory of capitalist urbanization, and the post-Fordist period, where nature is no longer exiled from the
city, but becomes the key element of the current era of urban growth (Keil and
Graham 1998:102105).
We do not have to strain very hard to see this periodization in the intellectual
history of urban metabolism. The Chicago School developed the metabolism concept
when urbanization seemed to have become untethered from the natural world, when
the social had become a realm unto itself. Wolman and his successors in industrial
ecology, meanwhile, developed the materials-flow analysis of cities in the context of
apparently out of control urbanization and suburbanization, and the challenges these
self-evidently appeared to pose to the worlds natural resource base and capacity for
absorbing wastes. UPE, finally, is the social science for the global urban age, where
nature can no longer be tenably understood as outside the city, but is fundamentally
incorporated into its further development.
Periodizing the urban metabolism concept thus helps us periodize urban metabolism itself. What is more, the first two stages in this periodization correspond closely to
Catton and Dunlaps (1980) human exemptionalist paradigm and new ecological
paradigm. The fact that there is a third stage in the periodization should give sociologists a pause. The new ecological paradigm recognition that human society is built on
natural foundations is necessary but arguably no longer sufficient to understand the
contemporary production of nature, and in particular the production of urban nature.
As the above discussion of UPE has indicated, one potentially fruitful way forward for
sociologists is to more explicitly connect environmental and urban research. For,
although this is starting to change, environmental sociology has historically had little
to say about urbanization except to treat it as a machine for consuming nature
(Clement 2010), and urban sociology has had little to say about nature except as a
background or a metaphor (Capek 2010). Neither has been in sustained dialogue with
UPE or other fields associated with geography, where research into the production of
urban nature is now relatively mature. Such conversations will only be more pressing as
scholars work to untangle the society-nature and town-country oppositions, which still
loom over the social sciences and over the planet, and thus help dispel what Williams
(1973:96) called the last protecting illusion in the crisis of our own time: that it is not
capitalism which is injuring us, but the more isolable, more evident system of urban

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The author would like to thank Hillary Angelo, Neil Brenner, Colin Jerolmack, Anne
Rademacher, Esm Webb, and the participants in the NYLON workshop for their
thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of the article.

Two exceptions are Bergers (1980) brief account of capitalist urbanizations relegation of
animals to the domestic sphere as pets, and Fosters (2000) elaboration of Marxs theory of
metabolic rift. But the former has overwhelmingly been read as an animal studies intervention,
while the latter is focused specifically on the soil-nutrient cycle between farms and cities.
Neither is commonly read as a general account of the relationship between the separation of
town and country and the society-nature divide. Williamss (1973) The Country and the City, by
contrast, is highly influential but places less emphasis on the discontinuities of the Industrial
Revolution and more on the long and ambiguous historical lineage of rural enclosure and social
transformation in England, and thus stands as a partial dissent from my argument here.

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Jessica de Boer1 and Christian Zuidema2

Department of Spatial Planning and Environment, University of Groningen,

Department of Spatial Planning and Environment, University of Groningen,
Keywords: energy landscape, sustainability, spatial planning

In this paper, we show that an area-based approach to fostering the energy transition has
the potential to improve understanding of the factors that contribute to the viability of
innovative energy initiatives. On the basis of a desk study and gathering empirical data, we
witnessed that energy initiatives have the capacity to activate linkages with their local
physical and socio-economic landscape. Furthermore, when initiatives build upon the
qualities of their environment, they tend to be less sensitive to changed conditions and
shocks and hence, are more viable. Moreover, our study shows that drawing upon these
distinct local qualities and opportunities, fosters variety in locally specific energy initiatives.
The variety between initiatives in the landscape allows for the emergence of decentralised
energy systems that are an integrated part of the multifunctional physical and socioeconomic landscape, which again reduces the vulnerability of the entire energy system. The
image of what we coin an integrated energy landscape is therefore promoted as a potential
guidance for planners and policy makers to understand how they can contribute to the shift
towards a sustainable energy system.
1.1 The Challenge of a Sustainable Energy System
Over the last decades, sustainability has become a central issue on the global governance
agenda. In the quest for a sustainable future, one of the crucial elements is the sustainable
provision of energy. The fossil fuels we still rely on for almost all of our energy provisions are
unsustainable for several reasons. Firstly, fossil fuel reserves are limited to a finite amount in
the earths crust; conventional oil production will probably begin to decline within the next
decade (Smil 2010, Sorrell et al. 2012). Secondly, fossil fuel combustion contributes to more
than 50% of the anthropogenic greenhouse gasses, causing further climate change (Hk et
al. 2010). Thirdly, at least for western nations, geopolitical uncertainties regarding a secure
provision of energy from major supply countries like Saudi-Arabia and Iran (cf. Correlj, van
der Linde 2006) also give incentives to search for domestic energy sources, including
renewable energy. Each of these reasons urge for a fundamental change in our energy
system, frequently referred to as the energy transition (Rotmans et al. 2001). Dominant
among these desired changes is a shift towards the use of renewable and often more locally
based sources. Such shifts, however, are not always easy to accommodate.
On the one hand, the current fossil fuel based energy system is far from easy to change. This
energy system is not just based on an infrastructure of wells, pipes, energy plants, networks
and consumers. It also involves a multitude of stakeholders, each with their own interests
and access to resources and power. In the meantime, contracts and existing regulatory
systems help stakeholders interact and constrain their freedom to act. In other words, the
energy system is a complex web of interrelated actors and networks, both in a physical,

AESOP-ACSP Joint Congress  15-19 July 2013  Dublin

economic, social and institutional sense. Apart from limitations to fully oversee and grasp
such a complex web, ownership and power are fragmented, limiting the capacity of any actor
to alter the energy system. Traditional planning and policy approaches tend to focus on the
capacity of a single or group of stakeholders to come to decisions regarding desired endstates and the approaches to achieve them (Allmendinger 2009). Faced with the complex
web that characterizes the energy system, such approaches are seriously constrained (cf.
Roo 2012, De Roo, Silva 2010, and Kemp 2010). Planners and policy makers, including
spatial planners are thus asked to come up with new approaches.
On the other hand, a move towards a sustainable energy system also confronts spatial
planners with three challenges specific to their profession. For one, harvesting of well-known
sustainable energies such as solar energy, wind energy, hydropower, geothermal energy and
biomass is not equally possible in all locations (Smil 2008). Depending on local and regional
circumstances, such as the characteristics of the landscape, weather and the economic
activities taking place, certain renewables will be more favourable than others. (cf.
Dobbelsteen 2007). To illustrate, installing hydropower on the flat lands of the Netherlands or
Denmark is less advantageous than using wind turbines in these regions. Secondly, many
renewables have a high visibility in the landscape and are prone to cause NIMBY (Not In MY
Back Yard) effects (Cass 2010, Walker 2010). Not only do renewables typically demand more
space than generating energy from fossil sources, they also tend to be highly visible,
specifically in the case of wind farms or hydropower. Consequently, careful planning that
focuses on both the physical landscape and societal responses is required. Thirdly, many
independent and small-scale energy initiatives operate locally and are not yet part of the
energy network. This urges for a reconsideration of how the qualities of sustainable energy
production and consumption can become interwoven with existing energy systems in order to
make future energy systems viable. Spatial planners, again, have an important role to play in
the shift to a sustainable energy system (Noorman, De Roo 2011, Stremke, Koh 2010).
1.2 Outline
In this paper, we take an area-based approach to understand the role that sustainable
energy initiatives play in their local context and to investigate the area-based conditions for
up-scaling these energy initiatives in the energy transition. We begin section two by
presenting our research method for assessing the hypothesis that the integration of energy
initiatives in the landscape makes them less vulnerable and hence, more viable. In section
three, we discuss literature on the energy transition that highlights the importance of bottomup innovations that overcome the lock-ins that characterize existing fossil-fuel based energy
systems (Kemp 2010, Grin et al. 2009, and Loorbach 2010). For such bottom-up innovations
to become meaningful, however, we argue that they should be well connected to the local
physical and socio-economic landscape, as we show in section four. In taking an area-based
approach, we will highlight in section five, how energy initiatives have the capacity to activate
linkages with the local physical and socio-economic landscape. Based on such linkages, we
will argue and illustrate that energy initiatives become less sensitive to changed conditions
and shocks, and hence, are more viable. Furthermore, we will argue that embedding
sustainable energy initiatives within their local context can spawn the kind of innovation that
allows for an up-scaling of individual initiatives to a wider sustainable energy system. In
doing so, we will reflect on existing theories on transitions, which highlight the role of
individual niches of innovation and development (cf. Kemp 2010, Kemp, Loorbach 2006,
and Loorbach 2010). In taking an area-based approach to foster energy transitions we will
frame in section six, local contexts as the niches of innovation and development and show
that innovative energy initiatives position themselves in the energy landscape and thrive on
specific qualities of the physical and socio-economic landscape. With an area-based
approach, we conclude in section 7 that we can gain a clearer understanding of the important
conditions necessary for a successful energy transition.

2 | Boer and Zuidema / Towards the Integrated Energy Landscape

AESOP-ACSP Joint Congress  15-19 July 2013  Dublin

Against the backdrop of the emerging, innovative energy initiatives in the energy transition,
this study investigated whether there is empirical support for the hypothesis that the
integration of innovative energy initiatives within the local landscape makes them less
vulnerable and hence, more viable. Building upon literature on transition thinking and areabased planning approaches (presented in section 3 and 5), we hypothesised that innovative
energy initiatives activate area-based linkages with the physical and socio-economic
landscape, which make them less sensitive to changed conditions and shocks. To assess our
hypothesis we gathered empirical data during two interdisciplinary research projects we are
involved in since 2012 (presented in section 4 and 6).
The first research project we are involved in is MACREDES, a four-year European Delta Gas
Research (EDGaR) funded project (EDGaR 2012). MACREDES aims to map the technical,
economic, socio-psychological and spatial conditions relevant for the integration of
decentralised energy networks within the conventional energy system. The second project is
DELaND, a three-year European funded Interreg IVa project with a consortium of Dutch and
German partners (Groen Gas-Grnes Gas 2012). It is focused on the potential role of
residual biomass streams in decentralised energy systems and on the potential for Public
Private Partnerships (PPPs) around biomass. Both research projects aim to gain a better
understanding of the spatial planning issues relating to the decentralisation of energy
systems, resulting in area-based guidelines for stimulating the energy transition.
Following our hypothesis, we assessed empirically how innovative energy initiatives and
actual projects benefit from area-based linkages. For the scope of this study, the initiatives
and projects are all in peri-urban areas in the Northern Netherlands. An innovative energy
initiative can be for instance, a community initiative that sets up an energy cooperation, or a
public-private partnership establishing an energy service company. During the first empirical
research-phase, we conducted a desk study in which we analysed research reports with
inventories of innovative energy initiatives and projects based on factors contributing to their
integration in the physical and socio-economic landscape. Besides this, we conducted
interviews and workshops with experts involved in the energy transition. Experts included
advisors working for transition-stimulating organisations, government officials who facilitate
innovative energy projects and spatial planning scientists.
Building upon gathered insights, we selected four cases for the second empirical researchphase to be analysed in more detail from the perspective of spatial planning. In this study, a
case can be framed as one or more innovative energy initiatives in the context of the local
physical and socio-economic landscape. We selected two explicit examples of energy
initiatives in the Northern Netherlands that had a traditional, top-down planning approach.
Both initiatives are high on the political agenda and subject to public debate. As we will
explain, both initiatives appeared to have weak connections with the physical and socioeconomic landscape. The other two cases we studied, were more connected with their local
context, we investigated how these cases seek to benefit from area-based linkages with the
physical and socio-economic landscape. For each case we conducted a desk study and had
interviews with partners of the initiative. For the first case study presented, our department of
Spatial Planning in Groningen also held an indicative survey on public opinion in one of the
villages where a wind farm is planned (Van Dijk 2012). 1500 surveys were available of which
227 people responded. The survey proved valid at a 1% significance level. The contrast
between the two types of cases enabled us to further develop our theoretical argument, as
we will explain in the conclusion of this article. In the following section, we begin to build up
our theoretical argument by discussing how to improve our understanding of the crucial role
of innovative energy initiatives, in the energy transition.

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The energy transition is a complex and long-term process. Therefore the specific conditions
required for a constructive contribution by innovative energy initiatives, are difficult to grasp.
Understanding how innovations to the energy system emerge and how these can transform
the existing energy system is for researchers an analytical puzzle (Geels 2011). Transition
thinking provides a framework, for understanding the complex web of interrelated actors and
networks, in a society based on multilevel perspectives that describe how these transitions
take place. On the macro level, the socio-technical landscape, consists of the material
infrastructure, political culture, social values, worldviews, the macro economy, demography
and natural environment (Kemp 2010). The dynamics at the macro level are rather
autonomous and tend to change slowly. The meso level is the regime and refers to
dominant actor networks and institutions (Kemp, Loorbach 2006). The rules, roles and belief
systems of the regime guide decision-making processes. This provides stability and
orientation to societal domains and sectors but simultaneously may result in inertia. The
institutional structure tends to stimulate the reproduction of practises that fit within the regime
and block innovations that conflict with the status quo. In contrast to the continuity and
stability of the meso level, the third micro level is characterised by high dynamics. At the
micro level, individual actors, technologies and local practices develop new ideas and new
initiatives in niches. The novel and pioneering niche activities do not develop routines nor
are they regulated yet. In the niche, initiatives have more freedom to experiment and
improvise, enabling deviation from the status quo of the regime level (Kemp, Loorbach
2006). Therefore, alternative technologies, product systems and social practises are
developed often outside or on the fringe of the existing regime (Kemp 2010). Our research
aims to further explain the processes at the niche level and how they interact with the
regime level.
Transition thinking describes the dynamics within and between these three levels; the basic
hypothesis is that transitions come about through the co-evolution of processes at different
levels in different phases of the transition (Kemp, 2010). A transition is the result of the
interaction between changes and innovations at these different levels; slowly changing
trends lead to new ways of thinking (paradigms) that lead to innovation and vice versa
(Kemp, Loorbach 2006; p.108). The interplay between the various levels explains why a
transition can be accelerated by certain catastrophes or crisis, but not caused by a one-time
event (Kemp, Loorbach 2006). Rather, transitions are about the complex interaction patterns
between individuals, organizations, networks, and regimes within a societal context, and how
over time, these can lead to nonlinear change in seemingly stable regimes (Loorbach 2010;
p.167). Within this pattern of complex interactions, unpredictable developments take place
while feedback loops can create rapid and unforeseen changes. Such complexity and
unpredictability can make it difficult to steer a transition or even know the outcomes in
advance. As we noticed in the introduction, such complex and unpredictable situations urge
planners to move beyond traditional planning approaches, as these largely focus on the
capacity of a single or group of stakeholders, to come to decisions regarding a desired endstate and the approaches required to achieve it (Allmendinger 2009). Instead, transition
thinking sees complexity and unpredictability as motives for shifting towards more adaptive
and flexible planning approaches that draw on a constant process of learning-by-doing
(Geels 2011, Kemp 2006, Rotmans et al.2001).
While focussing on learning-by-doing, transition thinking highlights the role for localised
niches in which innovations take place. Change can subsequently follow on, from learning
about successful experiments and by grasping how these experiments influence and interact
with higher-level actor networks, institutions and socio-economic practices. Transition
thinking frames these niches as individual actors, technologies and local practices where
experimentation takes place. The result is that sustainable energy projects tend to be framed
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largely as initiatives to test new technologies or practical applications largely in isolation from
their physical and socio-economic context. We argue that such an isolated vision of energy
projects is too simplistic. After illustrating our argument in the next section, we will continue in
section five by explaining how niches might better be framed as area-based projects where
energy initiatives are embedded, in their physical and socio-economic context.
The Dutch central government recognised early on, the potential of transition thinking and
embraced the term energy transition in 2001 (Ministry of VROM 2001). Nevertheless, only
about 4% of its total energy supply is renewable-based (CBS 2012). Success therefore, is
still fairly limited and a real transition is still pending. In contrast to transition thinking, the
Dutch government also foresees few roles for local initiatives in the energy transition.
Practice shows that the Dutch government has mainly focused on large, mono-functional
energy projects. In this section, we discuss two explicit examples of large energy projects in
the Northern Netherlands. These projects were chosen as the most visible large-scale
examples of sustainable energy initiatives in the media and political debate, within the
Northern Netherlands in recent years. The first case is a project that proposes to contribute
to the ambition of the State government to have 9%1 of the total energy usage in renewable
energy by 2020, through installing 6000 MW of wind power, in designated areas of the
Netherlands (CBS 2012, Ministry of I&M 2013). This quantified ambition resulted in largescale plans for wind farms of over 200 MW, similar to the wind farms in the Veenkolonin,
which we will reflect on later. The second case we discuss comprises the Municipality of
Groningen, which aims to become carbon-neutral in 2035. We assess from a spatial
planners perspective how these two innovative energy initiatives connect or conflict with the
unique local physical and socio-economic landscape.
4.1 Wind farms in the Veenkolonin
In the Northern part of The Netherlands is an area called the Veenkolonin (Peat Colonies)
where several wind farms are planned. The Veenkolonin is a peripheral area characterised
by low population density and a relatively high economic dependence on state subsidies and
unemployment benefits (Commissie Structuurversterking Veenkolonin 2001). The wind
farms planned in this area will have a total capacity of around 700 MW and contribute to the
ambition of the State government to have installed 6000 MW of wind power on land by 2020
(Ministery of EZ 2011). The farms are managed by the top-down state coordination energy
program (Agentschap NL 2013). As a result, the project was carried out as an isolated,
mono-functional energy project. The State made direct agreements with local landowners,
mostly farmers, on the allocation of the wind turbines. This connects the energy project to the
land of the famers but does not connect it to other values of the physical, natural landscape
for the local society.
When assessing the linkages of the project to the socio-economic landscape, we see that the
State and energy companies (Sijmons, van Dorst 2012) receive the most benefits, followed
by selected local farmers, who gain revenue from the allocation of wind turbines on their
land. Linkages with local initiatives, stakeholder interests and economic functions were not
explicitly considered. We inform the local society on several spatial designs for wind farms to
choose from (quoted from an interview with a wind farm developer on April 15th 2013 in
Groningen). As a result, the local population and much of the existing economic fabric were
overlooked in the planning. With no direct revenues or benefits, the local population merely
faces the social costs related to visibility, noise and the intermittent shade of the wind
turbines (Sijmons, van Dorst 2012). It resulted in the classic example of the NIMBY (Not In

By estimation, based on the total energy usage of The Netherlands in 2011 (2112 PJ = 66950MW) (CBS 2012)

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My Backyard) effect, with heightened local resistance to the plans during public hearings and
subsequent consultation procedures (Rietveld 2013). As our survey reveals however, the
local people were not against the wind energy per se, rather they found it unfair that such an
unequal share of the planned, total wind power capacity was designated for installation in
their region. The allocation of the wind parks reinforces their feelings about the region being
disadvantaged. Whereas actually, the innovative wind parks might have provided an
economic and social boost to the Veenkolonin. A survey from our department of Spatial
Planning in Groningen indicates that 30-40% of the local society is not against the allocation
of the wind turbines in their back yard when they are compensated, either via a financial
share in the revenues of the wind turbines, or via a local foundation that allows for placebased investments in the area (Van Dijk 2012). The project did not create area-based
linkages with the local physical and socio-economic landscape, other than between the wind
farm project and the landowners. This makes it comprehensible from a spatial planning
perspective that the project coordinators have difficulty to implement the project successfully.
4.2 Carbon-neutrality in the Municipality of Groningen
A more encompassing approach to innovate the energy system, planned by the Municipality
of Groningen in the Northern Netherlands, aims for the entire city to be energy neutral by
2035 (Projectteam Groningen geeft energie 2011). A special project team has been set up for
developing and implementing projects on the basis of energy saving and sustainable energy
production (Projectteam Groningen geeft energie 2011). However, we assessed that the
connection with the local physical and socio-economic landscape is still weak.
As our interviews revealed, the political desire to be energy neutral preceded awareness of
the consequences of pursuing such an ambition: There is an ambition, but neither a vision,
nor a strategy to achieve it (quoted from an interview with a project manager of the project
team on December 13th 2012 in Groningen). In being responsible for distinct portfolios, most
project managers feel a limited sense of ownership of the ambition to become energy
neutral. The tendency to see energy projects as stand-alone or even technical projects
signals the following quote: There is an energy meeting with the energy program leader
regularly, but only two out of the five project managers are in that meeting (quoted from an
interview with a project manager of the project team on December 13th 2012 in Groningen).
This is unfortunate, as our interviews also confirm, since achieving energy neutrality of a city
will require cooperation of the whole local government and society.
While ownership of the ambition to become energy neutral is a problem in Groningen, the
projects that are initiated also seem rather isolated and technical in focus. Consequently,
projects initiated by the municipality do not build upon what is already happening in the
neighbourhoods of Groningen, such as collective procurement of solar panels. Nor do the
project managers activate the potential for socio-economic synergies with existing
companies, spatial projects or social initiatives. Among the prime initiatives pursued by the
municipality, includes the development of a vision to employ residual heat. The project,
however, is carried out top-down, an inventory is made of the residual heat sources, and their
possible utilisation for district heating is assessed (Warmtevisie 2012). As was confirmed
during an interview with a municipal advisor (April 17th 2013 in Groningen), the municipality
did not directly involve key partners, either those related to the sources of heat such as
industries, or the potential users such as housing cooperatives and residential organisations.
As these key partners are not project owners and many do not find the resources to follow-up
on the plans made by the municipality, impairing the success of the project.
Next to these weak linkages between the energy program and the socio-economic context,
we also find that linkages are missing with the physical landscape. The ambition to be energy
neutral was little understood when politically decided. In fact for the current level of energy
demand, the municipality would need to fill the surface of at least twenty times the area of the
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Municipality of Groningen with wind turbines and solar PV for its energy supply, while
additional energy storage would still be required for back-up. Clearly, such an ambition would
at least require the cooperation of adjacent municipalities. Over the past years, such
cooperation has not occurred; only rumour suggests that neighbouring towns could be
energy suppliers for the municipality. Furthermore, such high ambition would also require the
Municipality of Groningen to be willing to install energy projects on currently unused land or
even on temporary unused plots in the municipality. Faced with an unfavourable economic
climate, there are many areas that are likely to be unused for 15 years or more and could
stimulate the emergence of area-based innovative projects. As was confirmed during an
interview with one of the project managers of the project team (May 23rd 2013 in Groningen),
few initiatives have emerged and at the same time, the municipality has been responsible for
postponing new spatial projects on vacant land, and seemed reluctant to consider energy
From this we conclude that the municipality, when developing their energy program, did not
consider the city as a physical and socio-economic system embedded in a larger spatial
context. Energy was framed largely as an isolated theme, to be dealt with possibly on a
project basis. As our reflection shows, becoming energy neutral does urge the municipality to
consider how innovative projects can be embedded the physical and socio-economic
context, or can be based on existing local initiatives. This calls for steps towards a spatial
vision, in which the separate themes of the energy program are integrated. For example,
innovations for smarter connections between energy production and consumption require an
infrastructural plan to link up with. Without an integrative energy vision, the ambition is
impossible to achieve within the physical and socio-economic conditions of the municipality.
Again, it shows the necessity to consider innovations in the energy system in connection with
the socio-economic and physical landscape.
4.3 Energy Initiatives in Isolation
Both cases show the limitations of treating sustainable energy initiatives as projects isolated
from their local contexts. The case of the Veenkolonin illustrates that an energy project
cannot be based on top-down plans and implementation alone. It explicitly needs to link into
the local dynamics. The second case of the Municipality of Groningen, subsequently
illustrates that taking the dynamics of the local society into account, is not so much about
formulating new policy ambitions and plans to describe or highlight a future energy projects
or desired end-states. Instead, it is about recognizing, accommodating and facilitating
niche developments and to connect them to each other and to the existing physical and
socio-economic context. Therefore, we also argue that seeing sustainable energy initiatives
as stand-alone projects is too simplistic. As we explained in the introduction, the energy
system is a complex web of interrelated actors and networks, both in the physical, economic,
social and institutional sense. As the cases above illustrate, not embedding projects in the
local context may cause social and economic blockages (e.g. resistance or unwillingness to
pay) and spatial blockages (e.g. no available land or no infrastructure to link up with).
Moreover, isolating energy projects denies use of societal potentials and creativity. Activation
of the local potential however, can foster commitment and financial incentives to stimulate
energy initiatives.
5.1 Activating area-based linkages
The previous section shows that planning for energy initiatives as isolated or stand-alone
projects risks difficult implementation of the project due to weak linkages with the local
context. In contrast, here we follow a spatial planning perspective and highlight the important

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role of the physical and socio-economic context, to trigger the success of innovative
initiatives. If well embedded, we argue individual energy initiatives might become less
vulnerable to failure and more prone to active linkages with other interests and energy
systems so as to be up-scaled. Literature on area-based policy making and planning2 shows
that locally embedded issues defy a generic approach due to their unique circumstances
(Cameron et al. 2004, De Roo 2004, Turok 2004, Zuidema 2011). Instead, area-based
approaches can make use of such local circumstances, as Cameron et al. note, the local
scale of projects allows for a development process based on an understanding of local
needs, conditions, dynamics and potentials, and that includes local residents and
stakeholders in a collaborative planning process (2004).
The interest that area-based planning approaches have for local needs, conditions, dynamics
and potentials may explain their emphasis on synergy-effects and integrative solutions. For
instance, in environmental planning the synergy between the environment and other themes
results in integrative, sustainable solutions to environmental issues (Zuidema 2011, Roo
2003). Also, integrated infrastructure planning and urban planning assessments show the
multiple benefits of area-oriented approaches (Heeres et al.2012). For our research, synergy
can be defined as the additional value created by the innovative energy initiatives
(Mackintosh 1992). The additional value consists not only of sustainable energy production
and of financial benefits, but also of benefits for the physical and socio-economic landscape
in which the initiative is located. The integration of sustainable energy production in the
landscape, can be understood as the connection of energy production to other functions of
the physical and socio-economic landscape, such as drinking water provision, agricultural
farming or community trust and support. In our research, we assessed innovative energy
initiatives on the presence or absence of area-based linkages as indicators of synergy and
integration. This allowed us to understand firstly, the area-based conditions under which
synergy-effects, between the energy initiative and the landscape emerge, and secondly, how
sustainable energy production can be integrated in the wider physical and socio-economic
landscape both locally and on higher levels. In the following section, we illustrate with an
array of energy initiatives how initiatives tend to respond to their unique context by activating
area-based linkages. This will give insight into how initiatives become viable.
5.2 Area-based Energy Initiatives in a Unique Context
Local area-based energy initiatives are very diverse, not only regarding the type of energy
they produce and the scale on which they operate, but also in the ways in which they make
use of their context. Every region has its specific qualities in general, but also for energy
production. There are quite some examples of area-based energy initiatives that start from
the social and physical capital of an area. Individually, a farmer may use manure for the
cogeneration of its own electricity and heat, in a combined-heat-and-power installation (CHP)
(Pehnt et al. 2005). A household can co-produce electricity and heat with a hybrid solar PV
and solar heating system (Zhai et al. 2009, Lazou, Papatsoris 2000). Or in cooperation with
others, farming initiatives with biomass available from agriculture and nature maintenance,
are able to use such biomass streams for the production of energy (cf. Muller 2009). Also,
more and more communities are starting local energy initiatives. Thriving on the social trust
in the community (Walker et al. 2010) they may collectively procure solar panels to produce
their own energy or have their own wind turbines (Nada, van der Horst 2010). In The
Netherlands, more than 300 local energy initiatives are on the map (HIER klimaatcampagne
2012). The amount and diversity of local area-based energy initiatives highlights the potential
and the creativity in society, but also shows that innovative energy production is hard to
understand without its unique context. Every region has its specific qualities, which allows for
another specialisation regarding energy production. On a bigger scale, this offers perspective

sometimes also referred to as area-oriented planning or a place-based approach, cf. De Roo 2004, Heeres et al.
2012, Castells 2005, Barca et al. 2012
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for the balancing of qualities between different regions. Sweden has a lot of wood, Denmark
has installed a lot of wind power offshore and Germany and The Netherlands have a lot of
biomass from agriculture (John Bartholomew and Son.1990). On a smaller scale, cities tend
to have waste-heat, while rural areas have biomass or the potential for wind farms. These
examples illustrate the relevance of differentiating between regions, to recognise their
different potentials. The point we want to make here is that the perspective of area-based
spatial planning can help to benefit from the potential of the local context and connect it with
the bigger scale. Therefore, the role of the spatial planner is crucial for understanding the
relevance of area-based energy production, as a spatially and socio-economically embedded
innovation, of the energy system.
5.3 Integration of Energy Initiatives on Multiple Scales
From a planners perspective, a niche can be defined by the unique context or what we call
an area-based 'niche'. It is not the novelty of the innovation that defines the 'niche', as
transition thinking tends to express but the fact that energy initiatives make use of their
unique contexts. This defines the 'niches' as being area-based. The local innovative
initiatives we discussed in the previous paragraph are embedded in their region and activate
area-based linkages. The embedding of an initiative in the existing structures of a region
makes it more prone to acceptance by the local society and less vulnerable for failure. From
a spatial planners' perspective, this connection is a pre-condition for successful up-scaling.
This fits with transition thinking, which argues for the power of certain niche developments to
become strong enough to breakthrough and compete with the established energy system
(Kemp 2010). If such an up-scaling of niche developments becomes institutionalised in
various regions, the regime will have no choice but to adapt: allowing the transition to take-off
towards a new balance in the energy system. Our point is that area-based niches are a key
condition for successful up-scaling in the energy transition. For understanding how areabased niches allow for a successful up-scaling of energy initiatives, it is useful to know how
area-based linkages are created, not only between the initiative and the landscape but also
between initiatives, and between clusters of initiatives. That is, area-based conditions for
successful up-scaling of 'niche' developments can be understood on various scales in the
On the level of the energy initiative itself, the fact that the initiative is linked to a wider set of
interests in the area contributes to the viability of the energy system. An area-based initiative
is often based on overlapping interests, which gives the initiative a multifunctional purpose.
For example, farmers use bio-digesters to reduce their need to export manure, to generate
heat, produce gas and produce humus (Muller 2009). Even if the profit from biogas or heat
reduces, the other benefits are sufficient enough to continue with the project. In an economic
sense, this means that there is more capacity to adapt to market change. Furthermore, its
linkages to other interests provide more funding options. For example, solar panels on the
roof of a large distribution centre could be funded by the company itself, an energy company
or even individual users. Moreover, the embedding of the initiative in the local economy gives
trust and support. Local commitment may open up possibilities for extra investments in
innovations, or for bridging difficult periods with regional support. Hence, a spreading of risk
is achieved. From a societal perspective, local involvement will also stimulate learning about
the costs and benefits of local energy production, allowing for more public support for
innovation of the energy system. Moreover, the fact that energy initiatives emerge from local
society allows for closer consideration of the physical impact of energy production on the
landscape, enabling them to stay within perceptual boundaries of visual attractiveness. In
fact, this may prevent the risk of NIMBYism (Wstenhagen et al. 2007).
On a regional scale, we find that initiatives can form robust networks together, which in turn
contributes to robustness of the energy system. Robustness can be understood as
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resistance to change, brought about by circumstance and shock. For instance, a heat
network can become robust when multiple sites with residual heat are connected to multiple
housing areas with heat demand (Broersma et al. 2011). In that case, the exit of a single
industry with heat supply will not lead to the collapse of the whole heat network. Another type
of robust network can be achieved when several biomass streams are connected to one
bioenergy plant, which makes it less dependent on one biomass supplier (Kooistra et al.
2011, Jenssen et al. 2012).
On an interregional level, we argue that an area-based approach can stimulate local and
regional diversification in energy systems. Local and regional diversification emerges from
the fact that area-based energy initiatives draw on regional qualities for energy production.
Initiatives make use of regional advantages, leading to a regional specialisation in energy
production. Some regions or localities will be specialised in solar energy, others in wind
power or geothermal heat, and others in energy from biomass, etc. This will lead to spatial
diversification, which can be employed to stimulate the creation of a viable energy system on
a higher level. Instead of a country relying strongly on only one source of renewables, spatial
diversification spreads the risks between regions. This avoids path-dependency (Martin,
Simmie 2008) and allows for the possibility to shift to a different technology (if local supply
fails or is ineffective) because other areas and regions have used other technologies. This
will make the overall system less vulnerable. It also makes it more robust by preventing the
emergence of a monoculture. For example, when the system is completely dependent on
wind, a windless period puts high demands on installed energy storage capacity (Mitchell et
al. 2005). If it is based on multiple sources of energy, these can compensate each other
reducing the need for buffers.
Hence, area-based energy initiatives contribute to the viable and robust innovation of the
energy system on various levels. Firstly, on the level of the initiative, the embedding of the
initiative in its local context ensures that the physical and socio-economic landscape has a
greater carrying capacity for the initiative. Its connections to other socio-economic functions
give the initiative adaptive capacity and strength. Secondly, on the regional level the
initiatives form a robust network together. Thirdly, on the interregional level diversification of
innovations to the energy system enhances the capacity to balance different energy qualities
and provide buffers for variations in energy quantities (Broersma et al. 2011). This is the
image of a multifunctional physical and socio-economic landscape, in which energy systems
are an integrated part. This image of what we coin an integrated energy landscape is a
potential vehicle to help planners and policy makers understand how a shift to a sustainable
energy system may become within reach.
In order to improve our understanding of the synergies that capacitate the energy transition
and stimulate the emergence of an integrated energy landscape, we assess here two cases.
The cases were chosen as they were both instigated without the influence of any national
policies or subsidies and draw on their own unique local circumstances. Each case highlights
constraints and opportunities of an area-based approach to innovate the energy system. We
analysed for each case the area-based linkages with the local physical and socio-economic
landscape, and assessed how the initiative is integrated in the region. These area-based
conditions provide spatial planners with an insight to support the emergence of an integrated
energy landscape. For each case we gathered empirical data through a desk study,
interviews conducted with partners of the initiative and workshops with actors related to the
spatial planning issues around it.

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6.1 Haarlose Veld

In the east of The Netherlands, near the German border, the case Haarlose Veld is a clear
example of the synergy-effects, of an area-based energy initiative (Hier Opgewekt 2013). In a
coulisse landscape with poor sandy soils, farmers want to create an energy landscape, for
various reasons. On the one hand, the farmers have low revenues due to the poor conditions
of their land. This is the result of mono cultivation, intensive agriculture, restrictive manure
legislation, and very little organic matter entering the area, via rivers for instance. On the
other hand, it is a groundwater capture area, the water company faces relatively high filtering
costs due to the limited filtering capacity of sandy soil. Therefore, the farmers came up with
the idea to develop their land by improving the soil filtering capacity, and in turn generating
more revenue (Rienks et al. 2013). To begin with, the farmers improved their grounds with
crop rotation to enhance the organic matter compound. To this end they make use of energy
crops. While this might reduce some revenues, the water company is willing to compensate
farmers as they stand to profit from reduced filtration costs. Secondly, farmers start recycling
manure, which they put together with the energy crops in bio-digesters for energy
production. While this generates revenues itself, the by-product of the digester process is
used for improving soil quality. This further reduces the cost of fertilization, improves the
filtering capacity of the soil and is a way around the strict regulations for the use of manure.
Finally, the ground improvements result in carbon capture in the soil, which may enable
farmers in near future to receive carbon credits in return. The threefold synergy-effects of the
farmers initiative is the result of connecting the energy production, to the local physical and
socio-economic landscape. The strength of this initiative is that it is linked to a wider set of
interests and is not dependent on one energy production function alone. The integration of
functions increases its viability. The synergy between the involved actors makes energy
production multifunctional. The land is used for agriculture, energy production, filtration
capacity and carbon capture.
6.2 Hoogeveen
In the case of Hoogeveen, a city in the rural East of the Netherlands, the local residual
biomass flow and heating demands are linked to each other through a public-private
partnership (PPP) (Gemeente Hoogeveen 2012b). The synergy-effects of the PPP
construction build upon the following area-based conditions in the physical landscape. A
Sports Park is being realised by the municipality, maintenance of the sports field yields
biomass, while plans for a swimming pool and other sports facilities yield a large heat
demand. Close to the Sports Park is an industrial site, which is suitable for the allocation of a
wood-fuelled bioenergy plant. In addition, there is a local trader in biomass who gets hold of
large quantities of biomass from amongst others, regional biodegradable waste streams, the
municipality and nature maintenance. Then there is Rendo, the local energy company who
invests in sustainable energy projects, and BeGreen, an entrepreneur specialised in
bioenergy plants. BeGreen will install and maintain the bioenergy plant and Rendo will install
pipes for the district heating system. Each of these four local parties fulfils a role for the local
supply chain, based upon residual biomass and heat demand. Together they have the
opportunity for good synergy between them. In addition, it fits with the sustainability aims of
the municipality to become carbon-neutral with integrative sustainable solutions. What can
be done locally, do it locally. What can be done elsewhere better, do it elsewhere (interview
with a sustainability professional of the Municipality of Hoogeveen on March 19th 2013 in
Regarding the area-based linkages with the socio-economic landscape, firstly we find that
the PPP-construction builds upon trust between local partners, secondly, the PPPconstruction is known to provide for economic continuity (Verhees 2013). Moreover,
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AESOP-ACSP Joint Congress  15-19 July 2013  Dublin

participation of the Municipality ensures sufficient amounts of biomass and the efficient use
of waste heat of the energy plant. The energy company ensures that electricity production
can be sold directly to local costumers and the biomass trader is stimulated to regionally
collect waste streams of biomass for producing energy. These three conditions make the
construction less vulnerable. What is still missing however is a stronger embedding of the
initiative within the local social landscape. The initiative does not directly involve users of the
Sports Park and local residents, which diminishes the opportunity to earn public support,
whereas worries about health consequences of the plants emissions have spread to a local
newspaper (DVHN 2012). Socially embedding the initiative may prevent the occurrence of
NIMBY-effects and therefore something to take into consideration.
In conclusion, we can say that again, the energy initiative has connected energy production
with the local physical and socio-economic landscape. Also, at exactly those points where it
fails to do so (i.e. social support and debate) the problems have emerged. The network of
participating actors, activated through the project might well have potentials for up-scaling.
The Municipality of Hoogeveen is currently trying to use the project as a snowball effect for
setting up its own energy development company (Gemeente Hoogeveen 2012a). This could
subsequently help plan and support other local energy initiatives, making Hoogeveen an
interesting case to follow for future research.
This paper underlines the emerging need for spatial planners to become involved in the
energy transition. It is not only a reality to embrace area-based spatial planning could
make a key contribution to this transition. Building upon literature on transition thinking and
area-based planning we hypothesised that the integration of innovative energy initiatives
within the physical and socio-economic landscape makes initiatives less vulnerable and
hence, more viable. The empirical data presented provide support for this hypothesis.
The array of innovative initiatives that have passed this review demonstrates that it makes
sense to frame a niche by its unique context, what we term area-based 'niche'. We
contribute to the debate by noting that it is not the novelty of the innovation that defines the
'niche' as transition thinking tends to express, but the fact that energy initiatives make use of
their unique contexts define the 'niches' as being area-based. Indeed, in the first two cases
we saw that planning for energy initiatives, as isolated or stand-alone projects, risks difficult
implementation of the project due to weak linkages with the local context. It even resulted in
a standstill for the wind farm project in the Veenkolonin. In the case of the energy program
of the municipality of Groningen, we saw in addition that the spatially demanding
characteristics of sustainable energy, require a spatially conscious approach for innovation of
the energy system.
In the second two cases, we saw how area-based energy initiatives connect with the physical
and socio-economic landscape. Local actors actively involved with sustainable energy, show
an awareness of the multifunctional potential of sustainable energy. The partners in the case
of the Haarlose Veld and Hoogeveen addressed themes such as waste recycling and ground
water quality, in connection with the production of sustainable energy. Thus, area-based
initiatives consciously use the physical and socio-economic landscape in which they are
embedded. The synergies at hand give the initiative a robust basis upon which it can build.
Furthermore, they are both activating linkages between actors and land use that might
inspire new projects, both locally and in other areas. It is in doing so that they are examples
of innovations that do have the potential to be up-scaled.
The power of area-based niches can be used for shifting to a sustainable energy system.
Firstly, integration of the initiative with the physical and socio-economic landscape makes the
initiative viable. Secondly, integration of initiatives within the landscape allows them to form a
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AESOP-ACSP Joint Congress  15-19 July 2013  Dublin

robust network together. Thirdly, landscape-specific innovation of the energy system will
result in diversification, thus enhancing the capacity to balance energy qualities and buffer
variations in energy supply (Broersma et al. 2011). This is the image of a multifunctional
physical and socio-economic landscape in which energy systems are an integrated part. This
image of what we coin an integrated energy landscape, is a potential vehicle to help planners
and policy makers understand how a shift to a sustainable energy system may become
within reach.
Of course, there are still challenges to face. Most energy initiatives are young, and it is yet to
be seen how fast they develop and up-scale. This sets the agenda for follow-up research in
which we want to draw lessons from the spatial-institutional arrangements that area-based
energy initiatives create in order to formulate guidelines, for designing landscape-specific
institutional settings. After all, only by taking constructive steps to up-scale viable, areabased energy initiatives, can a more fundamental energy transition be fostered.
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16 | Boer and Zuidema / Towards the Integrated Energy Landscape



Transition Management for Sustainable

Development: A Prescriptive, Complexity-Based
Governance Framework


This article introduces transition management as a new governance
approach for sustainable development. Sustainable development is used
here as a common notion referring to those persistent problems in (Western
industrialized) societies that can only be dealt with on the very long term
(decades or more) through specic types of network and decision-making
processes. Based on interdisciplinary research into complex processes of
long term, structural change in society, basic tenets for complexity-based
governance are formulated. These tenets are translated into a framework
that distinguishes between four different types of governance activities and
their respective roles in societal transitions. This framework can be used for
implementation of governance strategies and instruments. The approach
and framework have been developed deductively and inductively in the
Netherlands since 2000. This article presents the theoretical basis of transition management and will be illustrated by examples from transition
management practice, especially the Dutch national energy transition

Over the last decades, we have witnessed a shift from the centralized
government-based nation-state toward liberalized, marketbased, and
decentralized decision-making structures in modernized European
democracies. The power of central government to develop and implement
policies in a top-down manner has decreased, leading to increasingly
diffuse policymaking structures and processes stratied across subnational, national, and supranational levels of government (Hooghe and
Marks 2001). Generally referred to with the term governance (Kooiman
1993), the current practice of governments in Western European nationstates is increasingly to develop policies in interaction with a diversity of
societal actors. In other words, interaction between all sorts of actors in
networks often produces (temporary) societal consensus and support
upon which policy decisions are based. This development is far from
*Erasmus University Rotterdam
Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, Vol. 23, No. 1,
January 2010 (pp. 161183).
2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main St., Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington
Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK. ISSN 0952-1895



trivial in light of the many complex, persistent problems that face Western
societies, and for which sustainable development can neither be planned
nor emerge spontaneously.
There seems to be an increasing degree of consensus in governance
research that both top-down steering by government (the extent to which
social change can be effected by government policies) and the liberal free
market approach (the extent to which social change can be brought about
by market forces) are outmoded as effective management mechanisms to
generate sustainable solutions at the societal level by themselves, but it is
at the same time impossible to govern societal change without them
(Jessop 1997; Meadowcroft 2005; Pierre 2000; Scharpf 1999). Therefore,
new modes of governance are sought that reduce the lack of direction and
coordination associated with governance networks in general, and
increase the effect of existing forms of government and planning in the
context of long-term change in society. In effect, this implies a new balance
between state, market, and society and new ways to facilitate and make as
effective as possible the informal network processes through which alternative ideas and agendas are generated that are often seen as important in
fueling regular policymaking processes with new problem denitions,
ambitions, solutions, and agendas (Hritier 1999).
Although it is not easy to generalize, theories of governance developed
over the last 15 years are highly descriptive and analytical and rarely offer
a prescriptive basis for governance. Modern industrialized societies are
however confronted with many complex and unstructured problems (e.g.,
in our welfare systems, environment, agriculture, energy, mobility, health
care) for which long-term solution strategies need to be developed at the
level of the society. We can refer to this as the challenge for (a form of)
sustainable development or, to use a sociological concept, as reexive
modernization (Beck 1992): Long-term development that takes in to
account the adverse side effects of modernization and fundamentally
redenes its own dynamics and workings. Not only does this imply a new
paradigm on economic and technology development, it also includes a
redenition of how to govern society. While in this article we focus on
Western democracies, this need for reexive modernization and associated new ways of reexive governance (Voss 2005) are a general need for
industrialized and industrializing countries.
Since 2001, a governance experiment is ongoing in the Netherlands
under the ag of transition management (Rotmans, Kemp, and van
Asselt 2001; VROM 2001), of which the so-called Energy Transition
Program is best known ( It is
perhaps not coincidental that this experiment originated in the Netherlands, well known for its collaborative policymaking, long-term planning,
and innovative environmental policies. It is, however, also surprising,
since many facets of transition management constitute a break with dominant approaches: a focus on frontrunners, the objective of radical innovation, and the selective participatory approach (Van Buuren and Loorbach



2009). The emergence of transition management can in this light perhaps

be seen as a break with the consensual tradition of policymaking in the
Netherlands, which according to some is a broader and ongoing development (Baumgartner and Jones 1993). On the other hand, the traditional
political culture and practices in national and local government seem on
the outside to be following new trends and changing quickly, while at
closer look, the changes often do not go deeper than the surface (Hendriks
and Grin 2007). The future will have to determine whether transition
management is a symptom of an emerging new political culture and
governance paradigm or another fashionable governance innovation that
is being used to cover up that in the meantime, it is still policy as usual.
This being said, governance processes based on transition management
have been developed in various sectors and regions over the past 10 years.
These are designed to create space for short-term innovation and develop
long-term sustainability visions linked to desired societal transitions.
These processes are producing broad innovation networks, including business, government, science, and civil society. These networks have shared
visions and agendas for social reform and are increasingly inuencing
regular policies in areas such as the energy supply, mobility, health care,
agriculture, and water management (see, e.g., Loorbach 2007; Van der
Brugge 2009). Increasingly, it is also seen internationally as an interesting
approach to mobilize, guide, and accelerate social innovation rapidly (e.g.,
Hendriks and Grin 2007; Kern and Smith 2007; Meadowcroft 2007),
although the approach itself is still developing.
Transition management as presented in this article is a governance
approach based on insights from governance and complex systems theory
as much as upon practical experiment and experience (Loorbach 2007). On
this basis, a framework is built that discriminates between different types
of governance activities that inuence long-term change. This framework
can be used both to analyze and to structure or manage ongoing governance processes in society. Transition management is innovative for two
reasons: It offers a prescriptive approach toward governance as a basis for
operational policy models, and it is explicitly a normative model by taking
sustainable development as long-term goal. Transition management is
itself still in development. The new, hybrid research eld of transitions in
which interdisciplinarity and practice-oriented research are central elements is still in a preparadigmatic stage (Rotmans et al. 2004; Voss,
Bauknecht, and Kemp 2006). This means that the thoughts and concepts
presented in this article are subject to debate. In fact, it is through scientic
and societal debate upon issues addressed in this article that our thinking
and practice of governance for sustainable development advances.
Governance and Complexity
Society has become increasingly complex on three levels: the level of
society itself, the level of the problems facing our society, and the level of



dealing with these problems (governance). Trends such as economic and

demographic growth, internationalization, technology development, and
individualization have led to the emergence of the network society (Castells 1996; Teisman 1992; Voss, Bauknecht, and Kemp 2006) and an increasing societal complexity. This modern complex society is at the same time
the origin of many problems, as it is the breeding ground for novel
approaches to deal with these problems (as we will argue in this article).
In this article, we focus on a specic type of problems at the societal level,
which cannot be solved with simple, short-term solutions. These problems
are dened as persistent problems: They are unstructured (Hisschemller
1993) and highly complex because They are rooted in different societal
domains, occur on varying levels, and involve various actors with dissimilar perspectives, norms, and values. Solutions to such problems are not
given, and purely analytical approaches will not sufce. The structural
uncertainties surrounding future development necessitate more explorative, experimental, and reexive approaches.
Policymaking itself has become highly complex in the context of these
persistent problems and the related uncertainties, as different actors and
perspectives need to be dealt with, and clear solutions or mechanisms to
assess progress and success are lacking. In the short term, different new
concepts and approaches have emerged concerning how governments can
deal with a network society: interactive, participatory, network, and
process approaches (see, e.g., Edelenbos 2005; Jaeger et al. 1997; Jessop
1997; Klijn and Koppenjan 2000). These new governance arrangements
focus on understanding and sometimes facilitating network processes
around formulation and implementation of policy problems in the short
and mid term. Dealing with persistent societal problems in the long term
will require approaches that give special attention to learning, interaction,
integration, and experimentation on the level of society instead of policy
alone. This is especially true since every action or solution will lead to
changes in the societal structures, in turn transforming the problem itself.
A recent and poignant example is the issue of climate change, which
clearly can only be addressed through novel forms of governmentsociety
interactions across different levels to address a broad complexity of interrelated problems (Prins and Rayner 2007; Rabe 2007).
An emerging paradigm for analysis of persistent problems is complex
systems theory (or systems thinking). Systems theory refers to a universal language to address complex patterns of interaction between different components in complex adaptive systems (Gell-Man 1994;
Gunderson and Holling 2002; Holland 1995; Kauffman 1995). Systems
thinking quickly gained popularity during the 1990s in the context of
organizational sciences and management practice but has emerged since
the 1950s in a number of disciplines (Ackoff 1971; Midgley 2000; Varela,
Maturana, and Uribe 1974; Von Bertalanffy 1956). Often linked to the
evolutionary or co-evolutionary perspective, system theories have been
adopted in one form or another as a useful analytical approach in sociol-



ogy (Giddens 1984; Luhmann 1984), economics (Allen 2001; Boulding

1970), ecology (Gunderson and Holling 2002), policy sciences (Kickert
1991; Vickers 1965), and organizational sciences (Senge 1990). Recently, the
approach has been explicitly introduced into governance and political
sciences (Kemp, Loorbach, and Rotmans 2005; Rotmans, Kemp, and
van Asselt 2001) through the concept of transitions and transition
Systems theory offers a conceptual lens to analyze and understand both
societal and governance complexity. The complexity perspective on
society makes it clear that uncertainties, nonlinear processes of change
and innovation, and emergence are important features of societal change,
but at the same time, there are specic patterns, dynamics, and mechanisms that drive change in societal systems (De Haan 2006). An understanding of these patterns and mechanisms provides greater insight into
the dynamics of a complex, adaptive societal system, which offers a basis
for improved insight into the feasibility of directing and inuencing it and
vice versa. The governance- or network-processes actors co-evolve with
these broader societal system dynamics. Societal actors (governments,
business, scientists, nongovernmental organizations [NGOs], intermediary organizations) create formal and informal networks because
they have partially overlapping interests, and they nd benets in temporarily sharing certain resources and working together toward shared
objectivessomething that they cannot do well without each other and
that they can better achieve jointly than individually. Within networks,
decisions and strategies are developed, negotiated and implemented that
lead to changes in societal structures, which in turn structure the governance patterns. The formal policy process in this view is only part of
governance. The central problem is that policymaking this way has
become less transparent; the division of power, as well as the accountability issue, is no longer clear, yet this produces a policy vacuum that needs
to be lled with novel strategies to ensure the effective production and
implementation of policies without losing democratic legitimacy.
In other words, governance itself is not independent of its surrounding
environment, be it political, social, or other. Driven by trends such as
European integration, internationalization, and empowerment of societal
actors, governance dynamics and structures have emerged in all sectors of
the economy and society. Not surprisingly, the interactive policy and
network approaches in which government involves societal stakeholders
in the policymaking process have recently become widespread. The organization and design of these interactive processes itself has become subject
of study (e.g., Edelenbos 1999) and has led to the emergence of the eld of
process and network management (De Bruijn and Ten Heuvelhof 1997;
Eising and Kohler-Koch 1999; Kickert, Klijn, and Koppenjan 1997;
Milward and Provan 2000). Besides the government, other societal actors
also attempt to direct a process where they have mutual inuence (De
Bruin, ten Heuvelhof, and in t Veld 1998).



Based on an overview of the existing literature, we can conclude that

governance is characterized by diversity, uncertainty, heterogeneity of
society, and the decreased possibilities for inducing long-term change by
government. In light of the ambition of realizing long-term sustainable
development, prescriptive governance models need to take into account
All societal actors exert inuence and thus direct social change, being
aware of the opportunities as well as the restrictions and limitations
of directing. Through agency and interaction in networks, society is
shaped as well, to which we conceptually refer as governance.
Top-down planning and market dynamics only account for part of
societal change; network dynamics and reexive behavior account
for other parts.
Steering of societal change is a reexive process of searching, learning, and experimenting.
The general conclusion from this overview is that there is a huge variety
and diversity of concepts, analytical models, and theories existing that
seem to provide some of the jigsaw pieces. None of the mentioned theories
seems to address the societal and steering complexity involved in issues
such as climate change, restructuring of energy, and mobility systems, or
the transformation of housing stock in long-term, multilevel, and multiactor terms in a prescriptive manner. We have found that different
elements are provided for such a mode of governance: actornetwork
interaction, different levels, different social domains with specic characteristics, plurality of actor perspectives, and new instruments, practices,
and approaches that emerge within the eld of steering and government.
A shared message seems to be that there is a relationship between the
nature of a system, the specic patterns and dynamics, and the way that
actors inuence and react to these. Transition management is therefore
analytically based on the concept of transitions as multilevel, multiphase processes of structural change in societal systems.
Starting Points for Governance Based on Complexity Theory
Transitions are processes of structural change in societal (sub-) systems
such as energy supply, housing, mobility, agriculture, health care, and so
on (Geels 2002a; Rotmans et al. 2000). Transitions come about when the
dominant structures in society (regimes) are put under pressure by external changes in society, as well as endogenous innovation. Under certain
conditions, seemingly stable societal congurations can transform relatively quickly (a societal transition could take decades). Two basic concepts are used to analyze transitions in societal systems. The multilevel
model (Rip and Kemp 1998) distinguishes between innovation in niches, a



dominant regime, and an external landscape. Developed in the context of

sociotechnical studies, it has been applied to study historical transformations such as those from sail boats to steam engines, from piston engines
to jet propulsion aircraft and from horse carriages to automobiles (Geels
2002b). The multiphase or S-curve model (Rotmans, Kemp, and van Asselt
2001), typical for innovation studies, distinguishes between the predevelopment, take-off, acceleration, and stabilization phases. Examples of
transitions are the changes in water management (Van der Brugge and
Rotmans 2007), waste management (Parto et al. 2007), agriculture (Grin,
Felix, and Bos 2004), and energy supply (Loorbach, der Brugge, and Van
2008; Van den Bergh and Bruinsma 2008; Verbong and Geels 2006).
Transitions of societal systems can be considered as a particular case of
complex systems dynamics (Grin, Rotmans, and Schot 2009). In a transition, a complex, adaptive system is successfully adjusted to changed internal and external circumstances, and the system thus arrives at a higher
order of organization and complexity. In societal systems, structural change
is often a result of individual actions as a response to changing societal
conditions, as the mentioned historical case studies illustrate. This touches
upon the old debate in sociology about structuration (Giddens 1984): How
does the interplay between the system level and individual or institutional
action (or agency) produce societal change? The transition concept tries to
unravel the complex interaction patterns between individuals, organizations, networks, and regimes within a societal context, and how over time,
these can lead to nonlinear change in seemingly stable regimes.
Based on this multilevel and multiphase understanding of transitions in
complex, adaptive societal systems and insights from the governance
literature, the following tenets for a form of governance based on complexity have been formulated (Loorbach 2007; Rotmans and Loorbach
The dynamics of the system create feasible and nonfeasible means for
steering: This implies that content and process are inseparable.
Process management on its own is not sufcientinsight into
how the system works is an essential precondition for effective
Long-term thinking (at least 25 years) is a framework for shaping
short-term policy in the context of persistent societal problems. This
means back and forecasting: the setting of short-term goals based on
long-term goals and the reection on future developments through
the use of scenarios.
Objectives should be exible and adjustable at the system level. The
complexity of the system is at odds with the formulation of specic
objectives and blueprint plans. While being directed, the structure
and order of the system are also changing, and so the objectives set
should change too.



The timing of the intervention is crucial. Immediate and effective

intervention is possible in both desirable and undesirable crisis
Managing a complex, adaptive system means using disequilibria as
well as equilibria. Relatively short periods of nonequilibrium therefore offer opportunities to direct the system in a desirable direction
(toward a new attractor).
Creating space for agents to build up alternative regimes is crucial for
innovation. Agents at a certain distance from the regime can effectively create a new regime in a protected environment to permit
investment of sufcient time, energy, and resources.
Steering from outside a societal system is not effective: Structures,
actors, and practices adapt and anticipate in such a manner that these
should also be directed from inside.
A focus on (social) learning about different actor perspectives and a
variety of options (which requires a wide playing eld) is a necessary
precondition for change.
Participation from and interaction between stakeholders is a necessary basis for developing support for policies but also to engage
actors in reframing problems and solutions through social learning.
Transition Management: A Descriptive Multilevel Framework
The challenge is obviously to translate these relatively abstract governance
tenets into a practical management framework without losing too much of
the complexity involved and without becoming too prescriptive. We have
attempted this by developing a framework for transition management.
This framework has emerged out of theoretical reasoning (following the
line of reasoning and conceptual integration described above) combined
with practical experiment and observation. It is, in other words, based on
natural processes of governance that can be observed in society (see,
e.g., Kemp 2006; Parto et al. 2007) but then structured and dened based
on the characteristics of complex societal transitions. In that sense, it is an
analytical lens to assess how societal actors deal with complex societal
issues at different levels but consequently also to develop and implement
strategies to inuence these natural governance processes. In the transition management framework, four different types of governance activities (alternatively called spheres; Van der Brugge and Van Raak 2007) are
identied that are relevant to societal transitions: strategic, tactical, operational, and reexive (Loorbach 2002, 2007).
As strategic activities, we identify processes of vision development, strategic discussions, long-term goal formulation, collective goal and norm



setting, and long-term anticipation. In essence, all activities and developments that deal primarily with the culture of a societal (sub-) system as
a whole: debates on norms and values, identity, ethics, sustainability, and
functional and relative importance for society. In the context of regular
policies, especially in periods of predevelopment and takeoff, discussions
of this nature draw more attention. Think, for example, about the debate
about energy supply, in which energy security, climate impact, energy
prices, and diversity of resources are central issues for which the buildup
of sociopolitical sense of urgency, as well as consensus regarding future
development, is ongoing.
In such a sociopolitical context, uncertainty around future developments is high, and opinion leaders and innovative alternatives are able to
voice alternatives and inuence societal and political debate. However,
the way in which future visions, structural reection on ongoing and
future trends and developments, and debate on how innovation should
contribute to desired changes is often more implicit than systematically
structured. Long-term concerns and governance have no institutionalized
place in regular policymaking, which is generally focused on the short and
mid term because of political cycles, individual interests, and public
pressure. The ambition of transition management is to integrate (in a
sense institutionalize, although this is contrary to the nature of transition management) long-term governance activities into the realm of
policymakingnot as a regular and formalized activity but as a fundamentally necessary element of policymaking for sustainable development.
As tactical activities, we identify steering activities that are interest driven
and relate to the dominant structures (regime) of a societal (sub-) system.
This includes all established patterns and structures, such as rules and
regulations, institutions, organizations and networks, infrastructure, and
routines. This sphere thus includes all actors that are dealing on a daily
basis with developing programs, nancial and institutional regulation and
frameworks, organizing networks and coalitions, and, in general, representing certain interests. The context in which such actors operate is at the
level of departments, subsectors, or within specic subthemes. For
example, subsystems or themes observed within the energy system could
be the different sources of energy (coal, gas, oil, sustainable) or could be
different domains, such as technology, policy, market, and consumption. Activities are focused on achieving goals within a specic context but
are almost never concerned with the overall development of the societal
system. They generally have a time horizon of 515 years, and are generally considered strategic at the level of individual actors.
A company or organization will probably have a strategic vision upon
the position of the organization in its direct (industrial, institutional, or
societal) context, from which it enters the interaction and negotiation with



other actors. But from the perspective of transitions, this leads to fragmentation in governance and suboptimal solutions at the systems level. For the
government, the institutional fragmentation in terms of different ministries, departments, executive ofces, and directorates is a major barrier for
integrative long-term policies. The same might be true for other actors,
such as business, science, and NGOs that are operating in networks
negotiating change or projects and running their day-to-day operations.
Sometimes, these actors are not able or willing to contribute to system
innovation, but often they are unaware of the possibility. Not because they
are not functioning at their own level, but because an integrative strategic
governance level is missing, there are only very limited instances of successfully integrated long-term governance.
As operational activities, experiments and actions are identied that have
a short-term horizon and are often carried out in the context of innovation
projects and programs, in business and industry, in politics or in civil
society, and are generally referred to as innovation. In the context of
transition management, it is important to emphasize the inclusive denition of innovation as including all societal, technological, institutional, and
behavioral practices that introduce or operationalize new structures,
culture, routines, or actors. Action at this level is often driven by individual ambitions, entrepreneurial skills, or promising innovations. In the
innovation and sociotechnical literature, the process of innovation is often
presented as an emergent, often random, and uncertain process. In practice, these innovations often seem to emerge in niches (Kemp, Schot, and
Hoogma 1998) without any link to broader policies or agendas and can,
under specic conditions, develop into mainstream options. From this
perspective, innovations almost never lead to system innovations and
transitions except by chance.
Reexive activities relate to monitoring, assessments and evaluation of
ongoing policies, and ongoing societal change. In part, they are located
within existing institutions established to monitor and evaluate, but in part
they are also socially embedded: The media and Internet, for example,
have an important role in inuencing public opinions and judging the
effectiveness of policies and political agendas. A central role is also played
here by science: Researchers analyze longer-term societal processes and
dynamics and put these on the societal and political agenda. These and
other reexive activities are necessary to prevent lock-in and to enable
exploration of new ideas and trajectories. From a transition management
perspective, however, the reexivity needs to be an integrated part
of governance processes and not, as is often the case nowadays, either



Transition Management Types and Their Focus (Loorbach 2007)


Problem Scope

Time Scale
Long term
(30 years)
Mid term
(515 years)
Short term
(05 years)









Level of

only come afterward or be detached from the actual governance itself.

Reexive activities are related to all three other types of governance
(Table 1).
This framework itself is recursive, meaning that it can be applied on the
level of a societal system, but as well as on a subsystem or even the project
level. The different types of governance are thus identied based on the
demarcation of the system; the debate about the future energy supply as a
whole can be considered, as well as a debate about the future of biomass.
However, the latter is a tactical activity in the context of the whole energy
transition and will itself be accompanied by tactical activities related to the
competition between different ows of biomass or different competing
technologies and their roadmaps. This recursiveness has a certain
elegancy because it allows for all sorts of interactions between and within
the different types of governance. In transition management practice,
these interactions and their effects are unpredictable and not directly
managed, but because they t within the same overall direction and
emerge within a network of actors, they can contribute largely to collective goals. In a sense, this type of self-organization is thus indirectly
managed: The conditions are created in terms of the structured process
and substance under which self-organization arises. The governance
system that subsequently develops is a multilevel network in which actors
sometimes even unconsciously contribute to shared goals through different types of governance strategies and actions.

The Transition Management Cycle: Linking

Descriptive to Prescriptive
Systemic instruments need to be developed to inuence the different
types of activities and to guide them in a specic direction. These instruments need to be designed based on the characteristics of the different
types of activities dened above and the types of individuals involved in
these. The framework for transition management therefore contains a



process dimension that distinguishes between different clusters of activities that are recognizable throughout any governance processes around
long-term societal change. These are the typical phases identied by many
policy-process models but fundamentally different in their focus on societal processes, persistent problems, and normative direction. This process
model has been developed by Loorbach and Rotmans (Loorbach 2007;
Loorbach and Rotmans 2006) based on iteration between theoretical
reection and practical experiments with new systemic instruments. Such
experiments include, for example, regional transition arenas,1 the Dutch
national energy transition program,2 and two transition arenas on
resource transition and sustainable housing in Flanders, Belgium.3
The systemic instruments are captured in a cyclical process model as a
basis for implementing the transition management approach. It thus offers
the basis for a normative approach based on the analytical framework and
theoretically offers the perspective of actively inuencing the natural
self-steering and governance activities present in society. This so-called
transition management cycle consists of the following components (Loorbach 2004): (1) structure the problem in question, develop a long-term
sustainability vision and establish and organize the transition arena; (2)
develop future images, a transition agenda and derive the necessary transition paths; (3) establish and carry out transition experiments and mobilize the resulting transition networks; (4) monitor, evaluate, and learn
lessons from the transition experiments and, based on these, make adjustments in the vision, agenda, and coalitions. In reality, there is no xed
sequence of the steps in transition management. The cycle only visualizes
the need to connect activities and presents some possible logical connections but does not suggest a sequential order of activities (Figure 1).
Implementing Transition Management
The transition management framework does provide the basis for managing transitions in an operational sense. Although every transition management process will be unique in terms of context, actors, problems, and
solutions, the cycle is exible enough for adaptation but prescriptive
enough to be functional in practice. An integrated analysis of a societal
system in transition terms yields a very general idea of the dynamics in
society on different levels that are a starting point for governance.
Depending on this analysis, a strategy can be designed that, for example,
focuses primarily at structuration of societal problems, at envisioning, at
scaling up experiments, at political lobby, or a combination of these. Either
way, transition management focuses at the frontrunners in society, and
related to desired sustainability transitions, these are frontrunners that
promote sustainable development. In a sense, it tries to structure and
coordinate those informal networks of actors that, collectively and over
time, are able to inuence regular policy. The important role of outsiders
and informal networks on providing innovative ideas and impulses to



The Transition Management Cycle
Problem structuring,
envisioning, and
establishment of the
transition arena (strategic)

images, and

and learning

Mobilizing actors and

executing projects and
experiments (operational)

regular policymaking processes has been descriptively identied in many

studies (Hritier 1999; Nooteboom 2006; Olsson et al. 2006; Scharpf 1999;
Van der Brugge 2009) but so far hardly translated into a prescriptive
strategy. The approach described below is, as mentioned, based on theoretical deduction, as well as practical experience, and still in evolution.
The implementation in any specic context will lead to specic characteristics and thus specic lessons, which in turn can lead to novel insights
regarding the generic model. This approach of learning by doing is a
central part of transition management and, in a sense, a way to develop a
more experimental and explorative attitude toward social innovation in
Strategic: The Transition Arena
The transition arena is a small network of frontrunners with different
backgrounds, within which various perceptions of a specic persistent
problem and possible directions for solutions can be deliberately confronted with each other and subsequently integrated. To be involved, the
actors have their own perception of the transition issue in question from
their specic background and perspective. These people participate on a
personal basis and not as a representative of their institution or based on
their organizational background (government, business, science, civil
society). There should not be too many actors (1015), and they are
identied and selected based on their competencies, interests, and
backgrounds. The competencies expected of them and are: (1) ability to
consider complex problems at a high level of abstraction, (2) ability to look



beyond the limits of their own discipline and background, (3) enjoy a
certain level of authority within various networks, (4) ability to establish
and explain visions of sustainable development within their own networks, (5) willingness to think together, and (6) open for innovation
instead of already having specic solutions in mind. These frontrunners
do not necessarily need to be experts; they can also be networkers or
opinion leaders. They should also be prepared to invest time and energy
in the process of innovation and commit themselves to it. And nally, it is
important that there are an equal number of frontrunners from the societal
pentagon: government, companies, NGOs, knowledge institutes, and
intermediaries (consulting organizations, project organizations and
The fundamental issue here is not that the existing establishment and
interests (incumbent regime) come together within the transition arena
but that innovative individuals who can operate more or less autonomously are involved. Indeed, a certain representation from the existing
regime is necessary, also with an eye to the legitimacy and nancing of the
process of innovation. But a transition arena is not an administrative
platform, or a consultative body, but a societal network of innovation
(Van Buuren and Loorbach 2009). This demands a critical selection of
frontrunnersnot by a gatekeeper who selects who may or may not
participate but by an initiating core group in which experts on the process
and on the transition subject are involvedthat consider matters carefully.
The arena process is an open, evolving process of innovation that implies
variation and selection: After a certain period of time, some people drop
out and others join in. Management therefore means creating sufcient
space and favorable conditions for the frontrunners, such that the envisaged process of innovation begins to take shape. It does not mean gathering together a wide range of bodies around the arena, such as a steering
group, a consultation group, or advisory board, because that is exactly the
recipe for limiting the space for innovation and management that has just
been created.
When such a group of frontrunners has been brought together to focus
on a certain transition issue, an attempt is made to reach a joint perception
of the problem by means of a strongly interactive process. By deploying a
participative integrated systems approach, the complex problem(s) can be
structured and made easier to understand (Hisschemller and Hoppe
1996). The convergence of the various problem perceptions is facilitated
from the articulation of diverging perspectives of the actors involved,
which in turn will lead to new insights into the nature of the problem(s)
and the underlying causal mechanisms. These insights form the prelude to
a change in perspective, which is a necessary but insufcient precondition
to realizing a transition. Based on this new perspective and through discussion and interaction, sustainability visions are generated, which
primarily include the shared basic principles for long-term (sustainable)
development, leaving room for dissent upon short and mid-term



solutions, goals, and strategies. While there is an emphasis on consensus

or at least a willingness to cooperate within a common framework, this
consensus is only valid within the context of the transition network. By
necessity, transition visions will oppose expectations and visions of
regime actors, and in this sense, transition visions are explicitly seeking
conict with vested interests and powers to establish a fundamental
debate upon future development, the necessity of fundamental change,
and the possibilities of an envisaged transition.
Visions are an important management instrument for achieving new
insights and starting points and, therefore, a change of attractor. The
visions created evolve and are instrumental: The process of envisioning is
just as important as the ultimate visions themselves. Envisioning processes are very labor intensive and time consuming but are crucial to
achieving development in the desired direction. This direction, as long as
a sufciently large group of frontrunners supports it, provides a focus and
creates the constraints, which determine the room for maneuver within
which the future transition activities can take place. Based on the sustainability vision developed, a process can be initiated in which transition
paths are developed and a common transition agenda is drawn up. A
common transition agenda contains a number of joint objectives, action
points, projects, and instruments to realize these objectives. It should be
clear which party is responsible for which type of activity, project, or
instrument that is being developed or applied. Where the sustainability
visions and the accompanying nal transition images and transition objectives form the guidelines for the transition agenda that is to be developed,
the transition agenda itself forms the compass for the frontrunners that
they can refer to during their research and learning process.
Tactical: The Transition Agenda
The change in perspective, described by the visions and the accompanying
transition images of the future, should be further translated to and nd
root within various networks, organizations, and institutions. Focus at this
tactical level is therefore the structural (regime) barriers to development in
the desired direction, which can be explored through developing transitions scenarios (Sondeijker et al. 2006; Wiek et al. 2006). Such barriers
include regulatory, institutional, and economic conditions but could also
involve consumer routines, physical infrastructures, or specic technologies. In an expanding transition network stemming from the transition
arena, this vision is further translated by self-formed coalitions into
so-called transition paths: routes to a transition image via intermediate
objectives, which, as they come closer, can be formulated more quantitatively. Different transition paths can lead to a single transition image, and
conversely, a single transition path can lead to several transition images. In
this phase, the interests, motives, and policy of the various actors involved
(NGOs, governments, knowledge institutes, and intermediaries) come out



into the open; there will be negotiations about investments, and individual plans and strategies will be ne-tuned. The actors who should be
involved at this stage are those who represent one of the organizations
involved and who are willing and able to operate for more than just a
short period of time. Within this tactical layer, actors should be recruited
who, in particular, have sufcient authority and room for maneuver
within their own organization and who also have insight into the opportunities for their organization to contribute to the envisaged transition
process. An important condition for this is that the actors involved have
the capacity to translate the transition vision and the consequences of
this to the transition agenda of their own organization. When the organizations and networks involved start to adjust their own policy and actions
in this way, tensions will arise between the transition arena and the everyday policy agendas. Then the direction will have to be reviewed at a
strategic level, and if necessary, a new arena will have to be established
with some of the existing actors, but also with new ones.

Operational: Experiments
At the operational level of transition management, transition experiments
and actions are carried out that try to broaden, deepen, and scale up
existing and planned initiatives and actions (Raven, Van den Bosch, and
Weterings 2007; Rotmans and Loorbach 2008). The transition experiments
need to t within the context of the vision and transition paths developed.
They may compete, complement each other, or investigate various
options. Diversity is an important aspect, as long as these experiments at
the systems level are in a position to contribute to the envisaged transition.
Transition experiments are iconic projects with a high level of risk that can
make a potentially large innovative contribution to a transition process.
New transition experiments are derived directly from the developed sustainability vision and transition objectives, and they t within the identied transition paths. On the other hand, experiments can be linked to
innovation experiments that are already taking place as long as they t
into the context of the transition. When an experiment has been successful
(in terms of evaluating its learning experiences and contributions to the
transition challenge), it can be repeated in different contexts (broadening)
and scaled up from the micro- to the mesolevel (scaling up). This requires
a considerable amount of timeapproximately 510 years. Transition
experiments are often costly and time consuming, so it is important that
wherever possible, existing infrastructure (physical, nancial, institutional) is used for experiments, and that the experiments feasibility is
continuously monitored. Transition management at this level focuses on
creating a portfolio of related transition experiments that complement and
strengthen each other, have a contribution to the sustainability objective,
can be scaled up, and are signicant and measurable.



Reexive: Monitoring and Evaluation

Continuous monitoring is a vital part of the search and learning process of
transitions (Taanman 2008). We distinguish between monitoring the transition process itself and monitoring transition management. Monitoring
the transition process involves physical changes in the system in question,
slowly changing macrodevelopments, fast niche developments, and seeds
of change, as well as movements of individual and collective actors at the
regime level. This provides the enriched context for transition management. Monitoring of transition management involves different aspects.
First, the actors within the transition arena must be monitored with regard
to their behavior, networking activities, alliance forming and responsibilities, and also with regard to their activities, projects, and instruments.
Next, the transition agenda must be monitored with regard to the actions,
goals, projects, and instruments that have been agreed upon. Transition
experiments need to be monitored with regard to specic new knowledge
and insight and how these are transferred, but also with regard to the
aspects of social and institutional learning. Finally, the transition process
itself must be monitored with regard to the rate of progress, the barriers
and points to be improved, and so forth. Integration of monitoring and
evaluation within each phase and at every level of transition management
may stimulate a process of social learning that arises from the interaction
and cooperation between different actors involved. To ensure this, transition monitoring, much like fourth-generation evaluation (Guba and
Lincoln 1989), is about reecting collectively upon the process and in this
way articulating next steps.
Conclusions: Toward Transition Governance?
In this article, we presented a new governance framework for addressing
persistent societal problems. This transition management framework is
based on common notions from complex systems theory and new forms
of governance that are welded into a new governance approach. Understanding the dynamics of complex, adaptive systems provides insight into
the opportunities, limitations, and conditions under which it is possible to
direct such systems (Van der Brugge 2009). This perspective enables us to
reect upon and analyze actions and strategies of actors in these processes.
The combined analysis of system dynamics and actor behavior then allows
us to try to inuence these in such a way that the changes that result from
these are more likely to lead to sustainability in the long run. Transition
management in this way provides both an analytical perspective on longterm governance and a basis for actually dealing intelligently with this. To
this end, we presented basic governance tenets, a framework for analysis,
and the transition management cycle for actually implementing strategies
that help to guide and accelerate transitions.
Based on the understanding of transitions in complex societal systems,
central tenets of the transition management approach are, for example, the



need for a long-term perspective to guide short-term development, the

acknowledgment of uncertainties and surprise, the importance of networks and self-steering, and the necessity of creating space for innovation.
These basic tenets are translated into a framework that distinguishes
between different types of governance that relate directly to different
patterns of change in societal systems. We dened these different types of
governance activities (strategic, tactical, and operational) based on their
respective time horizons, outcomes, and types of actors involved. This
framework, besides that it could be used to assess how actors in general
are dealing with long-term changes in society, is the basis for the transition
management cycle, which is used to actually implement strategies to inuence societal transitions.
The management model is far from deterministic, but rather reexive.
Applying the model implies adjusting the basic tenets and transition
management instruments to a specic context, which will change as a
result, in turn requiring adaptations in the implementation. Transition
management as prescriptive mode of governance could be characterized
as a reexive approach toward long-term social change through small
steps based on searching, learning, and experimenting. It is normative in
its ambition, prescriptive nature, long-term focus, and analytical basis.
Transition management is promising both theoretically and as operational
management strategy, but it still develops quickly and largely needs to
prove itself. The approach has already been empirically tested in the many
transition experiments that are currently going on in the Netherlands and
Belgium. More than that, the management framework itself has been the
result of experiences within testing grounds.
However, we need to be clear that so far, transition management has
been mainly implemented and conceptualized as a shadow track in
which new visions, ideas, and agendas can be developed in a more innovative way than within the context of regular policy processes. In a sense,
transition management tries to systematically organize informal networks
and policy processes, which are often found to be an explanation for the
innovative and evolving policy at the EU level, in spite of the institutional
and cross-national differences and deadlocks (Hritier 1999). As such,
transition management in the form presented here will be most effective
in early phases of the policymaking processes or in those processes in
which a deadlock requires breakthroughs. It leaves open for further
research the fascinating question of how the basic ideas and principles
underlying transition management could be translated into specic operational models that would be more in tune with other phases in policy- and
decision-making processes.
One nal key question here is to what extent the approach can be
translated to other sociopolitical contexts and cultures. Some research and
experiments have been undertaken with the approach in Belgium, and
comparative studies have been launched to study similarities and differences in implementation within different sectors and regions in the Neth-



erlands. But diffusing and translating transition management to other

countries and contexts poses an inspiring challenge. The ambition is to
validate the partly descriptive and partly prescriptive parts of transition
management for the coming period empirically, and in such a manner that
a scientically well-grounded concept and framework can be used and
further developed in a broad societal context and also internationally.

The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers sincerely for
their in-depth comments and constructive suggestions, which helped to
improve the quality of the article considerably. In pointing out new and so
far underdeveloped research questions, they also helped in shaping the
authors future research agenda. This research is funded by the Dutch
Knowledge Network on System Innovations and Transitions (KSI),

page.php?pagID=169&men1ParentID=179 (in Dutch). (in Dutch), http://www.lne.
transitiemanagement-duwobo (in Dutch).

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Landscape and Urban Planning 44 (1999) 219226

Sustainability and cities: extending the metabolism model

Peter W.G. Newman1
Professor of City Policy, Murdoch University, Perth, WA 6160, Australia
Received 21 September 1998; accepted 19 February 1999

The use of the metabolism concept, expanded to include aspects of livability, is applied to cities to demonstrate the practical
meaning of sustainability. Its application in industrial ecology, urban ecology, urban demonstration projects, business plans
and city comparisons are used to illustrate its potential. # 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Sustainability; Cities; Metabolism; Livability; Ecosystem; Indicators

1. Introduction
Sustainability has been dened through the United
Nations as a global process of development that
minimises environments resources and reduces the
impact on environmental sinks using processes that
simultaneously improve the economy and the quality
of life (UN World Commission on Environment and
Development, 1987). This paper tries to show how a
simple model developed for the Australian State of the
Environment reporting process (Newman et al., 1996)
can be used to give some substance to the application
of sustainability to cities. Data from the Australian
applications and some other case studies are provided
to illustrate how the model works.
2. Application of sustainability to cities
The principles of sustainability can be applied to
cities though the guidance on how this can be done
Tel.: +61-8-9360-6913; fax: +61-8-9360-6421
E-mail address:

0169-2046/99/$20.00 # 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

PII: S 0 1 6 9 - 2 0 4 6 ( 9 9 ) 0 0 0 0 9 - 2

was not very clear in Agenda 21 or other United

Nations documents (Keating, 1993). It is probably
true to say that the major environmental battles of
the past were fought outside cities but that awareness
of the need to include cities in the global sustainability
agenda, is now universally recognised by environmentalists, governments and industry. The Organisation
for Economic and Cultural Development, the European Community and even the World Bank now
have sustainable cities programs. In 1994 the Global
Forum on Cities and Sustainable Development heard
from 50 cities (Mitlin and Satterthwaite, 1994) and in
1996 the UN held Habitat II, the Second United
Nations Conference on Human Settlements in Istanbul. At the `City Summit' the nations of the world
reported on progress in achieving sustainability in
their cities (UN Centre for Human Settlements, 1996).
Anders (1991), in a global review of the sustainable
cities movement, pointed out:
``The sustainable cities movement seems united in
its perception that the state of the environment
demands action and that cities are an appropriate
forum in which to act''. (p. 17)


P.W.G. Newman / Landscape and Urban Planning 44 (1999) 219226

Others such as Yanarella and Levine (1992) suggest

that all sustainability initiatives should be centred
around strategies for designing, redesigning and building sustainable cities. From a global perspective, they
suggest that cities shape the world and that we will
never begin to implement the sustainability process
unless we can relate it to cities.
3. An emerging framework the city as an
Throughout this century the city has been conceived
by sociologists, planners and engineers as a ``bazaar, a
seat of political chaos, an infernal machine, a circuit,
and more hopefully, as a community, the human
creation par excellence'' (Brugmann and Hersh
(1991), cited in Roseland (1992)).
One of the strongest themes running through
the literature on urban sustainability is that if we
are to solve our environmental problems we need to
view the city as an ecosystem. As Tjallingii (1993)
puts it:
``The city is (now) conceived as a dynamic and
complex ecosystem. This is not a metaphor, but a
concept of a real city. The social, economic and
cultural systems cannot escape the rules of abiotic
and biotic nature. Guidelines for action will have to be
geared to these rules''. (p. 7)
Like all ecosystems, the city is a system, having
inputs of energy and materials. The main environmental problems (and economic costs) are related
to the growth of these inputs and managing the
increased outputs. By looking at the city as a whole
and by analysing the pathways along which energy
and materials including pollutants move, it is
possible to begin to conceive of management systems
and technologies which allow for the reintegration
of natural processes, increasing the efciency of
resource use, the recycling of wastes as valuable
materials and the conservation of (and even production of) energy.
There may be on-going academic debate about what
constitutes sustainability or an ecosystem approach
(Slocombe, 1993), but what is clear is that many
strategies and programs around the world have begun
to apply such notions both for new development and
redevelopment of existing areas.

4. The extended metabolism model

How does a city dene its goals in a way that
enables it to be more sustainable? How do you make
a systematic approach that begins to full the global
and local sustainability agenda? The approach
adopted here is based on the experience of the Human
Settlements Panel in the Australian State of the Environment Reporting process (see Newman et al., 1996)
and on the experience of making a Sustainability Plan
for Philadelphia with the graduate students at the
University of Pennsylvania in 1995 and 1997, as well
as awareness of the World Bank/UN Habitat project on
developing sustainability indicators for cities (World
Bank, 1994).
It is possible to dene the goal of sustainability in a
city as the reduction of the city's use of natural
resources and production of wastes while simultaneously improving its livability, so that it can better
t within the capacities of the local, regional and
global ecosystems.
This is set out in Fig. 1 in a model that is called the
`Extended Metabolism Model of the City'. Metabolism is a biological systems way of looking at the
resource inputs and waste outputs of settlements. This
approach has been developed by a few academics over
the past 30 years, though it has rarely if ever been used
in policy development for city planning (Wolman,

Fig. 1. Extended metabolism model of human settlements.

P.W.G. Newman / Landscape and Urban Planning 44 (1999) 219226

1965; Boyden et al., 1981; Girardet, 1992). Fig. 1 sets

out how this basic metabolism concept has been
extended to include the dynamics of settlements
and livability in these settlements. It was developed
as the basis of the approach adopted by the Australian
State of the Environment Report (Newman et al.,
In this model it is possible to specify the physical
and biological basis of the city, as well as its human
basis. The physical and biological processes of converting resources into useful products and wastes is
like the human body's metabolic processes or that of
an ecosystem. They are based on the laws of thermodynamics which show that anything which comes into
a biological system must pass through and that the
amount of waste is therefore dependent on the amount
of resources required. A balance sheet of inputs and
outputs can be created. It also means that we can
manage the wastes produced, but they require energy


in order to turn them into anything useful and ultimately all materials will eventually end up as waste.
For example, all carbon products will eventually end
up as CO2 and this is not possible to recycle any
further without enormous energy inputs that in themselves have associated wastes. This is the entropy
factor in metabolism.
What this means, is that the best way to ensure that
there are reductions in impact, is to reduce the
resource inputs. This approach to resource management is implicitly understood by scientists but is not
inherent to an economist's approach which sees only
`open cycles' whenever human ingenuity and technology are applied to natural resources. However, a city is
a physical and biological system. Fig. 2 and Table 1
apply the metabolism concept to Sydney.
The metabolic ows for Sydney in 1970 and 1990
are summarised in Table 1; they show that apart from
a few air quality parameters there has been an increase

Fig. 2. Resource inputs consumed and waste outputs discharged from Sydney, 1990. Source: Newman et al., 1996.


P.W.G. Newman / Landscape and Urban Planning 44 (1999) 219226

Table 1
Trends in certain per capita material flows in Sydney, 1970 and
1990; source: Newman et al. (1996)
Sydney 1970
2 790 000

Sydney 1990
3 656 500

Resources inputs

88 589 MJ/capita

114 236 MJ/capita


Food/capita (intake)

0.23 tonnes/capita

0.22 tonnes/capita


144 tonnes/capita

180 tonnes/capita

Waste outputs
Solid waste/capita
Hazardous waste

0.59 tonnes/capita
108 tonnes/capita

0.77 tonnes/capita
128 tonnes/capita
0.04 tonnes/capita

Air waste/capita

7.6 tonnes/capita
7 1 tonnes/capita
204.9 kg/capita
20.5 kg/capita
19.8 kg/capita
63.1 kg/capita
30.6 kg/capita

9.3 tonnes/capita
9.1 tonnes/capita
177.8 kg/capita
4.5 kg/capita
18.1 kg/capita
42.3 kg/capita
4.7 kg/capita

Total waste output

324 million tonnes

505 million tonnes

in per capita resource inputs and waste outputs. The

reduction in hydrocarbons is because they are more
completely burnt in modern automobile engines but
this just means that there's more CO2 produced. If CO2
is to be reduced, there needs to be more fundamental
change, such as reducing the need to travel so much
(Newman and Kenworthy, 1999).
The metabolism approach to cities is a purely
biological view, but cities are much more than a
mechanism for processing resources and producing
wastes, they are about creating human opportunity.
Thus Fig. 1 sets out how this basic metabolism concept has been extended to include livability in these
settlements so that the economic and social aspects of
sustainability are integrated with the environmental.

This approach now becomes more of a human ecosystem approach, as suggested by Tjallingii and others
Some typical sustainability indicators for cities
covering metabolic ows and livability are outlined
in Table 2. Livability is about the human requirement
for social amenity, health and well being and includes
both individual and community well-being. Livability
is about the human environment though it can never be
separated from the natural environment. Sustainability
for a city is thus not only the reduction in metabolic
ows (resource inputs and waste outputs), it must also
be about increasing human livability (social amenity
and health).
Livability indicators were produced for Sydney and
other Australian settlements for the State of the Environment Report (Newman et al., 1996), but only for 1
year. Further studies can thus determine if these
aspects of sustainability are improving or not.
5. Application of the extended metabolism model
The extended metabolism model can be applied at a
range of levels and to a range of different human
activities, for example:
 Industrial areas can examine their inputs of
resources and outputs of waste while measuring
their usual economic parameters and other matters
such as worker health and safety. These data could
then be used to see how mutually useful solutions
could be found such as the recycling of one industry's waste as an important resource substitute for
an adjacent industry. The Kalundborg area of Denmark has made an assessment of this kind (Tibbs,
1992). Ayres and Simonis (1994) have adopted a
similar approach for industrial areas based on
`industrial metabolism'.
 Households or neighbourhoods can make an
assessment of their metabolic flows and livability
and together make attempts to do better with both.
Examples of this approach in single developments
are being labeled `urban ecology' (Newman and
Kenworthy, 1999).
 Urban demonstration projects can be assessed for
their sustainability using the extended metabolism
model. For example, we were asked to evaluate the

P.W.G. Newman / Landscape and Urban Planning 44 (1999) 219226


Table 2
Annual goals and indicators for sustainable city
1. Energy and air quality
Reduce total energy use per capita
Decrease energy used per dollar of output from industry
Increase proportion of bridging fuels (natural gas) and renewal fuels (wind, solar, biofuels)
Reduce total quantity of air pollutants per capita
Reduce total green house gases (eg Kyoto goals of `demonstrable progress' by 2005 and 5% reductions by 200812 from 1990 levels and
then further reductions annually)
Achieve zero days not meeting air quality health standard levels
Reduce fleet average and new vehicle average fuel consumption
Reduce number of vehicles failing emission standards
Reduce number of households complaining of noise reducing
2. Water, materials and waste
Reduce total water use per capita
Achieve zero days not meeting drinking water quality standards
Increase proportion of sewage and industrial waste treated to reusable quality
Decrease amount of sewage and industrial waste discharged to streams or ocean
Reduce consumption of building materials per capita (including declining proportion of old growth timber to plantation timber)
Reduce consumption of paper and packaging per capita
Decrease amount of solid waste (including increasing recycle rates for all components)
Increase amount of organic waste returning to soil and food production
3. Land, green spaces and biodiversity
Preserve agricultural land and bushland at the urban fringe
Increase amount of green space in local or regional parks per capita, particularly in `green belt' around city
Increase amount of urban redevelopment to new development
Increase number of specially zoned transit-oriented locations
Increase density of population and employment in transit-oriented locations
4. Transportation
Reduce car use (vehicle kilometer traveled or vehicle miles traveled) per capita
Increase transit, walk/bike and car pool and decrease sole car use
Reduce average commute to and from work
Increase relative average speed of transit to cars
Increase service kms of transit relative to road provision
Increase cost recovery on transit from fares
Decrease parking spaces per 1000 workers in central business district
Increase length of separated cycleway
5. Livability, human amenity and health
Decrease infant mortality per 1000 births
Increase educational attainment (average years per adult)
Increase local leisure opportunities
Decrease transport fatalities per 100 population
Decrease reported crimes per 1000 population
Decrease deaths from urban violence
Decrease proportion of substandard housing
Increase length of pedestrian-friendly streets (based on specific indicators) in city and sub-centres
Increase proportion of city/suburbs with urban design guidelines to assist communities in redevelopment
Increase proportion of city allowing mixed use, higher density urban villages

Australian Better Cities program which consists of

45 demonstrations of urban innovations. The
approach adopted was to try to see the extent to

which each project was reducing resource inputs,

lowering waste outputs and simultaneously
improving the livability of the urban area (Diver


P.W.G. Newman / Landscape and Urban Planning 44 (1999) 219226

Table 3
Sustainability and construction
The Sydney 2000 Olympics are described as the `Green Olympics' due to the Greenpeace winning design for the Olympic Village. In this
Olympic Village there will be 100% renewable electricity (from roof top photo voltaics and wind power), energy efficient buildings, solar hot
water, no poly vinyl chlorides or rain forest timber, a rail service connection, bicycle/pedestrian oriented layout and water and waste recycling
systems (Bell et al., 1995). Karla Bell and Associates who were closely involved in the design have also designed a Swedish new town,
Hammarby Sjostad, which was part of the failed 2004 Stockholm Olympics bid but which will still be built as a `sprearhead for ecological and
environmentally friendly construction' (City of Stockholm, 1997)
The goals of the new town are a model of reduced metabolic flows:
100% renewable-based electricity and heating
Energy use to not exceed 60 kwh/m2 in 205 and reducing to 50 kwh/m2 by 2015
80% commuting by non automobile means
20% less traffic by 2005 and 40% less by 2015
15% vehicles using biofuels by 2005 and 25% by 2015
100% freight vehicles electric or low emission vehicles
Material flows
100% solid waste recycled
20% reduction in waste by 2005, 40% by 2015
Water consumption reduced by 50% in 2005 and 60% by 2105
Sewage used for energy extraction and nutrients for farm soil
Stormwater used locally
Building materials
No PVC or non-recyclable materials to be used
No rain forest timbers to be used
New building materials only 50% of construction by 2005 and only 10% by 2015
No `sick-building' chemicals in carpets and furniture glues

et al., 1996). An urban demonstration project in

Jakarta was evaluated in terms of sustainability
using the extended metabolism model (Arief,
Cities can even extend this evaluation process to
events like the Olympic Games and all the facilities
and infrastructure they require (see Table 3).
 Individual businesses can apply the extended metabolism model and create a sustainability plan. The
first business to make a `sustainability report' is
Interface (Anderson, 1998) which is a large US
company making flooring. They began a process in
1994 after the CEO had read Paul Hawken's `The
Ecology of Commerce' (Hawken, 1994) and chose
to follow a Swedish set of principles called Natural
Step (Greyson, 1995). Their process was similar to
the metabolism model in that it examined resources
(`what we take'), dynamics (`what we make') and

wastes (`what we waste'). It did not specify livability outcomes, though their report stressed that
economic productivity improved as much from
staff morale as from new technology. Four hundred
separate sustainability initiatives were specified in
the firm based on the work of 18 different teams.
 City comparisons. By comparing indicators for
resource use, wastes and livability in different
cities, it is possible to locate those cities (or parts
or cities) that have something to contribute to
policy debates on sustainability. Few cities have
done full assessments of their resources, wastes and
livability (Newman and Kenworthy, 1999). New
Zealand cities were assessed using the extended
metabolism model (Parliamentary Commission of
the Environment, 1998) and found that the area
requiring most attention was the growth in automobile dependence. Australian cities were studied

P.W.G. Newman / Landscape and Urban Planning 44 (1999) 219226


Table 4
Australian settlements and substainability based on `State of The Environment, Australia 1996'
1. The larger the cities the more sustainable they are in terms of per capita use of resources (land, energy, water) and production of wastes
(solid, liquid and gaseous) and in terms of livability indicators (income, education, housing, accessibility). The reason for this is the economies
of scale and density which mean that they have more public transport and recycling and are generally more innovative with new technology
(Newman and Kenworthy, 1999)
2. Larger cities are however more likely to reach capacity limits in terms of air sheds and water sheds. For large cities to continue to grow they
will need to be even more innovative if they are to be sustainable
3. In geographic cross section across Australian cities there is an increase in metabolic flows and declines in livability indicators from core to
inner to middle to outer to fringe suburbs. This pattern is related to the different urban development periods and most recently has been related
to re-urbanisation by more wealthy residents and firms. This rapid re-urbanisation of more central areas appears to be related to processes of
economic change in the new Information Age which may be helping cities to become less automobile dependent (Newman and Kenworthy,
4. Ex-urban and coastal settlements beyond the big cities are the least sustainable of all Australian development; they have large environmental
impacts, high metabolic flows and low invability on all indicators. These areas are heavily automobile dependent and highlight how
sustainability and transportation priorities are totally enmeshed
5. Remote aboriginal settlements have low metabolic flows and low livability (especially in regard to employment and health) but are the
settlements where new small-scale eco-technologies are being trialed.

using this approach and showed the broad trends set

out in Table 4.
Cities can operate this model on many such
levels, but most of all they need to be able to
measure how they are doing overall as a city in
reducing their metabolic flows whilst improving
their human livability. Most cities will be able to
point to a few innovations they are making in
sustainability but until they can bring a full
assessment of these matters together they will
not be addressing the fundamentals of urban

6. Conclusion
This paper has provided examples of how the
extended metabolism model can be used to assess
the sustainability of cities. The simultaneous achievement of reduced resources and wastes whilst improving livability provides a framework for guiding our
cities into the future.

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Landscape and Urban Planning 107 (2012) 193202

Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect

Landscape and Urban Planning

journal homepage:

Perspective Essay

An expanded urban metabolism method: Toward a systems approach for

assessing urban energy processes and causes
Stephanie Pincetl a, , Paul Bunje b , Tisha Holmes c
Center for Sustainable Urban Systems, Institute of the Environment and Sustainbility, UCLA, La Kretz Hall, Suite 300, 619 Charles E Young Dr East, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1496,
United States
Center for Climate Change Solutions, Institute of the Environment and Sustainbility, UCLA, United States
Urban Planning, UCLA, United States

h i g h l i g h t s
 We propose an new approach to conducting urban metabolism analysis.
 These will strengthen its utility for policy makers.
 Data remain difcult to obtain and synthesize, but new approaches are emerging.

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 28 November 2011
Received in revised form 23 May 2012
Accepted 5 June 2012
Available online 2 July 2012
Urban metabolism
Urban systems
Life cycle assessment
Environmental and social impacts

a b s t r a c t
The integrated study of energy and urban systems has recently become a critical component of sustainability research and policy. Increasing urbanization of human societies combined with intense energy
demands of modern economies have driven a recognition that sustainable practices require a systems
approach to both the study and application of sustainability principles. Urban metabolism has emerged
as a leading methodology for quantifying energy consumption and use patterns in urban environments.
Though typically applied as a method of accounting for total energy and materials inputs and outputs into
cities, its interdisciplinary history and methods allow urban metabolism to be expanded in ways that will
allow more comprehensive and integrated assessment of the patterns and processes of urban energy systems. In this article, we review the concept of urban metabolismincluding its two typical approaches:
mass balance and emergy methodsand offer a means to expand urban metabolism into a platform that
incorporates socioeconomic analysis, policy analysis, and additional quantitative methodologies (such as
life cycle assessment). This expanded urban metabolism framework is more comprehensive analytically
and builds upon the documented capacity of traditional urban metabolism to account for total energy
and materials ows of cities to provide an integrated platform for analysis of both energy patterns and
the causal processes that govern energy in contemporary cities.
2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
With the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism, the
modern world entered an era of resource exploitation and intensity that it had never before experienced. This industrial revolution,
coupled with advances in science as well as the growth of cities
and the global economy, laid the basis for the prodigal twentieth century (as McNeill, 2000 writes), that invented processes
bringing enormously accelerated social and ecological change,
predicated largely on the use of fossil fuels. No other centuryno
millenniumin human history can compare with the twentieth for

Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 310 825 2434.

E-mail address: (S. Pincetl).
0169-2046/$ see front matter 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

its growth in energy use. We have probably deployed more energy

since 1900 than in all of human history before 1900 (McNeill,
2000). Human impacts are transforming the very fundamental processes of nature (Vitousek, Mooney, Lubchenco, & Melillo, 1997);
humans are biogeophysical forces, unwittingly altering Earth systems with unknown outcomes.
This resource use intensity and massive deployment of fossil
energy for human activities, accompanied by exponential population growth and the trend toward increased urbanization, has
resulted in remarkable advances in economic growth, innovation,
health, and global interconnectivityparticularly in industrialized
economies. Still, the resource consumption of the contemporary era
is widely recognized to be greater than the planet can sustain indefinitely (Folke, Jansson, Larsson, & Costanza, 1997; Wackernagel &
Rees, 1996). In order to bring modern societys energy and resource


S. Pincetl et al. / Landscape and Urban Planning 107 (2012) 193202

demands into line with the nite resources of the Earth, much
more needs to be done to quantify resource use and to understand its political, economic, and ecological context. One promising
framework that has been advanced as an approach for quantifying
energy and resource use and supply in modern societal systems
is that of urban metabolism. Urban metabolism offers a platform for greatly expanded urban systems analysis. Researchers
such as Newman et al. (1996), commissioned by the Australian
government to study the trends of per capita resource input and
waste metabolism in Sydney, were early pioneers in linking urban
metabolic measures to livability and sustainability analysis. Yet the
analyses remained at a descriptive level and did not delve into the
social and political drivers of urban form and levels of ows. Much
of the discussion was exhortative, stating that industrial areas could
look at their ows to reduce waste through industrial ecology principles, or that projects could be assessed for their sustainability
using extended metabolism analysis. There was little recognition
of the structural (political, economic, social) processes and complexity of change. In this paper, we assess the state and value of
urban metabolism for inuencing urban sustainability and conclude by suggesting that urban metabolism analysis, to be effective,
also requires a politicalecologicaltheoretical framework and an
understanding of power and money.
In the discussion that follows, we attempt to make the case for
the expansion of urban metabolism to a more encompassing systems approach. While urban metabolism has been explored by a
number of different disciplines such as industrial ecology, ecology, chemistry, and urban planning, studies on cities have tended
to be done from each disciplinary perspective. The expansion of
urban metabolism to a wider systems-oriented approach requires
the collaboration of different disciplines in the analysis of a citys
metabolism, in matching energy and waste ows to land uses and
social-demographic variables, in evaluation of the socioeconomic
and policy drivers that govern the ows and patterns, as well as life
cycle assessment of the various processes and materials that make
up a citys metabolism. This is a difcult undertaking, necessitating harmonization of units of measure, scale, boundary denitions,
and the integration of the human element. Urban systems are sustained by resource ows and they generate waste, and these are
driven by policy frameworks (explicit and implicit) and human
social organization. Linking the resource base of cities to the human
decision-making frameworks they exist inoften politicalwill
provide insights about the contexts that support how urban areas
We begin with an overview of urban metabolism rst as discussed by Marx, and much later as applied by industrial ecologists
and others. We provide an overview of its applications in the
current literature and its limitations. We then suggest a new
approach to urban metabolism, modied and augmented by sociodemographic and spatially explicit data, greater integration of
ecological impacts, considerations of systems-based policies (e.g.,
climate change and energy), and the situating of urban metabolisms
in current political ecology theory (Castree, 2008; Francis, Lorimer,
& Racko, 2011; Heynen, Kaika, & Swyngedouw, 2006; Pickett,
Buckley, Kaushal, & Wiliams, 2011; Robbins, 2004; Zimmerer,
2006). This expanded urban metabolism approach is inherently
interdisciplinary, requiring the techniques of life cycle assessment, ecological assessment, economic analysis, sociology and
policy studies, and the uncovering of systemic interdependencies
and interactions that undergird urban energy patterns and processes. It recognizes the multi-level governance challenges faced by
cities, including the opportunities for experimentation and learning (Corfee-Morlot, Cochran, Hallegatte, & Teasdale, 2011; Evans,
2011) as well as the limitations due to the politicized nature of systems policies (i.e., climate change) and declining public sector scal
capacity. Indeed, expanded urban metabolism is a science and data

driven systems approach that should also include how policies at

many levels may create specic energy/materials ows. Expanded
urban metabolism can help to address one of the most important
issues of the day: how to sustain the quality of life for humans
without permanently exhausting planetary resources or altering
the planetary dynamics that support civilization.
Following Sayer (2000), we are proposing methods that provide
concrete analyses of processes that create geographically distinct
outcomes. So while there are global trends showing an increasingly urban world (over half of the worlds population now lives in
cities (UNFPA, 2007), and cities have large impacts on the environment due to their concentration of human populations and
resource use (Alberti, 2008), each urban system has its own specicities, including the mix of resource use and social organization
as well as governance and position in larger systems (e.g., nationstates or climate zones). The tools of urban metabolism analysis
can provide an effective lens into the biophysical processes that are
harnessed by cities and conditioned by politicaleconomic structures. This paper proposes that the political and economic forces
that make cities grow or shrink are an intrinsic part of the urban
metabolism, though complex and highly integrated with nested
and tiered politicaleconomic institutions and systems that range
from the local to the global (Fig. 1).
We conclude by suggesting that a more interdisciplinary
approach to urban metabolism will reveal heretofore hidden ways
in which nature is enlisted in the service of urban and economic
growth, and that geographic specicity is important. Each place will
differ and so will the specic composition of resources and their
use. However, localities are no longer isolated and autonomous,
thus the ways in which they intersect and are imbricated in larger
networksfrom resource chains to capital owsmatters to a UM
analysis. In this paper, we outline an integrated socio-ecological
and socio-technical (Smith & Stirling, 2010) approach to measuring
and managing the inputs and outputs of todays urban regions.

2. Urban metabolism: context and history

Urban metabolism (UM) researchers have compared cities to
biological organisms. Organisms need energy and resource inputs,
transform them to do work, and produce waste, much like cities do
(Bettencourt, Lobo, Helbing, Kuchnert, & West, 2007; Pataki, 2010).
Dened as 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, Cuddihy, & Engel-Yan, 2007),
UM emerged in the late twentieth century as a systems-based
approach to understand urban trajectories of resource use, waste
production, and associated impacts on the environment. Some
ecologists have been uncomfortable with the urban metabolism
framework as they point out that only individual organisms have
a metabolism and thus UM is improper biological analogy. Instead,
some have suggested that cities are more like ecosystemsthe
summing up of many metabolisms (Golubiewski, 2012; Pataki,
2010). Yet urban metabolism is the term of art in the industrial ecology community, and increasingly in geography, planning, and other
related disciplines, and it offers a vivid image that many understand. Thus urban metabolism provides a metaphorical framework
to examine the interactions of natural-human systems (Barles,
2007b; Kennedy et al., 2007; Odum, 1996; Wolman, 1965) and
provides a basis upon which to consider sustainability implications.
The intellectual development of urban metabolism can be
traced back at least to Marx. Contemporary critical urban theorists
such as Sywngedeou, Kaika, and Heynen, among others, have
approached urban metabolism from a neo-Marxist perspective,
using Marxs approach to analyzing the dynamic internal relationships between humans and nature (Heynen et al., 2006).

S. Pincetl et al. / Landscape and Urban Planning 107 (2012) 193202


Fig. 1. An urban metabolism is situated in a nested and tiered system that is interconnected, interactive, and interdependent.

They then tie this analytic framework to political ecology, which

combines the concerns of ecology and political economy with the
impacts on society. Marx employed the concept of metabolism
to refer to the actual metabolic interactions between nature and
society that take place through human activity. Humans (especially
before the petroleum age) exerted animal and physical labor to
transform the Earth for their food and shelter. As they did so, they
altered biophysical processes while supplying the metabolism of
human activities. Marx used the term to describe the complex,
dynamic, and interdependent set of needs and relations brought
into being and reproduced through the concrete organization of
human labor (the organizational structures of work and industrial
processes, driven by capital ows). In his analysis, metabolism took
on both a specic ecological meaning and a wider social meaning
(Foster, 2000). Marx wrote that man lives from natureand is a
natural being himselfbut in addition, he also transforms nature to
produce his material needs (Marx in Foster, 2000). It is this transformation that changes the Earths systems, of which climate change is
perhaps the most dramatic example. The concept of metabolism,
with its attendant notions of material exchanges and regulatory
actions, allowed [Marx] to express the human relation to nature as
one that encompassed both nature-imposed conditions and the
capacity of human beings to affect this process (Foster, 2000).
Hayward (1995) discusses the way in which Marxs notion of
socio-ecological metabolism captures a humans existence as natural and physical, including the energetic and material exchanges
between humans and their natural environment. Hayward
explains that Marx saw metabolism emerging from the regulation
of the metabolic relationship by natural laws governing physical
processes, and from society by institutionalized norms: rules,

regulations, conventions, process methods, and so forth. Marx was

aware of the scientic advances of his time in physics, such as the
thermodynamic law of the conservation of energy. He was also
informed about developments in physiology, including cellular
metabolism, and drew from these scientic insights for his own use
of the concept. There is, as Foster notes, a lineage of use of the concept of metabolism from the 1840s to the present in systems theory
approaches to the interaction of organisms and environments.

3. Urban metabolism in the twentieth century

In 1965, Abel Wolman wrote a pioneering article, The
Metabolism of Cities, re-launching the UM concept for the engineering community. Wolman (1965) developed a model of a
hypothetical American city of one million people to actually calculate the inputs of materials and outputs of waste for such an
urban system, taking UM to a quantitative proof of concept. He
advanced the notion that urban footprints were no longer constrained to the geographic or political boundaries used to dene
them. Thus cities, through the use of resources and the generation
of waste and pollution, impacted the environment on broad local
and regional scales. Wolman was concerned about the pressures an
expanding and more afuent population placed on natural systems
and resources. He was particularly concerned about fresh water
supplies for cities and showed how a theoretical city sourced its
inputs from afar and left a footprint of impacts well beyond its geographic boundaries. Published in Science, Wolman reached a broad
audience. While Marx put the emphasis on the social organization
of harvesting of Earths materials, Wolman concentrated on the


S. Pincetl et al. / Landscape and Urban Planning 107 (2012) 193202

physical limits of the materials themselves and their patterns of


4. Measurement methods
Forty-ve years after this pioneering work by Wolman and his
contemporaries, UM has evolved into two distinct approaches:
mass balance accounting and Odums emergy method. The rst is
the more widely used energy-materials ux approach (discussed
in greater detail below). It is closely associated with the Industrial
Ecology and Engineering elds. It incorporates tools of material
ow analysis (MFA) to assess the movement of urban materials
(and energy) through the urban system (Barles, 2007a, 2009). It
also accounts for the energy necessary to transform raw materials and resources into material goods to meet demand needs and
the associated waste ows (Huang, Lee, & Chen, 2006). The latter
approach, discussed immediately below, is based on H.T. Odums
conceptualization of energy in which all measures are normalized
to standard units based on solar energy.
Odum (1983) accounted for metabolic ows by measuring the
available solar energy used directly or indirectly to make a product or deliver a service. He called this method Emergy. Emergy is
measured in solar emergy joules (seJ). As a systems ecologist, he
wanted to emphasize the dependence on the source of almost all
energy on the planetthe sun. Emergy researchers were trying to
show that there are qualitative differences of mass or energy ows
that were ignored by previous UM researchers. As pointed out by
one of the reviewers of this paper, one ton of cement and one ton
of sand are different for construction activity, just like one ton of
meat (beef) and one ton of vegetables provide different nutrients
and calories for peoples diets. Emergy accounting draws attention
to the fundamental dependence of cities on ecological processes
that themselves are possible only due to solar energy (Huang et al.,
2006; Huang & Chen, 2009). Emergy is a measure of energy ow (i.e.,
analogous to thermodynamic work) by nature and humans to generate products and ecological services. For Odum it was the basic
and ubiquitous common metric of environmental and economic
values (Odum, 1996; Odum & Odum, 2006).
The emergy method emphasizes standard units for all materials,
energy, nutrient, and waste ows in biophysical systems. While
theoretically possible, it is practically difcult to express all urban
processes in common units. Emergy accounting faces challenges of
inadequate or disparate data as well as difculties of integrating
and/or comparing materials and energy represented in different
units. The complexity of this approach and its resulting limited
application is due to converting ows to the seJ metric (Huang,
1998; Huang & Chen, 2009; Huang & Hsu, 2003; Odum, 1996). Thus,
the energy-material ux method, which emphasizes quantifying
as much of an urban systems materials and energy ows as possible, regardless of units, is the more common urban metabolism
Among urban metabolism studies that employ an energymaterial ux approach, widely used quantication methods
include material ow analysis (MFA), mass balance, and, increasingly, the joining of life cycle assessment (LCA) to UM. MFA is
based on the principle of mass conservation where mass in = mass
out + stock changes. MFA measures the materials owing into a system, the stocks and ows within it, and the resulting outputs from
the system to other systems in the form of pollution, waste, or
exports (Sahely, Dudding, & Kennedy, 2003). Materials enter, or
ow into urban systems, they are consumed to create biophysical structureshuman bodies, artifacts, buildings, roads, machines,
tools, agricultural crops and livestock, export productsand create waste (Haberl, Batterbury, & Moran, 2001). Within the concept
of industrial or societal metabolism, sustainability problems are

viewed as problems of the material and energetic relationships

between society and nature (Fischer-Kowalski & Haberl, 1997).
Mass balance is based on the fundamental physical principle
that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, merely transformed. Therefore the mass of inputs into a process, industry,
or region, balances the mass of outputs as products, emissions,
and wastes, plus any change in stocks. In the process, the matter
changes in form and function: mass balance is used to describe this
type of analysis. Standard mass units are used to quantify energy
ows such as kilograms, tons, or joules (energy being a transformation of mass as elucidated by Einstein). MFA analysis also can
be used to point out the degradation of resources through use. For
example, fossil fuel is burned and transformed into atmospheric
gases (including pollution) and heat (a form of energy). Neither can
be returned to the original state.
Life-cycle assessment (LCA) is used to provide a cradle-to-grave
accounting of direct, indirect, and supply chain effects of resource
transformation and use. LCA also can take into account the associated environmental impacts from extraction to nal disposal
(Chester, 2010; Solli, Reenaas, Stromman, & Hertwich, 2009) Thus,
LCA analysis integrates the inventorying part of materials ows
analysis to capture the indirect and direct supply chain impacts
of cities beyond their borders to assess the movement of materials
through the urban system (Barles, 2007a). Importantly, LCA offers a
practical suite of methodologies and tools for quantifying the materials of an urban metabolism, including the processes generating
inputs and outputs.
Whether MFA, mass balance, and LCA are used separately or
in conjunction, the energy-material ux approach to UM involves
quantication and tracking of mass and energy ows (e.g., raw
materials, nutrients and food) in standard units (e.g., kilograms,
tons, joules) as they enter, accumulate, and exit the urban system. LCA is formalized in the ISO 14044 standards, which specify
requirements and provide guidelines for life cycle assessment for
businesses (the principles are widely accepted by the full range
of LCA practitioners). There are dedicated software packages that
have been developed to conduct LCAs, including GaBI, developed
by PE International, and SimaPro, developed by PR Consultants. In
addition, in the U.S. at the product level, the National Institute of
Standards and Technology (NIST) Building for Environmental and
Economic Sustainability (BEES) tool is one among several building
design LCA accounting tools. The premier US life cycle inventory
database is the federal National Renewable Energy Laboratorys LCI
Database. One important caution is to realize these databases are
geographically specic, that is GaBI and SimaPro evaluate European
data, and the NREL LCI Database is US-specic. There are few comprehensive datasets available, thus LCAs tend to be specic to each
country or region (e.g., the EU). LCAs can help businesses reduce
cost by identifying wasteful practices or processes. However, LCAs
have only begun to be applied to urban processes, primarily to
complement and to supplement UM.
A citys physical metabolism can be described by quantifying
energy ows. These are traditionally dened to include energy
itself, water, materials, nutrients, and wastes. Researchers have utilized the energy-material ux urban metabolism framework to
analyze different urban areas and system components for over forty
years (Kennedy, 2010). The study of UM has enabled researchers to
understand a variety of phenomena in cities, regions, and neighborhoods around the world. Table 1 shows a comparative merits and
drawbacks of each UM method. Methods are often coupled, such
as LCA with MFA and mass-balance, since they describe different
aspects of the metabolism of cities and not one method captures
the complex system issues. While the Emergy method is still being
used, especially in China, its complexity and unproven measurement methods have meant that it is not as often practiced in the
U.S. and the West.

S. Pincetl et al. / Landscape and Urban Planning 107 (2012) 193202


Table 1
Comparative urban metabolism measurement methods.




Draws attention to ecosystem and natural resource

basis of ows; unsubstitutable role of solar energy for
life processes. May be best used for non-urban
analyses such as agricultural production as the
calculations are straightforward.
Can be used to derive aggregated indicators for
sustainability, especially those relating to pressures on
the environment. Quanties inputs and outputs of
numerous commodities.
Draws attention to degradation of resource through
use. Can track resource ows of industries,
geographical regions, materials or products and how
these resource ows change over time.
Provides cradle-to-grave accounting of resource use
and associated environmental impacts from extraction
to disposal.

Difcult to operationalize in seJ metric due to inadequate data,

difculty in integrating and expressing different urban
processes in one similar unit. Neglects geotechtonic or climatic
processes, nuclear energy, and qualitative factors (Smil, 2008;
Cleveland, Kaufmann, & Stern, 2000).
Requires data about materials extraction and use and the
ability to interpret and utilize for policy changes. Does not by
itself integrate multiple materials transformational processes.

Material ow analysis

Mass balance

Life cycle assessment

Economic InputOutput Life

Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA)

Adds economic factors to the LCA, and provides ability

to link to dollar metrics.

The exible nature of the UM framework has lent itself to

broader and more complex examination of processes within urban
systems. For example, the development of livability measures in
Sydney demonstrated a practical application of urban metabolism
metrics and methods to problems posed by the Australian government (Newman, 1999; Newman et al., 1996). These reports,
followed by subsequent annual accounting reports, were the rst
independent nation-wide assessment on the state of Australias
environment. They were created to aid Australian decision makers in government, as well as industry and community groups
(Newman et al., 1996). Newmans analyses provided some of the
data for Australias rst national sustainability plans. Signicantly,
Newman showed that larger cities were more sustainable in terms
of efcient per capita use of resources; they were also more livable
as demonstrated by better scores for indicators as income, education, housing, and accessibility. However, these cities were also
more likely to reach unsustainable carrying capacity limits, with
increasingly large inputs required from the hinterlands. According to the livability indicators, the quality of life deteriorated from
the core to fringe suburbs (Newman, 1999; Newman et al., 1996).
Newman also demonstrated that settlement location affected sustainability trajectories. Ex-urban and coastal settlements were the
least sustainable of all developments due to resource needs and the
inefciencies of decentralized urban systems.
With the rise of cities as the prime home of humans, as well
as a recognition of their substantial resource demands, UM had a
resurgence in interest at the turn of the century (Kennedy, Pincetl,
& Bunje, 2010). However, because UM has continued to be largely
an accounting tool measuring inputs and waste ows, there has
been little ability to explain differences among cities or reasons
for the changes in the urban metabolism of cities (Barles, 2009;
Gasson, 2002; Sahely et al., 2003). For example, as Warren-Rhodes
and Koenig (2001) observed, when Hong Kong was a manufacturing
center, its urban metabolism was lower than when it shifted to a
consumption based economy. But they included no comparison of
population numbers, income, or other socioeconomic factors in the
UM to be able to determine what causal factors lead to differences
between the two economic types.
UM has been applied to determine resource impacts by political
ecologists and others (Baker, 2009; Gandy, 2004; Hermanowicz &
Asano, 1999) and to determine certain material stocks and ows
(Barrett, Vallack, Jones, & Haq, 2002; Hammer & Giljum, 2006;
Kennedy et al., 2009; Niza, Rosado, & Ferrao, 2009; Schulz, 2007)

Lack of consistent classication of data has frequently been a

major barrier to the amalgamation of datasets. Integration into
other methodologies still being developed (such as ecological
Dening the boundaries must be made explicit. How far
upstream to take the analysis still problematic. Continued
debate on the appropriate application of different LCA
methods to urban systems.
Requires signicant, nationally specic data. Utilizes economic
(capital) metrics as a proxy for many materials and processes
that are often difcult to integrate with material ows or
mass/energy balance.

use UM to examine the role that location, urban form, technology, and economics can play in GHG inventories. UM has been
used by several urban designers to provide material ow analysis and a framework to envision more sustainable communities
and cities (Kennedy, 2010; Oswald, Bacchini, & Michaeli, 2003;
Quinn, 2007). Codoban and Kennedy (2008) have explored the
relationship between design and metabolism at the neighborhood
scale. Their study of the urban metabolism of four representative Toronto neighborhoods showed that different neighborhood
forms, including the construction of energy-efcient buildings and
development of public transit, had different implications for neighborhood metabolisms. Further research must be conducted to
evaluate whether unintended consequences impact nearby areas.
Climate change, which will differentially affect regions of the globe,
adds yet another dimension of resource use that UM studies can
usefully inform. For example, Mediterranean climate cities are
likely to experience greater heat incidents and water scarcities.
Understanding patterns of water use and energy requirements
(e.g., for cooling) through UM, coupled with water and energy policy, could greatly inform metropolitan adaptation and mitigation
In addition to environmental, land use, and urban quality
parameters, urban metabolism analyses have the capacity to reveal
which inputs present an unsustainable balance between demand
and supply as well as pollution ows that result at an aggregate
scale. Additionally, these energy and material ows can be related
to provisioning and sustaining functions, such as resource sources
and sinks, that ecosystem services provide to communities. The
ecosystem services component of UM remains less well developed,
however. To date, UM has generally conducted a raw accounting
of pollution generated by the city, with little further study of the
environmental impacts (e.g., water pollution, atmospheric nitrogen deposition) on the surrounding hinterlands (or beyond). The
expanded urban metabolism framework described in this paper
seeks to facilitate the explicit incorporation of these assessments
into urban metabolism studies.
5. Urban metabolism, the second generation: upgrading
the analytical framework by adding spatiality, ecology, and
In this section we discuss the additional elements UM needs
to provide more complete analysis, as well as the theoretical


S. Pincetl et al. / Landscape and Urban Planning 107 (2012) 193202

framework to connect its powerful information gathering capacity

to the local political, economic, and social context driving these
urban systems. It is difcult to set clear boundaries around the
intertwined humannatural interactions that need additional
studying. How urban ecosystems are created over time, for example, reects political, economic, natural, and social organization,
as well as how near-by and far-off ecosystems are enlisted to fuel
urban systems. One could, therefore argue that a citys UM has both
physical spatiality, and longitudinal space: history. We lay out each
topic individually and attempt to show how an expanded urban
metabolism framework can bring the necessary analytic synthesis.

6. Urban ecosystems and ecosystem impacts

Urban activities create novel urban ecosystems. These ecosystems have extensive social and built complexes that have a
dramatic effects on ecosystem form and function (Francis et al.,
2011; Pickett & Grove, 2009). Anthropogenic urban nature provides
ecosystem services, e.g., shading, habitat for fauna, food, purication for water, etc. This kind of human-mediated mixing of species
and built complexes is most intense and frequent in urban regions.
Networked global cities exchange organisms, materials and ideas
in unique biogeographical ways with signicant ecological consequences (Francis et al., 2011) that are not insignicant in an urban
areas metabolism, but are not investigated or accounted for either.
Such ecosystem services as biodiversity (whether human induced
or native), cultural and/or spiritual wellbeing from nature in the
city, urban heat island and stormwater mitigation from tree canopy
cover, and carbon sequestration or water purication by soils, are
only beginning to be quantied, and have not yet been incorporated
into UM. Novel urban ecologies are widely replicated across almost
all biogeographical, climatic, cultural, and economic regions in the
same way, but interact with local ecologies and bioregions differently (Francis et al., 2011). This raises research questions about
those dynamics, and also the impacts of such bio-cultural ecosystems on regions. UM is a framework for integrating these questions
into the understanding of specic urban systems.
Beyond the created urban ecosystem, the metabolism rates of
cities across the world involve increasingly large material and
energy ows of food-waste streams, imports, solid-waste accumulation, paper, plastics and building materials from areas outside
the boundaries of the urban system (Kennedy et al., 2007). The
metabolic cycles of cities are both open and unsustainable due
to the rates of materials consumption, but also because rates of
waste production do not match assimilation rates (Grimm et al.,
2008; Martinez Alier, 2002). Take, for example, the water quality
impacts of decades of air pollution in the Los Angeles basin. When
one of the major watersheds burned for the rst time in sixty years,
decades of air pollutants sequestered in the soils were released. The
heavy metal loadlead, cadmium and mercuryin the runoff concentrated decades of air pollution deposits, including pre-Clean Air
Act regulations. The implications for drinking water are signicant,
and the disposal costs and complexities of contaminated run-off
debris are daunting.
The inows sustaining urban systems have nearby and far-ung
impacts as well. In the Los Angeles case, again, water is imported
from the Owens Valley, 250 miles away, the Sacramento River
Delta, 400 miles away, and the Colorado River, 300 miles away. Each
water conveyance system has deeply altered the areas of origin,
changing ecological and hydrological processes. As the Los Angeles Region moves toward greater water self-reliance and the use
and management of autochthonous ground water resources, there
will be other changes in this already highly contaminated resource
(in certain areas) due to the legacy of war-related industries (military manufacturing used highly toxic petrochemicalssuch as

methyl ethyl ketonewhich were largely disposed of locally on

the soil of the small manufacturers, this has led to serious ground
water pollution). Legal structures such as ground water management rules need to be created, political/economic questions of
water ownership will need to be addressed, and scientic issues
such as reinltration rates and sustainable rates of extraction, will
also need to be integrated. Such ecological impacts (and their
political/economic regulatory aspects) are amplied through the
consumption and supply chains to a global scale that includes
mining, drilling, harvesting, and manufacturing the items that are
imported into the city-region.
Resource inputsand the impacts of extractionfrom far-ung
places can be parameterized in a UM analysis with life cycle assessment. LCA is a tool for assessing the cradle-to-grave effects of
products, processes, services, activities, or the complex systems in
which they reside (in this case a citys urban metabolism). LCA can
be integrated with UM through either the process- or economic
inputoutput (EIO)-based approaches.
Process-based LCA is the dominant and preferable approach for
assessing cradle-to-grave effects with high process, temporal, and
geographic representative data (Rowley, Lundie, & Peters, 2009).
Process-based LCA requires a great deal of primary data collection tracking each process step-by-step. There are software and
databases that have been developed to facilitate this task for different processes and technologies; process-based LCAs tend to be
more labor intensive, and likely yield more realistic accounting of
the life cycle of a product or ow because they address the specic commodities or process directly, whereas an EIO-LCA utilizes
aggregate economic data (Rowley et al., 2009).
There is a potential to link urban economic ows with EIO-based
LCA to complement process-based LCA. In the U.S., EIO-based LCA
can be applied broadly by joining the approach with North American Industrial Classication System (NAICS) economic data, the
standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and
publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy.
The Carnegie-Mellon Green Design Institute has developed an Economic InputOutput Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA) method that
estimates the materials and energy resources required for, and
the environmental emissions resulting from, activities in the economy for each of the NAICS categories of economic activities. This
approach applies only to the U.S. economy. The EIO-LCA method
was theorized and developed by economist Wassily Leontief in the
1970s based on his earlier inputoutput work from the 1930s for
which he received the Nobel Prize in Economics. Researchers at the
Green Design Institute of Carnegie Mellon University operationalized Leontiefs method in the mid-1990s, once sufcient computing
power was widely available to perform the large-scale matrix
manipulations. Results from using the EIO-LCA on-line tool provide guidance on the relative impacts of different types of products,
materials, services, or industries with respect to resource use and
emissions throughout the supply chain. Thus, the effect of producing an automobile would include not only the impacts at the nal
assembly facility, but also the impact from mining metal ores, making electronic parts, forming windows, etc. that are needed for parts
to build the car, based on dollar values. The Green Design Institute
website ( takes the EIO-LCA method and
transforms it into a user-friendly on-line tool to quickly and easily
evaluate a commodity or service, as well as its supply chain. It must
be noted, however, that this approach cannot capture nuance. For
example, plastic used in an automobile will be considered the same
as plastic used for a water bottle, though there are real life-cycle
differences in those materials.
Whether process or EIO-LCA is chosen (or a blend; see Rowley
et al., 2009), integration of LCA with urban metabolism provides a
heretofore undocumented linkage between the activities of urban

S. Pincetl et al. / Landscape and Urban Planning 107 (2012) 193202


Table 2
Theories of political ecology and political economy as framework for understanding drivers of UM (after Gibbs, 2002).
Political ecology

Political economy

Uses political economic theoretical categories but

Focuses on:
The transformation of energy and materials and the environmental
and social impacts of that transformation.
Rules that guide resource exploitation (lack of rules is a type of mode
of regulation).
From Urban Regime Theory
Will draw attention to the ways governing coalitions will work
together for land development and access to resources such as
water, power, and scal supports in the form of transportation
funding, water infrastructure assistance (sewage treatment plants),
and their impacts on near and far-ung resources like watersheds or
From Regulation Theory
Can include: weak to strong ecological modernization (materials
substitution, factor 5 energy efciency improvements), including
open or closed decision making with participation and involvement
spanning democratic to autocratic.

An approach that focuses on institutions, rules, money and power that shape
economic forces and ows of wealth. For example the organization of the
world market for rare minerals: China produces the vast majority of them, and
regulates their sale, despite GATT agreements for fair trade.

Political ecology includes detailed ecological information about

sources of materials and ows and impacts (can be done with LCA)
and human impacts, such as labor conditions and wages, health

systems and their cradle-to-grave materials and energy inputs.

Building LCA accounting into urban metabolism will reveal the
relationships between specic urban areas and places that supply
them. It provides the basis for further investigating the ecological,
social, and political impacts of a set of activities in one place on
7. Disaggregating metabolism
Most urban metabolism studies use highly aggregated
dataoften at the city or regional levelthat provide a snapshot of resource or energy use, but no correlation to locations,
activities, or people. Often this is due to a lack of ground-up (disaggregated) data. For various reasons, utilities and other energy
managers generally do not provide data at the census block or
track level, much less to the resolution of individual bills. Thus
there is a fundamental blindness about how much energy is used
in specic localities for specic purposes. Without being able to
attribute ows to people, places, and uses, it is nearly impossible
to determine the metabolism of a specic city. Thus another step
that is needed for UM to become more useful, and meaningful,
is to superimpose the ows with specic locationsplaces of
production and consumptionand then overlay census data as
well as the activities and land uses that are metabolizing the
inputs and generating the outputs within cities. In other words,
understanding who-is-using-what-ows-where-to-do-what (and
the concomitant waste produced) needs to be added to UM
8. Theory for complex bio-social urban systems
The biggest challenge facing urban metabolism is the integration
of political, demographic, economic, and geographic factors that
govern or inuence a city or regions urban metabolism. Any citys
metabolism is the result of human agencythe ability to exploit
ecosystems and their services. This involves scales of governance,
institutional rules and conventions, multiple economic forces, and

Urban Regime Theory

Insight into characteristics of local governing coalitions:
Interactions among rms, local politicians, environmental enforcement
agencies (local and national), environmental pressure groups and the public.
Describes ows of money and power, especially as they relate to urban form
and real estate development.
Regulation Theory
Integrates the structural dynamics of capitalism with the institutional forms of
society. Focuses at the macro level to understand the accumulation process
and ensemble of institutional forms and practices that make the economy
function. Examines:
Mode of production public or private ownership of land/rms or other
economically productive assets.
Regime of accumulation currently founded on growth and mass production
for mass consumption, requiring massive supplies of raw materials and energy.
Mode of regulation social institutions and governmental regulations (e.g.
mining policy on public lands). The local and national state governments
actors that mediate among the economic forces.

capital ows that shape specic places. Here is where the UM

framework is weakest and needs the most theoretical development.
Political ecology and urban political economy offer a theoretical
framework for beginning this integrative process, framed by a critical realist philosophical perspective (Table 2). Critical realism is
an approach that draws attention to the need for multidimensional
accounts based on the synthesis of major signicant elements. It
is about how actors, actions, and contexts interact over space and
time and about the necessary and sufcient conditions that allow
certain urban political constructs to be successful (Sayer, 2000).
Critical realism is a theoretical position that posits that specic
places differ in important ways that need to be understood in and
of themselves. It points to the importance of contingency and that
human agents operate within social structures that they themselves create but then constrain future action. It seeks to understand
causal relationships and therefore is especially suited to unravel
complex urban systems.
Political ecology emerges from anthropology and is concerned
with how humans organize themselves to interact with nature. In
small-scale societies this tends to lead to analyses of the organization of the management of subsistence resources, who has
rights and responsibilities, how the society is organized internally,
and the distribution of resources. For contemporary societies the
approach draws on political economy, but adds in the material
basis of the economythe environmentand the specic conditions of places at certain times. Political ecology accounts for
and conducts research to understand and evaluate the inuence
of variables acting at a number of scales, nested within another,
with local decisions inuenced by regional policies, in turn within
global politics and economics, and then also from the local scale up
(Robbins, 2004) (see Fig. 1). Relying on systematic empirical data
gathering, description and exploration, political ecology explains
linkages in the condition and change of social/environmental systems by examining the organization of these systems and how
they work to metabolize the biophysical environment for human
use. The appropriation of nature that produces social and environmental conditions arises out of historical, political, and economic


S. Pincetl et al. / Landscape and Urban Planning 107 (2012) 193202

processes, and of course, the constraints of the natural world

itself. The rise of industrialization was possible with the harnessing of fossil energy contingent on the coupled growth of
scientic knowledge and the emergence of capitalism as an economic organization. European expansion across the globe and
huge international migrations and explorations identied new
resources and new markets. The exploitation of fossil energy
and natural resources, over time, has enabled humans to live on
the planet at a level of material intensity never before experienced. This dramatic 250-year transformation is largely taken for
granted, but must now be examined for its future sustainability
in the context of localities (cities) and their nested hierarchies
(regions, nations, the globe) of material and energy use, a task
that an expanded urban metabolism framework is poised to
9. Establishing an expanded urban metabolism framework
Urban metabolism is uniquely poised to offer a unifying
framework for quantifying, analyzing, and inuencing urban
form, function, process, and sustainability. Though the traditional
accounting methods described above are insufcient for understanding process and meaning in urban energy patterns, the UM
framework lends itself to greater interdisciplinary contributions
for the integration of methods and theories that build an understanding of complex urban systems. By integrating the theoretical
and methodological strategies described aboveincluding, but not
limited to, LCA, political ecology, and ecosystem servicesurban
metabolism can begin to organize the patterns and processes of
complex, non-discrete urban systems into comprehensible assessments of energy and material use in cities. This in turn becomes the
starting point for a true study and practice of urban sustainability.
We suggest the need to expand the urban metabolism method
into a more comprehensive framework that both analyzes the
biophysical material and energy parameters of cities as well as
the human, social, policy, economic, and related systems that both
structure and govern specic urban metabolic process (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Describing the additional elements of an expanded urban metabolism framework. Based on the spiral model of software development, urban metabolism
can serve as a platform for incorporating relevant and appropriate methodologies for quantifying elements of an urban system that characterize that systems
metabolism. The additional elements in the expanded platform allow for a more
thorough evaluation of the causal, scalar/hierarchical, and process-based characteristics of urban systems.

A sustainable metabolism would not exceed the hinterlands

ability to produce the energy and materials (electricity, building
materials, food, etc.) or absorb the wastes (waste water, solid
waste, toxic chemicals, urban heat island effect, etc.) that are
necessary to sustain an urban area. But to effectively achieve more
sustainable urban systems, it is necessary to expand the variables
that urban metabolism analyzes to include demography, economy,
health, mobility/accessibility, equity, community quality, policies
and regulations, employment, and education. Such analysis would
be useful to decision makers who are responsible for effecting
urban sustainability, including designers, engineers, planners and
municipal ofcials. It would permit targeted interventions by
these change agents. For example, urban ecosystem services could
be used to augment local water supplies through reinltration
zones, or the implementation of energy conservation measures
could be focused on excessively high users or low income
neighborhoods that could benet from energy conservation
While these expanded metrics may simply add more indicators (not an easy task in itself), to understand what these imply
for a citys metabolism and to effectuate the kinds of changes that
would be required to reduce the urban footprint and ensure a good
quality of life, implies shifts in policies and politics. This, of course,
could be highly contentious and will be informed by normative
perspectives. Technological optimists (ecological modernists) will
advocate for technological innovation and a materials substitution
strategy. Free market advocates will advocate for market forces to
allocate resources according to supply and demand, assuming that
efciency will be achieved with little regard to equity. Political ecologists and political economists will look at how rules are structured
and how power and money inuence processes to discern where
points of intervention to create systemic change can be found.
Indeed, there are a number of schools of thought about how change
takes place, from a Habermasian processual deliberative approach
(communicative rationality) to its radical critique (Mouffe, 2000).
What an expanded UM method allows is the application of different normative perspectives to a much more thoroughly described
complex urban system. Today policies and politics often take place
content free. While more data does not necessarily translate into
better decision-making, it does offer the potential for reducing
unintended consequences and improving the basis for policy making.
Critical to our suggested expansion is a recognition of the
scalar relationships of urban metabolism. As noted above, the
metabolism of a city is largely site-specic and dependent upon
the historical, geographic, demographic, economic, and climatic
context of a given city. These specicities are further embedded in a hierarchy of systems from the region up to the whole
planet. By incorporating both geographically specic metrics as
well as methods for quantifying the super-regional impacts (e.g.,
through LCA or ecosystem services), an expanded UM can serve
as a tool for addressing global sustainability. Climate change
is a prime example of how local decisions (e.g., land use,
transportation, energy intensity) can have global consequences
(Corfee-Morlot et al., 2011). By embedding local sustainability
metrics into their appropriate global framework, it is possible
to more clearly measure and impact things like local greenhouse gas emissions and their summative impact on the global
We hope that this suggestion of an expanded urban metabolism
framework will generate substantial debate and theoretical development. In general, we believe this expanded methodology can
begin with an urban metabolism analysis of a communitys energy
system, and then the identication of policy drivers that shape
consumption and waste patterns. This integrated process, which
includes multiple disciplinary approaches, analytical methods,

S. Pincetl et al. / Landscape and Urban Planning 107 (2012) 193202

and scales of analysis, is necessary to ensure more complete

assessmentsand understandingof urban systems.

10. Conclusion
Urban centers grow in complex ways due to dynamic and interlinked geographical and institutional forces converging upon them
(Grimm et al., 2008). Cities are now nearly entirely dependent on
access to resources and ecosystem functions outside of their administrative boundaries. They are also, as a result, the primary driver of
global environmental change. This includes greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change, the decline of biodiversity,
and impacts of resource extraction in far ung places such as mining in Africa for minerals, oil and gas extraction and much more.
Urban metabolism analysis can serve to bring to light these resource
impacts, and trace the consumption at the city level, back to the
place where the resource was originally obtained. Process impacts,
that may occur in yet another place, can also be quantied if UM is
linked with LCA.
At present, UM studies focus on fairly aggregated physical ows
of inputs and wastes at the city level without addressing the LCA,
but also not including an analysis of the social and institutional
drivers that organize, manage and regulate these ows and outcomes. Data gaps, omitted/hidden upstream ows, uncertainty
regarding the appropriate scale of analysis, and segregated information sources continue to constrain ne accounting of the urban
metabolism of cities. No studies have yet been able to describe ows
into a city and the waste sinks in a way that correlates those ows
with the specic residents and their activities, let alone a cradle to
grave accounting of the inputs. For example, few cities have data
about trash generation by ne-grained geographic scale or by land
use type.
Thus to determine what sectors are contributing different types
of waste, and the potential of waste reduction is quite difcult.
Moreover, without this type of specic information, it is also impossible to know what places and sectors are reducing their ows
and could be used as a model for other parts of the city/region.
This kind of data gap exists for water use, electricity and gas use,
materials intensivity of buildings and other infrastructure as well.
The same could be said about ecosystem services. While there is
a sense that a region such as Greater Los Angeles (for example)
could be far more water self-sufcient due to vast groundwater
resources, accurate mapping of optimal groundwater inltration
areas matched to land use is only emerging, and the sustaining capacity of groundwater resources themselves has not been
well assessed. Furthermore, change toward greater local water
resources use will also necessitate changes in land use regulations,
property rights, and groundwater management. Landscape designers and urban planners have an important role to play in these
changes. An expanded framework that also incorporates LCA methods will enhance the ability of urban metabolism to characterize
urban systems and inform their governance.
Finally, without a corresponding analysis of the social systemic
drivers of the ows, little headway will be made toward greater
urban sustainability, much less global climate change mitigation.
Patterns of resource use today, and the structures that support
them need to be unpacked for change to occur. These involve
power and money, politics and institutional conventions, as well
as increased afuence and population size. Merely describing the
ows better cannot make a difference without linking those ows
to the complex set of institutions, organizations, and societal relations that shape and guide economic activities, politics, and cultural
norms. This expanded urban metabolism framework is an attempt
to integrate these diverse research needs and advance the eld to
incorporate recognized needs and demands for societal relevance.


A nal note. Our suggested approach for a more integrated

and comprehensive urban metabolism method is complex and
requires not only greater data assimilation and analysis, but also
political, institutional and economic context setting. As budgets
for localities and states decline, this expanded method could
be both daunting and impossible to implement. However, there
are researchers developing models that accomplish the data
integration and whose efforts provide synthetic computational
models for localities, planners and policy makers. Universities are
good collaborators for these efforts, and provide knowledge and
modeling capacity for localities. The European BRIDGE project
( is one example, the UCLA Institute
of the Environment and Sustainability collaboration with the
Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Actions and Sustainability (LARC:,
provides another. New partnerships between the research community and the implementation community will surely be part of
making this expanded urban metabolism framework succeed as the
ways government is able to conduct its business change in response
to budgetary constraints, and researchers are increasingly pushed
to make their work relevant by funding sources and by the public.
This research was funded by the California State Energy Commission Public Interest Energy Research Program (PIER). The
research program was created when California decoupled electrical
generation from distribution to foster research on energy efciency.
The PIER program was not reauthorized by the California State Legislature.
We would like to thank our anonymous reviewers for their
insightful comments and suggestions.
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Society, energy and materials: the

contribution of urban metabolism
studies to sustainable urban
development issues
Sabine Barles

Laboratoire Architecture, Urbanisme Socits LTMU , Institut

Franais d'Urbanisme, Universit de Paris 8 , 4 rue Alfred Nobel,
Cit Descartes, F 77420 Champs-sur-Marne, France
Published online: 19 May 2010.

To cite this article: Sabine Barles (2010) Society, energy and materials: the contribution of urban
metabolism studies to sustainable urban development issues, Journal of Environmental Planning
and Management, 53:4, 439-455, DOI: 10.1080/09640561003703772
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Journal of Environmental Planning and Management

Vol. 53, No. 4, June 2010, 439455

Society, energy and materials: the contribution of urban metabolism

studies to sustainable urban development issues
Sabine Barles*

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Laboratoire Architecture, Urbanisme Societes LTMU, Institut Francais dUrbanisme,

Universite de Paris 8, 4 rue Alfred Nobel, Cite Descartes, F 77420 Champs-sur-Marne, France
(Received 31 January 2009; nal version received 23 October 2009)
Urban areas, in particular cities, are signicant consumers of materials and
energy, either directly on their land areas or indirectly through the materials,
goods and services they import or export; there are upstream and downstream
consequences of the removal of resources and the discharge of waste materials (to
the atmosphere, water and soils), with multiple impacts on the biosphere. The
processes involved need to be better characterised to reduce these environmental
pressures. This is a sustainable development issue and it is a major goal of a eld
ecology which has been described as urban, industrial or sometimes territorial.
This paper reviews the specic origins and ndings of studies on urban
metabolism. It describes the analysis tools used, including material and substance
ows, energy balances, ecological, water and, more generally, environmental
footprints. Finally, recent ndings and areas for future research in the
dematerialisation of urban societies are summarised.
Keywords: industrial ecology; urban ecology; territorial ecology; material ow
analysis; substance ow analysis; environmental imprints

1. Introduction
Sustainable development refers to the interactions between societies and the
biosphere, which are considered two interdependent systems in co-evolution. The
anthroposystem or socio-ecosystem concepts also incorporate these two systems:
the term socio-ecosystem is used in the United-States and in several European
countries; however, the term anthroposystem is preferred in France (Leveque et al.,
in Leveque and Van der Leeuw 2003; see also Baccini and Brunner 1991, Berkes and
Folke 1998). There are many interactions; the most tangible are the energy and
material exchanges between societies and the biosphere. Societies, cities in particular,
are signicant consumers of materials and energy, either directly on their land areas
or indirectly through the materials, goods and services they import or export. Urban
metabolism thus has upstream and downstream consequences in terms of the
removal of resources and the discharge of waste materials (to the atmosphere, water
and soils), with multiple impacts on ecosystems and on the biosphere. Moreover, the
pronounced trend that characterises urbanisation processes is an increase in
the consumption of resources and in related emissions, which explains in part the

ISSN 0964-0568 print/ISSN 1360-0559 online
2010 University of Newcastle upon Tyne
DOI: 10.1080/09640561003703772

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S. Barles

non-sustainability of urban societies other explanations being the non-renewable

nature of some consumed resources and the impossibility of renewing those that are
renewable at the same pace as their consumption.
Environmental sciences use several expressions (or terms) to characterise these
specic interactions. For example, the linear ow of materials refers to societies
taking resources from the biosphere and returning waste (i.e. transformed materials
often incompatible with the receiving area). The opening of biogeochemical cycles
refers to a similar process on the scale of substances or simple chemical elements:
while the natural functioning of the biosphere is characterised by closing material
cycles (carbon, nitrogen, etc.), the development of anthropogenic activities not only
intensies their ows, but also linearises them since the materials do not return to
their place of origin and, therefore, accumulate in a certain compartment of the
biosphere. If the materials somehow return to their origin, they return in a dierent
chemical form than the one they had at the time of their removal. Many of the
environmental problems encountered today can be attributed to these abundant and
linear ows: resource depletion, climate change, eutrophication, proliferation of solid
waste, dispersion of toxic material and loss of biodiversity, just to name a few. These
ndings also suggest solutions: dematerialisation, decarbonisation and dewatering
could lead to sustainability. These approaches are distinguishable from conventional
environmental techniques because they challenge the end-of-pipe solutions that have
long been used to settle environmental problems and aim to x them at their source
the collection of raw material and energy and material consumption.
Most of these facts are well known and have led some researchers to use the term
anthropocene for the current geological epoch (Crutzen 2002). This period is marked by
the emergence of determinisms with anthropogenic origins alongside natural determinisms that previously conditioned the planet. However, methods allowing a more detailed
characterisation of these facts, and other methods, based on these observations, allowing
the identication of a better governance of energy and material ows, are still largely
lacking. Furthermore, despite the considerable role cities play in these processes, they
remain largely unrecognised as agents in the ow of energy and material. Their local,
global or diered impacts in both space and time are also poorly recognised. Nevertheless,
taking into account their inherent concentration and their structuring role in agricultural
and industrial production, cities are probably signicant drivers of action and could
represent a special subject of study on exchanges between societies and nature.
Thus, the purpose of this paper is, once their origins have been established, to
present the trends of research studies that fall within the scope of these urban issues
and to place recent French work in this general overview. Urban metabolism studies
are relatively scattered and few in France and are often classied as urban
ecology (in the sense of ecology of cities more than ecology in cities (Grimm et al.
2000)), industrial ecology, territorial ecology or even social ecology. The tools and
methods used are discussed, including material and substance ows, energy balances,
ecological, water and, more generally, environmental footprints. Finally, areas for
future research in the dematerialisation of urban societies are identied.
2. Urban, industrial, territorial and social ecologies . . .
2.1. Supply, urban excreta and urban chemistry
Concerns regarding urban metabolism are not entirely new and, after having been
overlooked for many years, have once again become current. The European

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scientic, intellectual and political communities addressed the question of supplying

cities (thus the entry of energy and materials) on an on-going basis up to the First
World War: since the beginning of the nineteenth century, this question provoked
many thoughts and actions on the scope of urban supply (often associated with the
notion of hinterland) and on the allocation of soils for this supply; problems which
were partially solved with the development of transport systems and the turn to fossil
energy (which severed the link between cities and forests and rendered forests less
essential to cities energy supply). During the nineteenth century, urban metabolism
(a term not used at the time) primarily involved the work of chemists concerned with
food production and agricultural fertilisation. Indeed, the population growth in
conjunction with the limitations of rural organic fertiliser sources led to fears of soil
depletion and intermittent, even permanent, food shortages. With growing population concentrations, cities began to be considered both as centres of consumption
and, through their abundant output of excreta, as new sources of fertilisers: human
and animal urine and excrement, organic mud produced on streets, household and
pre-industrial refuse, butcher shop and slaughter (later, slaughterhouse) by-products,
etc. Quantication of the potential fertilisers and the development of eective
collection and conversion techniques became major issues, as important as hygiene, in
the management of urban excreta.
This resulted in the birth of a true urban chemistry which was not biochemistry
before Pasteurs work that sought to understand rst the cycle of organic matter
and next of nutrients (nitrogen, then phosphorus and potash). Jean-Baptiste Dumas,
Jean-Baptiste Boussingault and Justus von Liebig were the most famous among
European urban chemists. These chemists, and the manufacturers and engineers who
followed, fought against the linear ow of materials, favouring exchanges between
the city and agriculture. Similarly, many industrial activities that developed during
the nineteenth century depended on using urban by-products. The fertiliser
revolution and the mobilisation of new raw materials that made urban excreta
useless led to the death of urban chemistry and allowed for the opening of urban
metabolism (Barles 2005).

The urbs ecosystem: heterotrophic and parasitic

Several decades elapsed before a renewed interest in urban metabolism was expressed
within the context of two emerging worries: the rst, the capacity of the planet to
feed and maintain a growing population and, the second, the destructive power of
man due to Earths nite, limited and unique characteristics. This was an idea
particularly brought forward at the Intergovernmental Conference of Experts on the
Scientic Basis for the Rational Use and Conservation of the Resources of the
Biosphere, sometimes called the Biosphere Conference, held in Paris in 1968 (see
Acot 1988). In addition to these planetary worries, a severe criticism of the industrial
town was frequently expressed. To cite only one example, in The City in History,
Lewis Mumford, who was aware of developments in ecology, denounced the myth
of megalopolis and forecast, like many of his contemporaries, the decline of
industrial towns (Mumford 1961).
The resulting urban ecology, developed from the 1960s onward, fell within the
scope of scientic ecology and, in particular, of the ecosystem theory brought
forward by Eugene Odum (1953). In 1965, the engineer Abel Wolman thus
introduced the notion of urban metabolism. He dened metabolic needs all the

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S. Barles

materials and commodities needed to sustain the citys inhabitants at home, at work
and at play, the metabolic cycle and urban metabolic problems (Wolman 1965,
179). Shortly after, Eugene Odum described the city as a heterotrophic system
(Odum 1975) and later as a parasitic ecosystem (Odum 1989). The Belgian ecologist,
Paul Duvigneaud, who played an important role in the implementation of
international environmental research programmes, very closely followed him and
gave the Urbs (the Latin word for city) ecosystem signicant coverage in his very
popular Synthe`se ecologique (Duvigneaud 1974). He wrote: [translation] Scientic
knowledge . . . is required to ensure proper urban planning of the areas where most
men live (Duvigneaud 1974, p. 245). These rst texts on urban ecology of
naturalistic origin were well received internationally, particularly in France
(Mirenowicz 1982, Beaucire 1985), and were especially well conveyed by the
UNESCO Man and Biosphere programme, launched in 1971 (Celecia 2000). In this
framework, the cities of Rome, Barcelona and Hong Kong (Boyden et al. 1981) have
been the subject of detailed analyses.
Nevertheless, this research did not lead to the anticipated opportunities and
received erce criticism during the 1980s (see for example, for the French case,
Beaucire 1985, Theys and Emeliano 2001). Indeed, some urban ecologists wanted
to make ecology a division of science of its own, of which social sciences would
constitute only a part; an idea tolerated with diculty by social scientists.
Furthermore, these urban ecologists stuck to an energy determinism and to antiurban views (the city as a parasite) that prevented them from considering approaches
to control the environmental impact of cities. Finally, the methods developed to
analyse urban metabolism remained very approximate.

Ecosystem, symbiosis and industrial ecology

The history of industrial ecology, which developed at the same time as naturalistic
urban ecology,1 reviewed by Suren Erkman (2004) in broad strokes, shows that, until
the end of the 1980s, the initiatives remained relatively isolated and focused on
industrial metabolism (the study of materials and energy ows) and industrial
ecosystems (the study of industrial assembly) among the pioneer texts, see Kneese
et al. (1970), Ayres (1978) and Billen et al. (1983). A major characteristic of these
approaches was the emphasis they placed on the need to link economic and ecologic
analyses. They even incorporated some principles stemming from ecology and
physics (for example, the law of conservation of matter) into the economic theory
(Kneese et al. 1970).
The present-day industrial ecology boom dates back to 1989 following the
publication of a special issue of Scientic American Managing Planet Earth, which
included the article Strategies for Manufacturing by Robert Frosch and Nicholas
Gallopoulos (1989).2 In the next decade, the number of research projects, experiments
and publications multiplied in this eld: for example Baccini and Brunner (1991),
Ayres and Simonis (1994), ORourke et al. (1996). The founding of the Journal of
Industrial Ecology in 1997 and of the International Society for Industrial Ecology in
2000 contributed to the structuring of industrial ecology as a discipline.
At rst, the principle objective of industrial ecology was the study and the
optimisation of the metabolism of the industrial sector. The approach was clear and
had two major goals: the rst was to identify and reduce loss of materials in order to
reduce the environmental impact of industrial processes and the cost of raw

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materials; the second was to develop industrial symbioses, i.e. industrial assemblies
in which the by-products and refuse of one industry become the source for raw
materials or energy of another, based on Kalundborgs highly emblematic symbiosis
(Jacobsen 2006). Industrial ecology often favoured a quantitative and accounting
approach to metabolism, as well as a technological approach approaches that are
necessary, but not sucient, insofar as they do not consider the eect of stakeholders
with dierent proles and objectives on the ows or the social dimension of
industrial ecology (Boons and Howard-Grenville 2009). Furthermore, industrial
ecology often considered only one part of the anthropogenic ow of materials:
mainly the production sector. This three-pronged criticism was expressed by various
authors at the end of the 1990s (ORourke et al. 1996, Anderberg 1998), and seems to
have been heard since the organisers of the penultimate ISIE conference, held in June
2007, promoted the necessity of a full partnership with the social sciences and to
consider consumption (so the industrial society more than the industrial sector) as
part of the objectives of industrial ecology, together with the new need to address
explicitly the issues around sustainability.3 This concept of industrial ecology was
accepted earlier by some researchers and adopted in France.4
2.4. Territorial ecology and social ecology
Cities were initially largely absent in industrial ecology because the approaches were
generally poorly spatialised: for example, one of the reference works in the eld
(Ayres and Ayres 2002) devotes, on very sectional themes, only two chapters to
cities out of a total of 46. However, urban issues gained in importance (see for
instance Baccini and Brunner 1991). In 2007 one issue of the Journal of Industrial
Ecology is devoted to the city (Bai 2007b), and in 2008 the ConAccount conference
held in Prague specically addressed the urban metabolism question (Havranek
2009). After 2000, this trend gave rise to a new expression specic to France:
territorial ecology.5 This eld of research is based on both the accomplishments of
industrial ecology and urban ecology as dened in section 1.2 and brings together
scholars from various elds such as industrial ecology, urban planning, urban
engineering, urban biogeochemistry and ecological economics. As such, it is an
industrial ecology that is considered in a spatial context and that takes into account
the stakeholders and, more generally, the agents involved in material ows,
questions their management methods and considers the economic and social
consequences of these ows. This expression, which also has the advantage of
replacing the term urban ecology, is not universally used; in order to not add to the
confusion, some of those in the eld argue for the continued use of the original
designation (industrial ecology) in view of its precedence and the existing structuring
of the eld. The emphasis on the spatial dimension of energy and material ows
closely relates territorial ecology to the eld of social ecology championed by the
Institute of Social Ecology in Vienna (Austria).
3. Recent work
In this context, research projects were launched that fell, implicitly or explicitly, within
the elds of urban ecology, of industrial ecology when focused on cities (or parts of
cities), of territorial ecology with the same focus, or of biogeochemistry applied to
urbanised systems. While not an exhaustive list, this section presents an inventory as

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S. Barles

illustrative as possible of the issues and themes examined in these studies, thanks to an
overview about how four dierent methodological approaches (Material Flow
Analysis; Substance Flow Analysis; Energy Flow Analysis and Environmental
Footprinting) are used to quantify the biophysical exchange processes of cities.
The studies reviewed here either fall under the scope of primary research or of
applied research and decision support. In the rst case, they seek to understand how
urban biogeochemistry works, the implications of the material and energy needs of
cities on other spaces and the entire biosphere, and how biogeochemical and social
operations interact. In the second case, the research falls within the scope of the
issues of sustainable development (Walsh et al. 2006) and addresses the requirements
that need to be met for dematerialisation (the consumption of fewer materials),
decarbonisation (the consumption of less carbon), and closing the material loops,
decoupling (between material consumption and economic development). These
studies may involve constructing indicators, identifying special targets for sustainability (a material, an industry, etc.), developing decision support tools for strategies
to dematerialise, decarbonise, etc.
There are relatively few methods for analysis: material, substance or energy
balances and life-cycle analyses (however, some researchers involved in life-cycle
analysis do not necessarily claim to belong to the eld of industrial ecology). These
methods apply the principle of conservation of matter (Nothing is lost, nothing is
created, everything is transformed) and the principles of thermodynamics (most
often the rst principle of energy conservation, sometimes associating it with the
second: the entropy of the universe always increases). Other methods, from various
disciplines, can supplement these basic methods on a case-by-case basis: the history
of technology, urban engineering, management sciences, sociology of organisations,
urban planning etc. Yet, metabolism remains at the heart of the approach, whether it
is to understand, characterise or modify it. These studies on metabolism can lead to
modelling and even simulation. The research subjects are varied, even when the
analyses are restricted to projects with an urban dimension (central city, urban area,
region), or to a particular substance.

The urban materials balance

In the last few years, (bulk) Material Flow Analysis (MFA) has become more rened
and precise (see Baccini and Brunner 1991, Bringezu et al. 1997, 1998, Kleinj et al.
1999, Hammer et al. 2003a, Brunner and Rechberger 2004, Barles 2009, Havranek
2009), although studies of this type remain rare at the urban level.
The key questions raised and discussed are:
. How should the system be dened and then limited? Does it correspond to a
geographic or administrative unit and its natural substratum or must a
boundary be placed between, on one hand, a social and economic system
that is characterised by its population, its organisation and its activities and,
on the other hand, the natural environment that supports it (the case in
Figure 1)?
. What is the relevant scale of the research? Should consideration be given to the
urban area as a whole, some subsystems within the urban area or a larger area,
that is a regional one? Statistical constraints may determine the scale, but may
lead to bias.

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Figure 1. Schematic of the Local Bulk Material Balance, adapted from the National Balance
Method of the Statistical Oce of the European Community (Eurostat).
Source: Reprinted with permission from S. Barles, Journal of Industrial Ecology, 13(6), (2009)
898913. Copyright by WileyBlackwell.
Notes: BI: Balancing input, e.g. the oxygen consumed by combustion reaction. BO: Balancing
ouputs, e.g. the water produced from the combustion reaction must be considered. BI and BO are
necessary to balance the MFA. Many indicators can be dened from this analysis: TMR: Total
Material Requirement; TMI: Total Material Input; DMI: Direct Material Input; NAS: Net
Addition to Stock; DPO: Direct Processed Output; LEPO: Local and Exported Processed Output;
TDO: Total Domestic Output; DMO: Direct Material Output; TMO: Total Material Output.

. Should the material balance be based on inputs and outputs of the system
before a more detailed analysis of the involved processes (Figure 1), or is it
preferable to infer the balance from the analysis of the natural and social
processes that characterise material ows, that is, to describe these ows from
within the system (Brunner and Rechberger 2004)?
. What pertinent indicators can be inferred from the material balance?
. How can the indirect ows be counted?
Establishing a uniform methodology is important in view of allowing comparisons in
time and space of multiple studies. Nevertheless, it remains an open question at the
local scale.
Furthermore, one of the objectives of bulk material balances is to characterise
the impact of cities on the biosphere on a global scale pressure on resources, air
pollution and, more generally, the impact on global change. This multi-scale
approach is relatively recent and there are few studies of this type to date see, for
example, beyond those previously cited: Schulz (2005), Kaye et al. (2006), Hammer
et al. (2006), Bai (2007a), Kennedy et al. (2007). It allows the weight of the urban
operation, in the full sense of the term, to be known. Thus, in the case of Paris and
its suburbs, all emissions represent more than half of the total material inputs and
are, consequently, more signicant than conventional exports (i.e. those linked to
monetary ows) (Table 1). Paris imports approximately 20,000 Kt (8.8 t/inhab)
and discharges 11,000 Kt (5.1 t/inhab) of materials annually. These numbers reveal


S. Barles

the stakes involved in dematerialisation. Nevertheless, the direct material

consumption in Paris 5.0 t/inhab remains low compared to Hamburgs (in
2001, 8.2 t/inhab for the central city and 11.4 t/inhab for its suburbs) (Hammer
et al. 2006).
Material balances can also be broken down into product categories. The results,
presented in Figure 2, show that these balances accurately reect the metropolitan
operation: much is eaten in Paris because of the large number of jobs and tourists; a

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Table 1. Material balance for Paris, Paris and its inner suburbs (PPC) and Paris Greater
Metropolitan Region (Ile-de-France, IdF), 2003.
Paris (2,166,000

Recycling (local & outside)

PPC (6,321,000

IdF (11,259,000













Source: Adapted from Barles (2009).

Notes: DMI: Direct Material Input; DPO: Direct Processed Output; LEPO: Local and Exported
Processed Output; DMO: Direct Material Output; NAS: Net Addition to Stock; DMCcorr: Direct
Material Consumption (connected).

Figure 2. Direct Material Consumption (DMC) for Paris, its Inner Suburbs, Outer Suburbs
and Greater Metropolitan Region (Ile-de-France, IdF), 2003, t/inhab, rail transportation
Source: Reprinted with permission from S. Barles, Journal of Industrial Ecology, 13(6), (2009)
898913. Copyright by WileyBlackwell.

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large amount of construction materials are consumed in the outer suburbs due to
urban sprawl (both direct and, especially, indirect consumption linear infrastructure related to new housing). The link between land use and urban metabolism
is seen here.
It is also possible to compare and monitor local and national indicators. The
Hamburg case, analysed from 1992 to 2002, is revealing in this matter (Hammer
et al. 2003b): on the one hand, direct material inputs (DMI) are much higher than
the national average (65 and 22 t/inhab, respectively) as they are driven by
Hamburgs harbour functions; on the other hand, the direct material consumption
(DMC), which was lower than the German average at the beginning of the 1990s (10
and 20 t/inhab respectively), seems to catch up with, even exceed, this national
average 10 years later, suggesting that Hamburgs sustainability is lower in 2002 than
it was in 1992.
Material balances can also be used to dene targets for dematerialisation and,
more generally, for improvements to the ecologic performance of cities. Such
projects, still largely experimental, are on the cutting edge of research and actions
and can be directly dealt with by local communities. Within the framework of its
environmental policy, in 1995 the city of Stockholm launched an intensive study
linking material and substance ow analyses (Burstrom et al., in Bringezu et al.
1998). More recently, in the township of Geneva, a law on public action for
sustainable development (Agenda 21), adopted in March 2001, states in Article 12:
[translation] The State facilitates possible synergies between economic activities in
order to minimise their environmental impacts (Erkman 2006, p. 1). This principle
led to the realisation of a material and energy balance that will serve as the basis of
the townships sustainable development policies. For example, the balance of food
material reveals that barely 25% of organic waste is recovered. This nding leads to
the conclusion that both an increase in this rate and an intensication of
methanisation infrastructures, the process considered to be the most eective for
waste recovery, must be advocated for (Erkman 2006).

Substance ows

Substance ow analysis (SFA) is used to address more specic questions (like water,
air or soil contamination by one substance or another), or to understand the role of
cities in global biogeochemistry. In view of the broad diversity of natural and
anthropogenic processes being considered, there is no standardised SFA method like
the one used for the material ows. Some of the questions that have been touched on
regarding bulk material remain (limits and scale, indirect ows), but they are solved
on a case-by-case basis. Compared to bulk materials, the characterisation of the
substance ows requires consideration of the processes internal to the system under
study (a city, for example), which can no longer be considered as a black box. More
generally, the same issues exist as for bulk material, from fundamental research
questions (e.g. what is a city from a biogeochemical perspective?) to applied research
Because cities produce little of their own food and food consumption has a
considerable impact on several biogeochemical cycles, the analysis of the ows of
biogenic elements is fairly developed. An initial set of research studies was carried
out over the (relatively) long term and raised questions on the evolution of urban
food needs and its consequence, not only in terms of agricultural production and

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S. Barles

lands required to satisfy these needs, but also in terms of the management of the
resulting discharge and its release, in one form or another, into the environment.
The research was directed towards phosphorus and nitrogen and has revealed the
signicant stress imparted by a growing urban demographic on food production. It
has also shown the impact of the evolution of agricultural techniques (especially
fertilisers) and food practices (meat) on the agricultural areas farmed to meet the
dietary needs of cities (Schmid-Neset 2005, Billen et al. 2008), and the impact of
urban techniques on the varying return of nutrients to cultivated soils (Figure 3).
These studies constitute a textbook example of the analysis of the gradual opening of
biogeochemical cycles.
The topicality of these themes appears in several studies that stress the link
between land consumption and food production and/or the hugeness of the ows at
play, the low level of recycling and their impacts on the environment (eutrophication, oxygen decit) and public health (nitrates) (Gumbo et al. 1999, Frge et al.
2001, Danius and Burstrom 2001, Waggoner 2006, Forkes 2007). For example,
Jennifer Forkes (2007) shows that in Toronto despite the development of an organic
matter waste reclamation technique, the nitrogen recycling rate has decreased from
4.7% in 2001 to 2.3% in 2004. In Bangkok, 7% and 10% of dietary nitrogen and
phosphorus, respectively, are currently recovered (Frge et al. 2001). These studies
put in perspective the eect of the recycling policies that may be implemented and
demonstrate the need for a better understanding of the urban ow of biogenic
elements and an optimised waste reclamation technique. These ndings have
signicant consequences in terms of clean-up techniques (liquid and solid) that
adhere to ecological or sustainable sanitation perspectives.6
Because of their high toxicity, heavy metals are the subject of numerous studies
see for example, the Swedish programme Metals in the Urban and Forest

Figure 3. Flow of Dietary Nitrogen, Paris, 1869, tN.

Source: Adapted from Barles (2007).
Notes: The quantication of dietary inputs and the analysis of techniques associated with
urban excreta can be used to describe the ow of nitrogen and to show that 24% of nitrogen
entering in the form of food returns to agriculture (compared to 20% in 1871 and 40% in
1913). The particular importance of horse feed, that is to say of transport, in the urban
nitrogen cycle is also shown.

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Journal of Environmental Planning and Management


Environment Ecocycles and Critical Loads, directed by Bo Bergback and Kjell

Johansson at the end of the 1990s and the related special issue of Water, air, and soil
pollution (Iverfeldt 2001). The management problem associated with heavy metals is
dierent than the one for food substances. The consumption of metal is either
directly linked to its use in industry and other human activities (for example, zinc on
roofs or lead in accumulators) or a side eect of the consumption of other materials
in which it may be present as an impurity (for example, in coal). Furthermore, the
life of these substances, in society as in ecosystems, can be much longer.
Consequently, the evaluation of both stocks and ows is necessary and, beyond
the substances general circulation, dissipative losses (wear) and various fugitive
emissions must be identied and quantied. This is further emphasised by the fact
that these substances are often toxic at very low doses; minor ows can thus have
signicant consequences on the environment and on public health.
Current research is mainly aimed at quantifying and locating the subject
substance. It is possible to cite, for example, studies showing that Paris is one of the
major lead mines in France because of the stock it has built up since Roman
antiquity, despite a decrease in consumption since the end of the 1970s. This dip, still
slight, must not be interpreted as though the problem with lead is nearing resolution.
In fact, the problem still exists, as shown by the increasing number of cases of infant
lead poisoning in Paris: the present situation is less a reection of the current
consumption of this metal than its past uses, and today, urban centres appear as lead
stocks because this substance has been converted, used and incorporated into the
urban environment. This being the case, two basic questions remain: where is it?
where will it go? The analysis of the ow of substances contributes to nding answers
to these questions (Lestel et al. 2007).
Studies on mercury in Stockholm depict similar processes: there was a signicant
growth in use from the end of the eighteenth century to the mid-1970s, followed by a
rapid decline. Correspondingly, emissions to air, water and soil are declining as
rapidly. Nevertheless, much of the mercury imported during the last 200 years is still
stored, mainly in soils and sediment. As such, to understand the contamination of
Stockholm and its terrestrial and aquatic environment is also to understand the
manufacturing process of felt hats, mirrors and thermometers; techniques for gilding
and silvering and, especially, treatments for syphilis and dental cavities (Sveden and
Jonsson 2001).
3.3. Energy balances
Although the notion of metabolism refers both to the energy and to the material
required for the operation of a given system, studies of urban metabolism have long
favoured the material balance rather than the energy balance. One reason for this is
that the questions raised by interactions between human societies and nature stem
more from material than energy issues, although they do involve large amounts of
energy. For example, climate change is due, at least partially, to energy
consumption, but it can be analysed as a particular case of the opening of
biogeochemical cycles; it is indeed a case of excess material greenhouse gases in
the atmosphere that causes it; it is indeed the exploitation of certain material
resources particularly fossil fuels that is at the origin of the problem, even if these
resources are used for their energetic qualities. Another reason is that urban energy
issues are often addressed by engineers specialised in this eld and who belong to

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S. Barles

scientic communities dierent from the one dealing with urban metabolism (Barles
et al. 2010).
Ignoring the energy issue has resulted in major environmental and social issues
being overlooked. It explains why hydraulic power is considered sustainable and yet
its development has undeniable impacts; why, in a more urban perspective, the
thermal island issue, despite its signicance in climate change, is disregarded; why
what is at the origin of the extraction of certain materials is not considered: the
energy needs of societies, transportation demands, etc. Moreover, the energy issue is
much greater than the simple consumption of extrasomatic energy (beyond
physiological needs) since the food issue is closely linked to it. Finally, the biosphere
is a biosphere thanks to solar energy, whose utilisation, indeed appropriation, allows
the functioning of human societies.
These ndings are behind approaches now used that are somewhat distinguishable from the traditional analysis methods of industrial or urban metabolism.
Examples of such approaches are found in the research conducted at the Institute of
Social Ecology in Vienna, especially by Fridolin Krausmann (2005) and Helmut
Haberl (2001a, 2001b, 2006). These researchers compare the metabolism of societies
to their total energy consumption, both technical and non-technical, and on this
basis develop a set of indicators that characterise the impact of human societies on
the biosphere (especially human appropriation of net primary productivity or
HANPP, see Haberl et al. (2007)). The approach of these studies bears a causal
connection with the notion of ecological footprint (that does not generally claim to
belong to the eld of industrial, urban, or territorial ecology).

The environmental footprints of cities

The idea of a footprint has been widely disseminated thanks to William Rees and
Mathis Wackernagels concept of an ecological footprint (Rees and Wackernagel
1996a, 1996b). It represents the amount of biologically productive surface needed
to sustainably maintain a human society given its living standard and lifestyle; it
accounts for both the surfaces consumed and those that are needed to compensate
for the greenhouse gas emissions that result from the use of fossil fuels. A number
of criticisms have been aimed at the concept of an ecological footprint (Van Den
Bergh and Verbruggen 1999, Piguet et al. 2007, Billen et al. 2008, Fiala 2008),
including the non-location of the footprint, the mono-functional characteristic
attributed to soils, the bias inherent to the method (especially its aim to account
for too many phenomena thanks to a unique indicator a virtual area), the
possible pernicious eects of using it as a tool for action, and the fact that it
does not account for the sum of the interactions between societies and the
biosphere because it gives more weight to an energy approach (biomass and fossil
The concept of environmental footprints or imprints is, however, particularly
important for characterising the impacts of metabolism (urban in the context of this
article) on the biosphere. The term footprint (or imprint) is used to designate both
the spatial dimension of the impacts (in three dimensions, the third one being its
depth, that is the intensity of its environmental impact) and their varying severity.
The plural of this term (footprints) is used to signify that there are many dierent
impacts. As such, each city has a set of footprints whose size, shape, localisation and
depth changes in time, but accurately reects the citys metabolism, the lifestyle of its

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Journal of Environmental Planning and Management


citizens and not only its urban, but also its national and international, socioeconomic, political and technical systems.
There is a lot at stake with this concept. The aim is to show the partial and
gradual delocalisation of resource consumption and the emissions and discharges
magnied by globalisation, and all the consequences that ensue in terms of intragenerational solidarity. Examples include studies on the water footprint that were
rst conducted on a nation-wide scale and aimed at describing, both qualitatively
and quantitatively, the virtual water transfers associated with international trade
(Chapagain and Hoekstra 2004). Some works are also conducted at the regional
(Peters et al. 2007) or urban level (Chatzimpiros and Barles 2009); cities import
goods whose development required the consumption of a certain quantity of water
elsewhere which also led to an impairment of the resource in the drainage basin
concerned. Similarly, studies on the food footprint or food-print (Billen et al. 2008)
have shown that it has decreased in area because the agricultural yield has increased
since the Second World War in developed countries. Its depth, however, has
increased as a result of the growing use of synthetic fertilisers and phytosanitary
products. Furthermore, the food-print is increasingly discontinuous and distant from
the cities supplied. In addition, the concept of environmental footprints allows
spatial limits to be placed where human and urban activities develop, while
emphasising the critical issue of land use and its competing allocations (Krausmann

Conclusion: consolidating the eld

Although it is a relatively new eld of research, urban metabolism in its wide sense
as suggested by the French territorial ecology has a bisecular past and its
epistemology must still be rened (however, see Fischer-Kowalski 1999, FischerKowalski and Huttler 1999). Future progress, both in the scope of the research and
in the action to be taken, can be expected if the city begins to be considered not as an
unsustainable parasite, but as a source of physical, energy, social and intellectual
It would be necessary to consolidate the theoretical basis of urban metabolism
studies, in particular, by going beyond the problems that arise from using analogies
and metaphors that all too often characterise it. It would be also necessary to dene
methods for analysis and to infer from them disaggregatable synthetic indicators that
would allow built-up areas to be monitored in time or compared to other built-up
areas, whether it is to characterise or to control interactions between urban societies
and the environment. Particular attention should also be paid to the identication of
the latent and remote eects of cities in time and space, which are particularly critical
against the background of economic globalisation and global change: their
footprints are still too poorly known. In urban spaces, it would be important to
link urban structures, lifestyle and urban metabolism: the impact of urban structures
on energy consumption is relatively well known, but a lot less is known about their
impact on material ows (see, for example, Newman and Kenworthy 1991, Haase
and Nuissl 2007). Another issue that remains to be addressed is the creation of a
stronger link between energy and material approaches, one not being reducible to the
Taking it a step further, urban metabolism studies must also go beyond energy
and material accounting. The link between economy and ecology in the urban


S. Barles

context has not been investigated enough, although there have been signicant
contributions in journals such as Ecological Economics. The analyses must consider
the spatial and the territorial contexts, as well as the agriculture industry city
triptych. In this way, it is possible to question the concepts of proximity, both spatial
and social; the governance of ows, including the role of lifestyle and urban practices
in material exchanges; and the role of local and territorial stakeholders. To date, this
eld of inter disciplinary research is fragmentary.

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Naturalistic urban ecology refers to urban ecology developed under the wider umbrella
of the eld of natural sciences, and not urban ecology as a branch of urban sociology (see
Boons and Howard-Grenville 2009).
Several other founding papers in this eld were published at the same time: (Ausubel and
Sladovich 1989, Reconciling 1989).
ISIE Conference Introduction, Toronto, 1720 June 2007. Available online [reference date
26 June 2007] from:
See, in particular, the results of the Prospective reection workshops on industrial
ecology, created by the National Research Agency in 2006 to promote the development of
industrial ecology in France. Available from:
The author obtained this expression from Beno t Duret (Auxilia) but does not know who
coined it rst.
The Environment Institute of Stockholm is piloting the project EcoSanRes. Closing the
loop on sanitation ( This project is the basis of the
International Conference on Sustainable Sanitation: Eco-Cities and Villages, Dongsheng
(China), 2631 August 2007. Available from:

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HABITAT INTL. Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 405-420, 1996

Copyright 1996 Elsevier Science Ltd
Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved
0197-3975/96 $15.00 + 0.00



Wastewater Infrastructure:
Challenges for the Sustainable City in the New Millennium
M.B. BECK* and R.G. C U M M I N G S t

*University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA;

tGeorgia State University, Atlanta, GA, USA

Aspects of the technologies that might be employed in the wastewater infrastructures of
cities in the longer-term future are discussed. For this purpose a wastewater infrastructure
is defined as the string of unit process technologies used to recycle and return the waterborne residuals of a city to its surrounding environment. In the cities of Europe and
North America, for example, this infrastructure conventionally comprises the urban sewer
network, wastewater treatment plant, and receiving water body. To provide context and
direction for the discussion, the impact of the city and its wastewater infrastructure on
the surrounding environment is reviewed over a time-scale of centuries. Two analogies
are employed in order to illustrate this impact: the concept of a city's 'metabolism'
within the global cycling of materials; and the notion of gauging the 'health' of the
system through something akin to measuring the 'pulse-rate' of an organism. Three scenarios
are drawn for the possible pattern of adaptation and more radical change in the technological composition of the city's future wastewater infrastructure. These may culminate in a
structure altogether different from that with which we are familiar today, i.e. a decentralised, highly segregated system in which control and manipulation of the composition of
any residual at its source is maximised. Further, it is argued that the issue of reliability
of performance may be a critical (technological) factor in choosing a preferred form of
wastewater infrastructure. We do not discuss the economic, social or cultural dimensions
of our subject; we acknowledge that these are likely to be decisive considerations, the
seeming technological attraction of any option notwithstanding. Copyright 1996 Elsevier
Science Ltd

The word 'sustainability' has entered common usage in recent years, such that developing what might be called a sustainable agriculture or a sustainable form of forestry has
become a matter of priority in research. This trend, doubtless fuelled by the approach
of a new millennium, has provoked interest in the concept of a sustainable city. 1Quite
what would constitute the 'sustainability' of a city is not something we shall attempt
to elucidate in this paper, for we note that there has been little in the way of progress,
in general, in making the concept of sustainability operational, z But in a commonsense fashion, merely conceiving of the notion of a sustainable city has forced us to
think through how the entity of a city relates to the surrounding natural environment
Correspondence to: M.B. Beck, Daniel B. Wamell School of Forest Resources, The University of Georgia, Athens,
GA 30602-2152, USA.



M.B. Beck and R.G. Cummings

in which it exists. These considerations have led us to reflect on the city's impact on
that environment over geological time, on what might be a desirable form for the
relationship between the city and its environment, and on the choice of technologies
that might be preferred for the composition of the city's infrastructure. This last, which
will be the focus of our discussion, cannot, of course, be divorced from socioeconomic
questions of the acceptability to the public of technological change in an infrastructure.
For the purpose of this paper our interest in the sustainable city debate is in the
freedom it has engendered : to dare to break certain moulds of conventional thinking.
Thus, given the myriad problems facing cities that arise from a more complete exploitation of water resources, their more intensive use and re-use, and the threat (or actuality) of degraded water quality, a more profound form of enquiry has been brought to
bear on the question of whether the manner in which the wastewater infrastructure of
a city is organised is capable of improvement, perhaps even radical improvement. In
short, our task is to explore the question:
If we did not have the present urban system of sewer networks and wastewater
treatment facilities, would we re-invent and adopt them or, given what we know
now, would we opt for (potentially radically) different alternatives?
A complete answer to this question is well beyond the scope of this paper and is not
yet available (if it ever were to be). What is more, a city's infrastructure has many
parts and it is helpful only up to a point to separate out for analysis its wastewater
component. In the next section we shall discuss briefly how the structure and technology of a city's wastewater infrastructure has evolved, over decades and centuries. Our
purpose is to give a sense of the dynamics of change in the longer term, as a basis
from which to speculate on some possible extrapolations into the future. The following section examines two principles by which one might attempt to discriminate between
more and less desirable alternatives for this infrastructure. In developing these principles
we shall make an appeal - - common now in the late 20th century - - to the analogy of
the system, in our case the city, as an organism. Armed then with these principles, the
penultimate section sets out a vision of three strategic paths that might be pursued into
the medium- and long-term future: adaptation, with the use of some 'high' technology,
of the existing paradigm of wastewater infrastructures; a re-orientation of the purpose
of this paradigm; or change, of a more substantial nature, to a quite different structure.
The final section presents the conclusions to the argument.


Our need is first to define the system that we are about to analyse, its inputs and its
outputs. There is also a need for a convenient and illuminating 'image' of how we
should view the well-being or otherwise of this system and, indeed, its interrelationship with its surrounding environment. Our point of departure is that cities are
associated with flows of energy and materials. At this macroscopic level we imagine
the city to be as a complex organism, just as below we shall have to view the environment in a similar fashion. In its metabolism the city consumes resources and generates
what we conventionally regard as waste products. ~
It is difficult, of course, after some reflection on where these materials come from
(as in food, for example), to avoid falling into the trap of equating the system of the
city with the entire global system. In fact, it is not at all easy to define what should
constitute the s y s t e m - - that piece of the real world in which one has a special interest
- - when in reality things move in cycles, notably the hydrological cycle and some
intertwined global material flows. But in order to make any progress we shall have to
cut our image of the system out and away from the seamless web of interactions in
which it sits. So let us now focus our attention more narrowly on precipitation and
other deposits on the urban land surface as our primal inputs and on streamflow and

Wastewater Infi'astructure


its burden of constituents as the outputs of primary concern to us. The system, therefore,
comprises just the terrestrial component of the hydrological cycle and the wastewater
component of the city's infrastructure. Still more narrowly, therefore, this does not
include the corresponding element of infrastructure for the supply of potable and industrial
water to consumers in the city.
Let us examine then how the city, and its associated wastewater infrastructure, have
evolved and what has been their impact, when viewed as a transient perturbation of
the pre-existing 'pristine' hydrology of a river basin, in an instant of geological time.
At the onset of the perturbation, there was migration of population into the city; then
the installation of a centrally organised water supply to the city; the installation of
sewerage for avoiding flooding from precipitation over the newly created impervious
surfaces; extension and adaptation of the notion of sewerage and the use of water for
the conveyance of wastes out of the confined spaces of the city; followed by wastewater
treatment at a regional facility; and then successively more effective wastewater treatment.
Over the decades and centuries a local problem of soil pollution, from the practice
of land application of sewage in an earlier rural society, has been transformed into a
regional problem of water pollution. As the wastewater infrastructure of the city has
become more comprehensive - - at least within the paradigm of European and North
American cities - - this regional problem of water pollution has, in turn, become a
problem of solid-waste management. For the concomitant of conventional technologies of wastewater treatment, driven by the goal of restoring the quality of the city's
liquid residual to a near pristine state, is an ever increasing volume of recalcitrant
sewage-derived solid residuals.
In short, urban development today in Europe, North America and elsewhere can
hardly be imagined in the absence of sewerage, i.e. a water-based system of waste
removal, and the biotechnical processes generally believed to be indispensable to
contemporary wastewater treatment. The tree-like pattern of the modern city's sewer
network with all routes leading to the 'centralised' wastewater treatment facility, is a
mind-set that has been hard to dislodge, no less so for ourselves than for anyone else.


This quickly drawn sketch of the dynamics of city infrastructure development tells us
something, in rather narrow terms, of the system's consequences for the environment.
It tells us nothing, however, of the 'desirability' of these consequences or of whether
movement is towards, or away from, a sympathetic relationship between the city and
its environment. For our pragmatic purposes, i.e. without any deep intellectual justification thereof, we shall now define two perspectives on the possible nature of such a
'sympathetic relationship'.

Global material flows

Placing the city and its wastewater infrastructure back into the seamless web of interactions that is the global system, we may take an equally strategic view of the role of the
city in the cycle of things. Indeed, in many ways we might not be considering global
environmental change and sustainability were it not for the changes observed in carbonbearing materials in the atmosphere and the distortions introduced into the global carbon
(C) cycle by anthropogenic activities. Carbon is not the only cycle of material flow of
interest in judging the impact of the city and its wastewater infrastructure. Nitrogen-,
phosphorus- and sulphur-bearing materials, together with synthetic organic chemicals,
heavy metal species and pathogens, make up a total of seven generic categories of
'contaminants"* of particular interest to the generation, collection, conveyance and


M.B. Beck and R.G. Cummings

treatment of wastewater flows through the city. To these seven cycles a vital interest in
the hydrological cycle may be added.
For any one of these cycles some quasi-pristine condition may be imagined, as
represented pictorially in Fig. l a. We suggest, therefore, that a minimal distortion of
whatever we agree may have been the nature of this cycle at some point in the past
should be one attribute of a sympathetic relationship between the city and its environment. 5 Thus, if the impact of the city has been a distortion of this cycle of material
flows (Fig. lb), this would accordingly be judged as movement away from sympathy.
And what we seek ultimately is a wastewater infrastructure that does not exacerbate
any such distortion, as in Fig. lc, but rather tends to compensate for it, as in Fig. ld.
If Fig. la were to represent the hydrological cycle, for example, the impact of the
city has indeed been in the form of evolution towards Fig. lb, with further divergence
towards Fig. lc through the introduction of sewerage for the purposes of draining the





Fig. 1. The cycle of global material flows: (a) pristine, pre-city status; (b) distortion introduced as a result of the city;
(c) introduction of (undesirable) wastewater infrastructure exacerbating the distortions of the city; and (d) introduction of (desirable) wastewater infrastructure compensating for the distortions of the city.

Wastewater Infrastructure


urban land surface. In the pre-city condition, precipitation falling across the land surface
would hax,e travelled towards the nearest river, reaching it at many spatially dispersed
points along a variety of natural paths, many of them of relatively long duration through
the soil and sub-surface environment. Creation of the impervious surfaces of the city,
with subsequently the impermeable conduits of the sewer network, has greatly accelerated the movement of water from its impact on the ground and its eventual delivery,
mostly in flows concentrated at a few spatial locations, to the receiving river.
If alternatively Fig. la were to represent the global flow of nitrogen-(N-)bearing
materials, the principal distortion introduced into this cycle by the city would be perceived
as a net accelerated transfer of these substances (via food chains and surface runoff)
from the land to the water sector of the environment. 6 Where previously nitrogen
would have been returned in gaseous form from the land to the atmosphere directly, it
is now first diverted into the aquatic environment (in the soluble forms of organic-N
and ammonium-N) before its eventual return to the atmosphere. In order to suppress
both the excessive oxygen demanding and potentially toxic consequences of these
diversions (or distortions), many contemporary investments in a city's wastewater
infrastructure seek to exploit the natural biological processes of nitrification and denitrification in the intensified, engineered setting of a wastewater treatment plant. What
happens slowly in the receiving water body is to be encouraged to occur very rapidly
(and to a greater extent) in the treatment plant. The distortion of diverting the N-bearing
materials into the aquatic sector of the environment is thus to be rectified - - or arguably compounded - - by a treatment technology that will shunt the nitrogen yet still
more rapidly into the atmosphere than would have been the case in the pre-city condition. If we lock on to such technology, this may come to be seen as an undesirable
move towards Fig. lc (rather than towards Fig. ld). 7
Should we wish, in effect, to reverse this movement towards Fig. lc, SchulzeRettmer s has recommended an alternative technology of chemical precipitation for
generating a solid by-product of wastewater treatment known as struvite (magnesiumammonium-phosphate), notably 'naturally' occurring in guano, for example. This unorthodox
alternative would instead: (i) eliminate the production of biologically unavailable, if
not harmful, gases from denitrification; (ii) eliminate the energy-expensive need of
nitrification; and (iii) produce a readily usable, nutrient-enriched solid by-product. The
application of this last to the land environment clearly has a substitution potential with
respect to industrially manufactured fertilisers. Such substitution, coupled with the
absence of the gaseous 'end-products' of wastewater treatment, must in principle alleviate any distortions in the global flow of N due to an accelerated rate of cycling of
this element out of the atmosphere - - by industrial fixation - - and back into it, through
artificially intensified biological nitrification-denitrification.
Should we wish similarly to move back from Fig. lc in respect of the hydrological
cycle, we would do well to refer to an article by Geldof et al. 9 An illuminating appeal
has been made there to the notion of the city as an organism (the human being), and
its predominant paradigm of the sewer network as the alcoholic beverage that has left
the city with a hang-over. The symptoms of the hang-over are as already outlined: a
rapidly delivered excess of output water at the receiving river during the transient
perturbations of precipitation events; a more persistent absence of water elsewhere in
the system, i.e. a lowering of groundwater levels in the longer term; and, occasionally,
flooding of streets with foul sewage in a city having combined sewerage (that is,
sewers that convey a mixture of foul sewage and urban runoff). The proposed cure for
the hang-over, at least as seen by Geldof e t al., 1o is to promote the introduction of
technologies of local infiltration of surface runoff into the ground. These would be
dispersed across the city and would, if taken to their logical limit, retum the urban
section of our notional hydrological cycle to its pre-city condition and leave the wastewater
infrastructure to deal exclusively with the processing of foul sewage.


M.B. Beck and R.G. Cummings

Spectrum of perturbations
The idea of a city having a hang-over is perhaps overly dramatic and may have pushed
the analogy with an organism too far. Given that we have already had to side-step the
issue of defining sustainability, making any further appeal to the 'health' of a city or to
'environmental health' may be counter-productive. For these too are hotly debated
issues, especially the latter, and we shall yet again be forced to proceed with the
analogy without any deep intellectual justification for the terms we are using.
In order to establish this analogy, consider that the well-being of our own organism
is in many ways gauged by the amplitude and frequency of a host of oscillatory patterns in the observed behaviour of the body (pulse-rate; electrocardiogram signals ).
Our system herein - - the block of earth on which the city stands, between the point of
impact of the rain-drop and its emergence into the stream - - is subject and responsive
to perturbations across the entire frequency spectrum. Oscillatory changes are apparent in the long term over millennia, centuries and decades; we might call these lowfrequency disturbances, typically associated with changes in climate, society and the
prevailing industrial base. At the opposite end of the spectrum the system will also be
subject to relatively high-frequency perturbations at weekly, diurnal and hourly scales,
arising from the habits and working patterns of life in the city and isolated precipitation events.
Putting aside other changes of land-use, we could suppose that the frequency spectrum
of the environment surrounding the city in some pre-city, pristine condition might
have looked like the continuous line in Fig. 2a. Its absolute shape is not important to
the more 'relativistic' argument that follows. The dashed line in the upper figure is a
rough impression of how the frequency spectrum of the system's response (the





....v_....- ~-















Fig. 2. Frequency spectrum of system perturbations: (a) dashed line represents pre-1975 impact of city; (b) dashed
line represents possible post-1995 impact of city. Continuous line represents possible pristine, pre-city condition.



environment's response) has been modified by the impact of the city and the introduction of an associated urban drainage system. The accelerated conveyance of surface
waters through the sewer network has amplified the response of the receiving water
body at the higher frequencies. In other words, the introduction of sewers has lessened
the proportion of oscillations over weeks and months that make up the system's response
and increased the contributing proportion of high-frequency oscillations at the scale of
hours and minutes. One could say that an element of damping - - originally provided
by the attenuated movement of water through the natural sub-surface environment - has been lost through the introduction of engineered sewer conduits. At the same time,
the concentration of population in the city and the introduction of an infrastructure of
foul sewerage and wastewater treatment, has given rise to a dominant peak in the
system's frequency response in association with the natural daily rhythm of society
and industry (Fig. 2a).
In the same sense as before, for the metaphor of global material flows, we might
posit a return to the pre-city template of the frequency spectrum of Fig. 2a as a desirable move towards the well-being of the city's environment. And in order to see just
how this might be possible, there is a need to reflect on the essential role of a city's
wastewater infrastructure in the wider setting of environmental protection.
First, we shall make the assumption that in the long run legislation governing protection of the environment will continue to become more stringent and be applied more
comprehensively.11 Second, let us suggest that as the infrastructure of pollution control
and prevention becomes increasingly complete ambient environmental quality will, on
the average, improve. Third, it is in the nature of things that our technology for observing the environment will become more complete and ever more refined - - providing
access to the burgeoning dimensions of 'contamination' at ever smaller concentrations
over larger spatial domains at yet finer scales of temporal variation. Fourth, it should
follow that through one means or another the public's awareness of an improved
environmental quality will grow. Put more specifically, where wastewater treatment
facilities have been installed, and a fishery restored to waters of previously unacceptable quality (at least in living memory), fish kills following transient stormwater surges
will be immediately apparent failures in the infrastructure of pollution prevention. Put
yet another way, economic and social activities will continue to generate at least the
same potential for contamination of the environment as they have always done. In
river basins at a mature stage of development, however, the installed wastewater
infrastructure of the city (or of agriculture, or of forestry) now interposes a progressively larger 'barrier', as it were, between the receiving water bodies and this potential
for contamination thereof. The need to maintain the operational reliability of this protective barrier must become a priority in the longer term. 12
It is a fair bet that there will be more of us around in the future and that we shall
continue to expand the array of exotic chemicals we produce and use. The cycles of
water and materials around our environments (Fig. 1) will be narrowed and driven
ever harder and more intensively. These cycles seem destined to become ever more
compressed, like a coiled spring. Transient failure in the system may become ever less
likely, yet ever more devastating when (eventually) it occurs. And so it might now be
argued (in 1996) that the ever more complete and comprehensive deployment of urban
wastewater treatment technologies over the past two decades has succeeded in eliminating the dominant diurnal peak in the system's frequency response (Fig. 2a). We may
have moved thus in time from Fig. 2a to Fig. 2b. Yet this success may come to be seen
as having been bought at the expense of introducing very high-frequency perturbations resulting from infrastructure failures (Fig. 2b).
Should we in fact plan for the occurrence of such failure, rather as we plan for
epidemics of influenza by vaccinating the population with a mild form of the expected
oncoming perturbation? Would we consider more or less healthy an environment made
(arguably) more vulnerable to inevitable insult and injury through the success of our
city wastewater infrastructures? For it has been observed that transient pollution events


M.B. Beck and R.G. Cummings

in the rehabilitated Rhine River are all the more significant because of a decline in
resident bacterial populations, which had previously been supported by ample supplies
of urban wastewater. 3 Nitrobenzene - - a synthetic organic chemical and in this instance
a potential pollutant - - will now be apparent in the river, as a result of an accidental
spill, whereas previously it would have been more swiftly degraded before propagating very far. Perhaps we should keep our aquatic environments on their toes, so to
speak, by inflicting minor doses of harm on them, so that when the real threat of
infrastructure failure comes the environment is neither as vulnerable, nor lacking in its
resilience, as it might otherwise have been?
But our original question is not straightforward to answer, since 'previously' (in the
example of the Rhine) means 'in living memory', which will clearly not stretch back
to the quasi-pristine, pre-city condition that we imagine may once have prevailed. We
might have argued a case in favour of returning to some equilibrium, or some invariant state of the environment, free from perturbation. Certainly, much of the engineering of wastewater infrastructures has been geared specifically to the assumption and
desirability of a steady state, 14 and equally confidently we might now presume that the
high-frequency perturbations of the environment that will result from infrastructure
failures (Fig. 2b) are in general not desirable. The undesirability of other forms of
perturbation (relative to a longer-term 'equilibrium') is far less clear-cut, however.
Ecosystems have evolved in response to perturbations ~5 such that in piedmont streams
of the south-eastern USA frequent floods that " . . . keep the macroinvertebrate community in perpetual disequilibrium . . . " can be argued to be the norm, 16 and therefore,
perhaps, desirable. We shall have to leave this debate to run its course. The essential
point of Fig. 2 is that the template of the entire spectrum of temporal perturbations and
fluctuations in the response of a system may be an appropriate vehicle for both describing the system's state (health) and compressing the immense volume of attributes of
which this description is comprised.
We do not yet know how to engage quantitatively these principles - - of minimal
distortion of the natural flows of materials and of matching some pre-city template of
perturbations - - in discriminating among alternative choices for the wastewater
infrastructure as a whole or for its component parts.
Given only is the fact of the current European and North American paradigm, as
our point of departure towards a city and infrastructure having a more sympathetic
relationship with their environment. This paradigm - - the sewer network, with all
routes leading to a centralised treatment plant - - must perform the following services:
accept the water-borne residuals of domestic, commercial and industrial activities in
the city, and return them to the city's environment in a benign manner, with maximal
resource recovery and minimal energy input. Others, of course, have not fully implemented
this paradigm. At the end of 1990, for example, just 44% of Japan's population was
served by mains sewerage. 17 They, and still others who have not yet embarked upon
this infrastructural development, may not want it, 18 and we, from the perspective of
Europe and North America, might want to evolve away from the present paradigm, for
the reasons already given above.
The options may be many, but for the purposes of the present discussion just three
are identified: incremental adaptation of the present (European, North American) structure
towards what we might call a virtuoso performance of this system, in serving its present
purpose; a change of outlook on whether this current purpose is still the goal of principal,
contemporary concern; or evolution by way of a change in the structure of the system
itself, possibly as a result of some radical dislocation in the entire concept of what
constitutes a wastewater infrastructure. The distinction between the three paths is primarily
a useful means of organising our analysis. For it is hard to draw a line between when
incremental adaptation has in fact become structural change.



In order to begin to explore the first of these possible paths into the future, it is now
pertinent to try and answer the questions: how far can we go with the current European
and North American paradigm and how might this lead to a more sympathetic cityenvironment relationship?

Towards a climax with the existing purpose

Two factors are critical to maximising the level of service achievable with the current
wastewater infrastructure. First, we assert that, in principle, a climax in the performance
of any engineered system is reached when there is intensive monitoring of its state (in
real time), massive scope for control action, and a perfect understanding of how causes
are related to effects. This last, however, is not just any old kind of knowledge, but
quite specifically the knowledge base underpinning our understanding of how a system
behaves when it is not at equilibrium. Second, our infrastructure comprises several
such unit processes (systems). So beyond that which might be achievable with an
individual process, yet further gains in performance can be obtained from integrated
co-ordination of the functions of all the unit processes of which the system, as a whole
- - at some scale - - is comprised. There is perhaps a grander scale at which the effort
of attempting co-ordinated control may begin to topple under its own administrative
weight and thereby cancel out the potential gains from ever wider integration. But we
believe this is at a scale larger than the current wastewater infrastructure.
On both these accounts we can safely say that the best is yet to come; and we shall
call it High-performance integrated control (H-PIC).
All engineering projects may be broken down into four phases, and a fifth added
now as a result of the modem awareness of a product's life-cycle. These are, in order
of the cycle: (i) planning; (ii) design; (iii) construction; (iv) operation (and maintenance);
and (v) disassembly (and recycling). Infrastructure engineering lies in the domain of
Civil Engineering. And in Civil Engineering, alone among all the major engineering
disciplines, matters of operational management have been consistently overlooked. In
a recent Presidential Address to the UK Institution of Civil Engineers these observations have been echoed thus: 19
Our world is at least four-dimensional and civil engineers must address the time
dimension in everything we do.
We have tended to concentrate on the creation of a product and to neglect the
operational and maintenance stages of the service which the product, or project,
The notion that Civil Engineers build objects intended to remain invariant with time is
widely held: "[I]f it is meant to move, it is mechanical engineering, if it is meant to
stay put, it is civil engineering", z Perhaps we all covet the steady state, because its
analysis is easier and because, in some anthropocentric fashion, we are more comfortable with the idea of equilibrium in our lives.
If post-construction operation was not conceived as a stage through which the wastewater
infrastructure would pass in its life-cycle, this product of civil engineering enterprise
will not now submit easily to the maximisation of operational performance, and it has
not. 21 It has not been produced with flexibility and adaptability of performance in
mind. Historically, there has not been 'massive scope for control action'. A key requirement for the possibility of reaching a climax in service has been missing. Even today,
rarely are the principles of process control - - as first articulated in terms of wastewater
treatment as long ago as the late 1960s 22 - - anywhere near fully realised in practice
for many of its unit process operations, let alone for the entire system as a whole.
On the positive side of the balance sheet, therefore, there is significant room for
improvement. On the negative side, however, adaptation towards our proposed climax,
of H-PIC, will not be swift. There is currently no system-wide integration of the
control functions for a wastewater infrastructure. There has been no shortage of sug-


M.B. Beck and R.G. Cummings

gestions as to the benefits that would accrue therefrom, already for over two decades
now. 23 We have conventionally identified the sewer network, the wastewater treatment
plant, and the receiving water body as the three constituent sub-systems of this infrastructure.
The conceptual and institutional boundaries between the three have been sufficiently
strong for them to have been studied and managed, by and large, as independent entities, which clearly they are not. 24 In reality, there is but a strand of processing technologies that transfers a residual from its source and returns it, with certain transformations,
to the environment whence it came. Much as is presently the case with a petrochemicals
complex, so too could our wastewater infrastructure, the urban drainage complex, benefit
in the future from system-wide co-ordination of its processing operations. There is
scope for progress simply as a consequence of dislodging a mind-set - - of erasing the
conceptual distinctions among management of the parts - - and rectifying a historical
neglect of the three ingredients required for reaching the climax in engineered system
performance, i.e. the capacity to observe, to take action, and to understand nonequilibrium behaviour. 25
But how might all of this, our H-PIC of the city's wastewater infrastructure, lead to a
more sympathetic city-environment relationship? What, in fact, might we understand by
the word 'sympathetic' in this context? In the first place, the installation of a wastewater
infrastructure is a direct articulation of the fundamental concept of stabilising feedback
control. It is an action taken to modify the behaviour of the city in response to a perceived
mismatch between what is, and what is desired to be, the state of the environment in which
the city is located. It is, moreover, an action taken to modify behaviour in the long run,
over the left-hand side (over decades, years, months) of the frequency spectrum of Fig.
2. Notwithstanding the fact that this strategic action may have had deleterious consequences for the right-hand side of Fig. 2 (over weeks, days, hours and minutes), the
sparking of the feedback loop between the behaviour of the environment and the
behaviour of the city is a manifestation of some sympathy in the relationship between the
two. No such feedback can at present be articulated between the state of the environment
and the behaviour of the city in the short term (over the higher frequencies of the
right-hand side of the spectrum). Today's liquid product of the treatment plant cannot be
modified to match today's state of the receiving water body any more than the primary
sector of treatment can be changed as a function of the final liquid product, or the
behaviour of the sewer network manipulated as a function of the downstream crude
sewage it will deliver today to the treatment plant. Deliberate action cannot presently be
taken to modulate the high-frequency behaviour of the city's wastewater infrastructure in
sympathy with the surrounding environment, moved - - as it is - - by high-frequency
perturbations other than those emanating from the city. For the city's environment, quite
clearly, is not buffeted merely by the behaviour of that city alone.
To the extent that H-PIC can enable such deliberate (feedback) action, so it will
achieve greater sympathy in the city-environment relationship. It may also achieve
some modification of the high-frequency peak of infrastructure failures in Fig. 2b,
both for good and ill. For we shall be able to sail closer to the wind, as it were; make
much more complex manoeuvres at greater speed; get into difficulty perhaps more
easily; but equally so recover from failure more swiftly. On balance we might look to
the modern aircraft as the essence of what is achievable with H-PIC of a system. In
any event, H-PIC will be addressed to issues of infrastructure reliability and adaptation, and thus it is unquestionably of contemporary relevance. In the setting of the
natural material cycles of Fig. 1 it should ensure, at the least, that we shall be able to
do more of what is presently being done, more reliably and more efficiently (with less
consumption of energy). Yet what we do now, as is only too apparent, may not be
what we should be doing.



Changing the purpose of the paradigm

Abstracted from its physical manifestation, the strand of unit process technologies of
the current paradigm must be engineered in order to: (i) transport the water-borne
residuals of the city from their point of generation to their point of treatment; (ii)
separate particulate (solid) material from the liquid flux; (iii) promote the growth of a
microbial biomass, so as to manipulate the chemical status of the solutes in the liquid
product; (iv) destroy the separated solid material to the maximum extent possible; and
(v) remove the carrier material, i.e. the water, from the solid by-product. And this last,
through its use of the word by-product, epitomises much of the mind-set of the foregoing discussion. It has assumed - - tacitly - - that the city's environment is essentially
the water environment. Yet we know that the inevitable result of an infrastructure
geared to returning a high-quality liquid product to the water sector of the environment is an increasing volume of solid by-product into which most of the recalcitrant
materials from the activities of the city will eventually gravitate (the synthetic organic
chemicals, heavy metals and pathogens).
A basic and self-evident principle of chemical engineering is that the extent of manipulation of the chemical status of a substance is a function of the time allowed for certain
reactions to take place. In a wastewater infrastructure the time allowable is inversely
related to the capacity for storing (detaining) the flux of material en route from its
point of generation to its point of return into the environment. The very high-volume
liquid throughput of the system demands the engineering of relatively fast (microbial)
reactions, unless enormous tracts of land are to be occupied to provide sufficient detention in the passage of this flux. These processes consume energy. They are deliberately
engineered at a downstream location in the treatment plant. Therefore they do not
exploit the full detention time of the system; yet they are known to occur inadvertently
upstream (in the sewer network). They convert the more easily degradable forms of
the C-, N- and P-beating materials into the more recalcitrant form of surplus biomass;
and this then must be incorporated into the output solid product, arguably undermining the longer (but not limitless) detention time required - - and affordable - - for the
slower reactions exploited in processing the much smaller flux of separated solid material.
If we looked simply at the current paradigm in the abstract, as a strand of unit
process technologies from 'source' to 'sink', instead of its present physical manifestation (of the sewer network and the treatment plant), we might well want to overturn
some, if not all, of the five basic engineering principles by which we currently operate. We might want thus to dislodge the notion of the sewer network as a somewhat
passive conduit and replace it with the image of 'treatment' being pushed back upstream
from the 'end-of-pipe' plant towards the source of the residuals. 26 We might turn to
advantage the popular view of the solids in the system as a 'nuisance', whether as
deposits on the bed of the sewer network or as separated out from the liquid product
during treatment. On the one hand, the products of the slow reactions in the lowervolume, slower flux of solids might be used as precursors for subsequent manipulation
through the fast reactions in the higher-volume fast-moving liquid flux. Recycling of
these (intermediate) products from downstream to upstream is in turn a classic example
of engineering a longer residence time for reaction without increasing the volume of
the reactor (and such recycle will be much easier to realise with the concentrated
small volumes of solids processing products). On the other hand, we might prefer to
arrest destruction of the separated solids almost altogether, taking the view that the
raw material (as in the deliberate production of magnesium-ammonium-phosphate)
will add value to the land where its subsequent transformation (degradation) can take
place at a more leisurely pace. Last, we might tailor control of the microbial ecosystem
for treatment of the liquid product so as to shift the age-distribution of the population
more towards senescence, thereby to avoid the surplus solid product of excessive youthful growth.
HAB 20:3-E


M.B. Beck and R.G. Cummings

In short, after two centuries of development we might seek to turn the historical
purpose of the wastewater infrastructure on its head. Imagine, for example, that its
goal were to be to recover an optimal solids product destined for return to the land, the
by-product of which m the water carrier - - would have to be siphoned off to the
receiving water body. Yet /f all these rotations of principle were to come to pass,
would our system be any further along a path to the pre-city conditions encapsulated
in Figs 1 and 2?
Figure 2 alas, is entirely a prisoner of the very same mind-set we have just attempted to overturn: it captures merely the essence of stimulus and response in respect
of the health of the water sector of the city's environment. We inhabit the land surface
of the globe, however, and have historically participated in cycles of C-, N-, P- and
possibly S-bearing materials, in which there were no rapid (accelerated) diversions
into the surface water-sector of the environment. Given this perspective, perhaps the
current paradigm, turned towards its other goal, would allow the city to sit more sympathetically in its environment, up to a point. For we have spun quite exotic materials - principally synthetic organic chemicals (not found to occur naturally) and heavy metals - - into the archetypal cycle of Fig. 1.
Changing the paradigm
The seeds of a more radical change of structure have been sewn. In the grand sweep
of things, why should the wastewater infrastructure be designed - - as we have said
throughout - - to accept the water-borne residuals of domestic, commercial and industrial
activities in the city? The language, let alone the purpose and engineering thereof,
may be profoundly wrong-headed. For that which we have scrambled comprehensively
in using water to convey material through the city is mightily difficult thereafter to
unscramble. Indeed, conventional wastewater treatment in European and North American
cities has wrestled with this problem since its inception.
'Sustainable development' is not the only contemporary maxim. There is 'clean
technology', which in our mind's eye will permit us to unhook industrial activity from
the city's wastewater infrastructure and thence eliminate many (although by no means
all) of the heavy metals and synthetic organic chemicals that gravitate towards the
solids product (see, for example, MacGarvin and Johnston 27 and Niemczynowicz28).
There is 'source control' too, as already reflected in Geldof e t al. 29 Armed with these
alternatives, we can attack our problem from other angles, dismantling the obstacles of
a few more prejudices in the process.
Where there are not separate sewer systems for moving foul sewage and urban surface
runoff across the city, by what principle might we wish to separate them? Before reaching
for the conventional response to this question - - of today's (supposedly) separate sewer
systems in the more modern cities - - let us pause to consider whence the majority of the
materials of concern derive and whither is their destination. With the current paradigm for
the wastewater infrastructure we have argued that the essential challenge may lie in returning the solid product to the land. In the presence of a clean industry, the most important
dividing line may fall not between foul sewage and surface runoff but between toilet
flushings and 'all else'. This latter comprises the remainder of the flux of liquid material
through a notional household, sometimes referred to as grey sewage, together with the
surface runoff. If we could, we might wish to re-engineer an alternative form of separate
sewer system, in which merely a second pipe is placed within the existing sewer for the
conveyance and strictly separate treatment of the solids product of the city. After all, in
terms of the heavy metals and synthetic organic chemicals that would otherwise be spun
into this product, what better evidence would there be of its acceptability for return to the
land than its prior passage through the human body, and through this alone? The thought
has some appeal; but, of course, it overlooks the pathogens that must still be removed
from the product.
The closer is the point of separation of the fluxes of materials to the activities of life



in the city, the more profound may be the implications for any downstream processing
of these fluxes before their return to the city's environment. The ways in which the
strands of unit process technologies may be drawn together, notwithstanding the explosion in seemingly novel methods of unit processing, may become combinatoriaUy many.
How, then, in the face of gross uncertainty with regard both to land requirements and
cost characteristics of the candidate technologies and to the level of service and reliability that would be expected of this infrastructure for sustainable cities of the mid21st century, should we identify promising strands of technology? We have reviewed
over 100 candidate technologies, and composed and run a screening model, in which
the strands may be generated at random and then selectively screened. 3 Among other
conclusions, it appears that if toilet flushings are separated at source from the remaining grey sewage and urban surface runoff, some of the most common forms of presentday biotechnical processes may well be substituted by physical and chemical means of
processing the resulting lower-strength liquid product.
For a variety of reasons such a possibility chafes uncomfortably against the urge to
design biodegradable products for consumption in the metabolism of the city. What,
we might ask, would be the benefit of incorporating this feature by design, if it is not
then to be exploited at the end of the product's life cycle? Any shift away from exploiting biological principles towards the use of physical and chemical principles would
likewise appear to run counter to the exhortation for Civil Engineers to work with
"ecosystems rather than concrete". 3~ Wetlands, the "kidneys of the landscape", 32 are a
salient attractor of contemporary attention, 33 not least because they may most aptly
symbolise the return to some pre-city condition. But in the context of the city we
could raise the obvious objection that these, and other forms of ecological engineering, 34 are expensive in terms of the limited land area necessary for achieving sufficient
detention times for reactions to proceed to a sufficient extent.
We might also raise the more subtle objection that the long-term behaviour of an
infrastructure founded on the properties of ecosystems is significantly less predictable
than one based on the properties of concrete or, more accurately, the properties of, say,
membrane and magnetic separation technologies. Failure may occur in any system not
because of the shocks to which it is subject but because of an inadequate understanding of its inner workings. In the spirit of Fig. 2b, an ecologically engineered infrastructure
may be less reliable in the long run than those we now have. ~5 What is more, and
perhaps precisely because of this inevitably inadequate understanding, ecosystems are
perceived to have a life of their own, which of course they do. They have an element
of 'self-design '36 that places them a little too far beyond the reassuring essence of a
conventionally engineered system, which is (arguably) that we have mastery over its
intended performance. Whether 'self-design' is but another label for 'inadequate understanding' or indeed a manifestation of structural change in the evolving behaviour of a
system, is a more philosophical question of some considerable interest. 37
Reliability of service and the minimisation of failure may in the end be the decisive
factors in conceiving of a wastewater infrastructure that is radically different from that
of today's European and North American cities, yet a desirable paradigm towards
which to proceed. Consider that we have now a paradigm of downstream, end-of-pipe
treatment of a mixed water/waste product of a 'less-than-clean' industry and city economy.
The ultimate destination (fate) of any xenobiotic substance confused with the natural
cycles of materials, at whatever point on their passage through the city, will most
probably be the solid product of downstream treatment. Yet there at least its further
propagation is arrested; it has been caught in a centralised, end-of-pipe barrier. A clean
technology in industry will confine some of these substances at source; separation at
source of toilet flushings, grey sewage, and urban runoff may confine their propagation downstream through some of the channels of the infrastructure; comprehensive
control at source of urban runoff38 would divert their potential movement into a host
of widely dispersed points of entry into the sub-surface, groundwater sector of the
city's environment; and the systematic migration of treatment upstream from the end


M.B. Beck and R.G. Cummings

of the pi~e through the pipe and into the source, that is on-site treatment of domestic
sources, ~ will constitute the clean household, the companion of a clean industry and
a more sympathetic control of urban runoff at source. This, without the substitution of
water by air as the carrier, in a vacuum operated system of toilet flushing and sewage
conveyance,4 would leave us with an altogether different paradigm: of a decentralised, highly segregated infrastructure in which the engines of material manipulation
sit at the many heads of many pipes. If these many more engines fail, as they surely
will, including in the clean technologies of the new millennium, will the adverse
consequences thereof propagate far with any significance into the city's environment?


These things may reach deeply into our daily lives and habits. To what extent might
we, the public, city-dwellers, be inclined to accept the products of the current wastewater
infrastructure, turned to a different purpose? To what extent should our daily lives and
habits be altered by the dictates of a radically different paradigm for this component of
a city's infrastructure?
Our purpose has been to set out the evolving dynamics of possible change in the
city's wastewater infrastructure in order to pose m but not answer - - such questions
in a richer and more specific manner. We have made an appeal to the image of a city
as an organism, in order thence to trace over the long term whether the metabolism of
this organism is in sympathy with that of the city's surrounding environment, both
locally and globally. This has drawn in part on earlier work on assessing the impact of
a city s wastewater infrastructure on the global cycles of material" flows.41 Cuttmg
across the image of metabolism and the health of an organism from a rather different
perspective, we have observed how the city has quickened the pulse of its surrounding
environment, perhaps making this environment more vulnerable and less resilient in
the face of inevitable failures in the system of waste collection and treatment.
Armed thus with two broad notions of what might be considered a sympathetic
city-environment relationship, in the specific and largely technical terms of global
material cycles and frequency response, three possible paths into the future have been
charted. In short, these comprise: (i) doing more of what is presently being done, more
reliably and more efficiently, with the prevailing (European and North American) paradigm
for a wastewater infrastructure; (ii) changing the purpose of the current paradigm, to
produce an 'optimal' solid product, as opposed to an optimal liquid product; and (iii)
migration from the present, now often denigrated, centralised 'end-of-pipe' paradigm,
to a decentralised, highly segregated infrastructure in which the engines of material
manipulation sit at the heads of many short pipes returning the products of the city's
metabolism to the environment in a benign fashion - - when properly functioning. In
spite of the many seeming advantages of this last, we have raised a question regarding
the reliability of source-controlled clean technologies and clean households.
We have sought to overturn some long-held prejudices about the technical form and
purpose of a city's wastewater infrastructure and thus to prise open the door onto a
richer palette of possible technical solutions for moving the flux of associated materials through and around the city. In the wider setting, however, there is not merely the
technology of the wastewater infrastructure to be considered, but also the technology
of water supply, of solid waste (refuse) collection, of energy supply, and of transport
and communication. 42 And then there are the instruments of economic policy, some of
them perhaps different from those of the past, that may be wielded in order to foster a
more sympathetic city-environment relationship. 43 But beyond considerations of just
technology and economics we live in times when the prevailing mood is moving towards
that of 'stakeholder participation'. The consequences of the technocrat's ruminations
and value judgements will be visited less and less upon an unsuspecting public. 44 Yet

Wastewater Infrastructure


wider still, after three centuries of the wedge having been driven between reason and
emotion, 45 it has been argued that " . . . we are entering into a more philosophical
century where the unconscious logic of feeling [will play] an important background
role in steering our technology' .46 We are well aware, therefore, of the perhaps predominant
role social, institutional and philosophical considerations may have in fashioning the
technological fabric of a wastewater infrastructure of the future.
Acknowledgements - - Some of this work has its origins in a project on Environmentally Efficient Urban Drainage for
the 21st Century, supported by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) during 1992-1994.
We are grateful to the EPSRC for this support.
M.B. Beck is currently Visiting Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the Imperial College of Science,
Technology and Medicine, London.


P. Ekins and I. Cooper, Cities and Sustainability, Background to a Research Programme (Clean Technologies
Unit, UK, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Swindon, UK, 1993) and G. Haughton and C.
Hunter, Sustainable Cities (Jessica Kingsley, London, 1994).
As noted by Brooks [H. Brooks, "Sustainability and Technology", in Science and Sustainability (International
Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria, 1992), p. 30], reference to the sustainability concept
" . . . has a ring of scientific objectivity... (and enjoys) a rhetorical value in public discussions... " Further, "
there is still a challenge inherent in how to translate this concept (sustainability) into operational criteria for
the choice of development strategies and for the selection and adoption of new technologies to support these
strategies in a real world ecological, social, economic, political, and cultural context" (p. 29).
The parallel here is with Ayres' use of the expression "industrial metabolism" [R.U. Ayres, "Industrial Metabolism",
in J.H. Ausubel and H.E. Sladovich (eds), Technology and Environment (National Academy Press, Washington,
DC, 1989), pp. 23--49.]
In the cycle of things, it is hard to define what is a "waste" or a "contaminant"; hence the precaution of wrapping
such words in quotation marks.
M.B. Beck, J. Chen, A.J. Saul and D. Butler, "Urban Drainage in the 21st Century: Assessment of New Technology on the Basis of Global Material Flows", Water Science and Technology 30, 2 (1994), pp. 1-12.
A comprehensive assessment of the global nitrogen cycle in pre-industrial and modern times can be found in J.N.
Galloway, W.H. Schlesinger, H. Levy I1, A. Michaels and J.L. Schnoor, "Nitrogen Fixation: Anthropegenic EnhancementEnvironmental Response" (submitted).
In the first place, the diverted flows of N-bearing materials should perhaps not be residing for any significant
length of time in the water sector (they are there because we have a water-borne system of waste conveyance).
Second, the technology of biological nitrification-denitrification generates not only nitrogen gas but also nitrous
oxide. Inadvertent generation of this latter, in however small an amount relative to other sources, may be regarded
as undesirable, since nitrous oxide is suspected of the destruction of ozone and is known to be a greenhouse gas.
Third, it has been argued that the widespread use of biological denitrification would distort significantly and
adversely the balance of nitrogen between that which is biologically available in soils and that which is unavailable in the form of nitrogen gas in the atmosphere (see R. Schulze-Rettmer (1991) note 8).
R. Schulze-Rettmer, "The Simultaneous Chemical Precipitation of Ammonium and Phosphate in the Form of
Magnesium-ammonium-phosphate", Water Science and Technology, 23, 4--6 (1991), pp. 461-469.
G.D. Geldof, P. Jacobsen and S. Fujita, "Urban Stormwater Infiltration Perspectives", Water Science and Technology 29, 1-2 (1994), pp. 245-254.
Geldof et al. (1994), see note 9.
Unquestionably there are increasingly many planks in the platform of regulations on environmental protection,
as, for example, in the USA. See R.E. Balzhiser, "Meeting the Near-term Challenge for Power Plants", in J.H.
Ausubel and H.E. Sladovich (eds), Technology and Environment (National Academy Press, Washington, DC
1989), pp. 95-113.
M.B. Beck and A. Reda, "Identification and Application of a Dynamic Model for Operational Management of
Water Quality", Water Science and Technology 30, 2 (1994), pp. 31-41 and M.B. Beck, "Transient Pollution
Events: Acute Risks to the Aquatic Environment", Water Science and Technology (in press).
K-G. Malle, "Accidental Spills - - Frequency, Importance, Control, Countermeasures", Water Science and Technology 29, 3 (1994), pp. 149-163.
M.B. Beck (in press) see note 12.
S.R. Reice, R.C. Wissmar and R.J. Naiman, "Disturbance Regimes, Resilience, and Recovery of Animal Communities and Habitats in Lotic Systems", Environmental Management 14, 5 (1990), pp. 647-659; G.D. Grossman, J.F. Dowd and M. Crawford, "Assemblage Stability in Stream Fishes: a Review", Environmental Management
14, 15 (1990), pp. 661-671; and P.H. Whitfield, "From Transients to Trends: Time Scales and Environmental
Monitoring", in Using Hydrometric Data to Detect and Monitor Climate Change, Proceedings of NHRI Symposium
No. 8 (NHRI, Saskatoon, Canada, 1991) pp. 1-8.
See S.R. Reice et al. (1990), see note 15.
O. Fujiki, "Development of Sewage Works in Small and Medium Municipalities and Prefectural Masterplan of
Sewage Treatment", in Sewage Works in Japan 1992 (Japan Sewage Works Association, Tokyo, Japan, 1992), pp.
J. Niemczynowicz, "New Aspects of Urban Drainage and Pollution Reduction Towards Sustainability", Water
Science and Technology 30, 5 (1994), pp. 269-277 and O. Varis, "Development of Urban Infrastructure - - The
Expanding Puzzle", in Human Settlements in the Changing Gh~bal Political and Economic Processes, Proceedings of the UNU/WIDER Conference, Helsinki (August, 1995).
. .












M.B. Beck and R.G. Cummings

T.M. Ridley, ls Our Civil Engineering Too Small? Presidential Address, UK Institution of Civil Engineers, London
A. Harris, "'Intelligent' Structures Will Move the Divide", New Civil Engineer, 23 November, (1989), p.20.
M.B. Beck, "Operational Water Quality Management: Beyond Planning and Design", Executive Report ER-7
(International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria, 1981).
J.E Andrews, "Dynamic Models and Control Strategies for Wastewater Treatment Processes", Water Research 9
(1974), pp. 261-289.
M.B. Beck, "Dynamic Modelling and Control Applications in Water Quality Maintenance", Water Research 11,
(1976), pp. 575-595.
L. Lijklema, J.M. Tyson and A. Lesouef, "Interactions Between Sewers, Treatment Plants and Receiving Waters
in Urban Areas: A Summary of the INTERURBA '92 Workshop Conclusions", Water Science and Technology
27, 12 (1993), pp. 1-29.
M.B. Beck, "Modelling, Monitoring and Control of Wastewater Treatment Plants", Mededelingen Faculteit Landbouwkundige en Toegepaste Biologische Wetenschappen 59, 4a (1994), pp. 1979-1990. This last is inevitably
more refined in its description of what is believed to be happening (in theory) relative to that which can actually
be observed to be the case (in practice). For example, we know that the biomass of biological wastewater treatment is a rather complex microbial ecosystem whose many species of organisms are enmeshed in a food web
fuelled by a myriad incoming waste substrates and responding to a variety of operating states, all of which have
a direct bearing on the composition of the final liquid and solid products and the basic engineering need of
separating the one from the other. In practice, we measure "suspended solids" as a surrogate for the 'microbial
ecosystem' and 'chemical oxygen demand' as a surrogate for the "myriad waste substrates", and in most cases,
even these crude observations of the current state of the system are not made with sufficient frequency for the
proper exercise of process control. The straightforward presumption of refinement in the crudity, and expansion
from the narrowness, of present monitoring practice - - perhaps the mere playing out of innovations in sensor and
information technology currently visible on the horizon - - would enable us to peer significantly into the possible
future performance of the system. Such 'thought experiments' in the laboratory world of computer simulation
have yet to achieve integration at the scale of the entire wastewater infrastructure. But they have already been
used to explore advances in potential performance through a pairing of the sewer network with the treatment
plant [R.A.B. Gall, I. Tak~ics and G.G. Patry, "The Effect of Organic Reactions in a Collection System on Wastewater
Treatment Plant Performance", Water Science and Technology 31, 7 (1995), pp. 25-31 ] and of the treatment plant
with the receiving water body [Beck and Reda (1994), see note 12].
T. Hvitved-Jacobsen, EH. Nielsen, T. Larsen and N. An. Jensen (eds), The Sewer as a Physical, Chemical and
Biological Reactor, Water Science and Technology 31, 7 (1995).
M. MacGarvin and EA. Johnston, "On Precaution, Clean Production and Paradigm Shifts", Water Science and
Technology 27, 5~5 (1993), pp. 469-480.
J. Niemczynowicz (1994), see note 18.
Geldof et al. (1994) see note 9.
J. Chen and M.B. Beck, "Screening of Key Technologies for Urban Wastewater Infrastructures of the Future",
Water Science and Technology (in preparation).
M. Hoidgate, Sustainable Development - - What Does It Mean For Biologists and Engineers? (UK Institution of
Civil Engineers, London, 1994).
W.J. Mitsch, "Restoration of Our Lakes and Rivers with Wetlands - - An Important Application of Ecological
Engineering", Water Science and Technology 31, 8 (1995), pp. 167-177.
H. Brix, "Use of Constructed Wetlands in Water Pollution Control: Historical Development, Present Status and
Future Perspectives", Water Science and Technology 30, 8 (1994), pp. 209-223 and US General Accounting
Office, Water Pollution: Information on the Use of Alternative Wastewater Treatment Systems, Report No. GAO/RCED94-109 (US General Accounting Office, Washington, DC, 1994).
SIC. McCutcbeon, W.J. Mitsch, T.M. Walski, H.T. Odum and E.E Odum, "Joint Editorials", Ecological Engineering 3 (1994), pp. 107-119.
M.B. Beck (in press), see note 12.
H.T. Odum, "Ecological Engineering: The Necessary Use of Ecological Self-design', Ecological Engineering, 3,
~(1994), pp. 115-118.
EM. Allen, "Evolution, Innovation and Economics", in G. Dosi, C. Freeman, R. Nelson, G. Silverberg and L.
Soete (eds), Technical Change and Economic Theory (Hater, London, 1989), pp. 95-115 and M.B. Beck, A.J.
Jakeman and M.J. McAleer, "Construction and Evaluation of Models of Environmental Systems", in A.J. Jakeman, M.B. Beck and M.J. McAleer (eds), Modelling Change in Environmental Systems (Wiley, Chichester, UK,
1993), pp. 3-35.
Geldof et al (1994), see note 9.
J.H.J.M. van der Graaf, "Interactions of Sewerage and Wastewater Treatment: Practical Examples in the Netherlands",
Water Science and Technology 27, 5-6 (1993), pp. 1-9.
See US General Accounting Office (1994) note 33 and van der Graaf (1993) note 39.
Beck et al. (1994), see note 5.
Vails (1995), see note 18.
There may, for example, be much to be learned from the way in which these instruments have been used to
change the complexion of urban transport. See Haughton and Hunter (1994), note 1.
J. de Jong, P.T.C. van Rooy and S.H. Hosper, "Living With Water: at the Cross-roads of Change", Water Sc&nce
and Technology 31, 8 (1995), pp. 393-400.
G.D. Geldof, "Policy Analysis and Complexity - - a Non-equilibrium Approach for Integrated Water Managemeat", Water Science and Technology 31, 8 (1995), pp. 301-309.
A. Coruelis, "The Philosophy of Neeltje Jans", Water Science and Technology 31, 8 (1995), pp. 9-17.

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Rethinking urban metabolism: water,

space and the modern city
Matthew Gandy
Published online: 21 Oct 2010.

To cite this article: Matthew Gandy (2004) Rethinking urban metabolism: water, space and the
modern city, City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 8:3, 363-379, DOI:
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CITY, VOL. 8, NO. 3, DECEMBER 2004

Rethinking urban metabolism:

Water, space and the modern
Matthew Gandy
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Taylor and Francis Ltd

Water is a brutal delineator of social power which has at various times worked to either
foster greater urban cohesion or generate new forms of political conflict. In the paper which
follows, Matthew Gandy explores this statement by looking at the expansion of urban
water systems since the chaos of the nineteenth-century industrial city. In this early period,
the relationship between water and urban space can be understood by the emergence of
what he calls the bacteriological city, defined by features such as new moral geographies
and modes of social discipline based upon ideologies of cleanliness, a move away from laissez-faire policies towards a technocratic and rational model of municipal managerialism,
and a connection between urban infrastructures and citizenship rights. Gandy goes on to
discuss that while many cities never ultimately conformed to this model, the last thirty years
has seen a fundamental move away from the bacteriological city to a more diffuse, fragmentary and polarized urban technological landscape. Characteristics here include declining investment in urban infrastructures, a desire to meet shareholder rather than wider
public needs, oligopolistic structures amongst providers, the marketisation of goods such as
water, increased health scares and mistrust from consumers, and polarisation of the quality
of service provision. For Gandy, these shifts are better understood by more relational,
hybridised, rather than functional-linear, notions of urban metabolic systems.

Water is the great connector and coordinator.
Garrett Eckbo1
Water is indispensable stuff for maintaining
the metabolism, not only of our human
bodies, but also of the wider social fabric. The
very sustainability of cities and the practices
of everyday life that constitute the urban are
predicated upon and conditioned by the
supply, circulation, and elimination of water.
Erik Swyngedouw2
Infrastructures, which were mutually reinforcing and totalising, are becoming more

and more competitive and local; they no

longer pretend to create functioning wholes
but now spin off functional entities. Instead
of network and organism, the new infrastructure creates enclave and impasse: no longer
the grand rcit but the parasitic swerve.
Rem Koolhaas3

rban infrastructure has often been

conceived as a functional lattice of
different elements which correspond to the different organs of the human
body. The metabolism of the modern city
has frequently been presented as an interconnected space of flows dependent on the
external input of energy, materials and

ISSN 1360-4813 print/ISSN 1470-3629 online/04/030363-17 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1360481042000313509

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CITY VOL. 8, NO. 3

information. Yet irrespective of whether

the city is celebrated as a dynamic machine
or derided as a voracious monster, the
metabolic view of the city raises a series of
analytical dilemmas concerning the intersection between social and bio-physical
dimensions to urban space. The idea of
metabolism, whether used as societal metaphor or in relation to material processes,
has emerged from disparate and often
contradictory intellectual traditions. We
need in the first instance to differentiate
between those conceptions of metabolism
that derive from nineteenth-century developments within the biological and physical
sciences and those that originate within the
field of political economy.4 In a contemporary context, however, the bio-physical
emphasis on urban metabolism as a
homeostatic and circulatory dynamic
predominates within urban and architectural discourse to the relative exclusion of
neo-Marxian interpretations of metabolic
processes of urban transformation.
The current upsurge of interest in organic
architecture, the use of biological analogies in
urban planning and design, along with recent
neo-organicist explorations of the neurological or thinking space of the city, all underlie
the importance of clarifying how scientific
metaphors continue to play a significant role
in contemporary urban discourse.5 The value
of the metabolic metaphor has been its
emphasis on the complex interactions
between social and bio-physical systems that
allow the modern city to function yet the
functionalist impetus behind much organicist
thinking both now and in the past has consistently failed to grasp the way in which urban
space is historically produced. This paper
attempts to develop a dialectical rather than a
functionalist reading of urban space in which
an emphasis on dynamic processes of social
and political contestation takes precedence
over teleological conceptions of urban form.
The term dialectical is used here to denote a
mutually constitutive conception of relations
between nature and culture in urban space:
nature is not conceived as an external blue-

print or template but as an integral dimension

to the urban process which is itself transformed in the process to produce a hybridized and historically contingent interaction
between social and bio-physical systems. In
the case of water infrastructure the longstanding emphasis on the role of urban
technological networks in the growth and
development of urban space is extended to
explore the symbolic role of water infrastructure in the modern city and the emergence of
new forms of social and cultural hybridity.6
One of the difficulties in making sense of
these changes has been the persistence of
organicist metaphors for the understanding
of the flows and networks that underpin the
development of cities. If we are to understand the contemporary dynamics of urban
infrastructure we need to overhaul the idea of
urban metabolism inherited from the nineteenth century in which functionalist
conceptions of cities took precedence over
the analysis of structural dimensions to
urban change. We can, for example, trace a
close connection between the development
of organicist metaphors in the nineteenth
century and new approaches to urban analysis and interpretation associated with the
nascent development of the social sciences:
the new disciplines of sociology, psychology,
political geography and psychoanalysis
borrowed freely from the medical sciences in
order to combine a series of scientific and
moralistic discourses on the urban condition.
The pathology of the city, writes Anthony
Vidler (2000: 25), already fully present in
the organicist metaphors of romantic, realist,
and naturalist novelists from Balzac through
Hugo to Zola, gained new and apparently
scientific validation in the last quarter of the
nineteenth century. The hygienist city
promoted by the nineteenth-century public
health movement conceived of urban space as
an identifiable assemblage of organs: a functional whole that could be shaped and
controlled according to a rationalized
conception of human will. Yet the connection between water infrastructure and the
ostensible transparency of the hygienist city

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was always ambiguous because so much
water infrastructure lay hidden either
beneath the city streets or relegated to those
marginal spaces on the urban periphery
where noxious trades became concentrated
in the wake of successive legislative measures
to tackle urban pollution.7
Until recently, the understanding of technological networks and the hidden city
had been largely left to engineers whilst other
visible aspects of urban design were widely
perceived as the traditional domain of architects and urban planners. This is partly a
historical legacy of capitalist urbanization
the critical phase in terms of the politics and
planning of urban infrastructure took place
in the nineteenth century but recent developments suggest that we are again entering a
transitional phase in the physical constitution
of urban space. The pervasive emphasis on
the virtual or digital realm associated with
the spread of cyber spaces and networks has
problematized the role of the city as a tangible locus for physical interaction since the
bulk of urban infrastructure remains resolutely fixed in space as a concrete dimension
to the lived experience of the city.8 Water
infrastructure plays a pivotal role in the
constitution of the concrete city not least
because its expense and complexity precludes
its effective substitution by alternative forms
of service provision. For this reason water
has become one of the focal points for new
attempts to conceptualize the materiality of
urban space and the evolving relationship
between the human body and urban technological networks.
The paper begins with an exploration of
what we might term the bacteriological city
as a distinctive assemblage of social, political
and technical elements which developed out
of the chaos of the nineteenth-century industrial city. We explore the co-evolutionary
dynamics between social and technological
systems extending from the private spaces of
the modern home to the largely hidden physical infrastructures which have enabled the
modern city to function. We encounter,
however, a series of anomalies and contradic-

tions underlying this relatively stable configuration between space, society and
technology, which problematizes many of
the assumptions associated with conventional
accounts of the development of the modern
city. The second part of the paper considers
how the fracturing of this earlier urban form
has contributed towards the emergence of a
new kind of urban technological landscape.
The integrative impetus behind the development of modern hydrological networks has
given way to an emerging dynamic of fragmentation and differentiation with profound
implications for the future of the modern city
and a viable public realm.

Plumbing the bacteriological city

The gloomy, crowded and disease-ridden
nineteenth-century city serves as a critical
focal point for many historical accounts of
the evolution of urban technological
networks and the transformation of modern
life. The bacteriological city that emerged
out of the chaos of the nineteenth-century
industrial city was driven by a combination
of factors: advances in the science of epidemiology and later microbiology which gradually dispelled miasmic conceptions of disease;
the emergence of new forms of technical and
managerial expertise in urban governance;
the innovative use of financial instruments
such as municipal bonds to enable the
completion of ambitious engineering
projects; the establishment of new policy
instruments such as the power of eminent
domain and other planning mechanisms
which enabled the imposition of a strategic
urban vision in the face of multifarious
private interests; and the political marginalization of agrarian and landed elites so that
an industrial bourgeoisie, public health advocates and other voices could exert greater
influence on urban affairs. The bacteriological city was, above all, a new socio-spatial
arrangement that could simultaneously
ensure a degree of social cohesion at the same
time as protecting the political and economic

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CITY VOL. 8, NO. 3

functions of the modern city. Water played a

pivotal role in this reconstruction of urban
space to produce what we would recognize
as an archetypal modern city with its closely
choreographed intersection between technology, space and society.
Yet the hydrological transformation of the
nineteenth-century city posed a fundamental
dilemma for nascent forms of urban governance: whilst the provision of an improved
water supply system could be achieved relatively easily the handling of waste water
posed an immense technical, fiscal and political challenge. The introduction of centralized
water systems in cities such as Paris in 1802,
London in 1808 and Berlin in 1856, set in
train a complex sequence of developments
which would take many decades to resolve.9
The accelerating impetus of what Sigfried
Giedion (1948) describes as the water revolution from the middle decades of the nineteenth century onwards overwhelmed the
sanitary arrangements of the pre-industrial
city which relied on privies, cesspits and the
activities of night soil collectors in combination with limited networks of storm water
sewers. The installation of water closets also
diluted the nitrogen value of human wastes
for agriculture at the same time as the growth
of cities rendered the activities of night soil
collectors increasingly uneconomic with ever
greater distances to potential markets. The
economics of human manure was also
progressively undermined by the development of synthetic fertilizers which began to
play an ever greater role in agriculture (see
Corbin, 1986; Laporte, 2000). Despite these
developments, however, we find an intense
debate in the second half of the nineteenth
century over the flushing of human faeces
into the new sewer systems of European
cities: Baron Haussmann, for instance,
strongly opposed any human wastes entering
the magnificent new sewers of Second
Empire Paris and similar arguments were
made on behalf of Berlin by the agricultural
chemist Justus von Liebig and for London by
the prominent public health advocate Edwin
Chadwick.10 These differing notions of

urban symmetry belie contrasting conceptualizations of a rational urban order: anxieties over the loss of human manure rested
on a cyclical pre-modern understanding of
wealth creation whilst the diffusion of new
integrated sewer systems reflected a refashioning of relations between nature and society in the modern city to produce a
metropolitan nature quite different from
the organicist conceptions of nature which
predominated in the past. The modern city
was in other words at the forefront of a new
cultural sensibility towards nature as a focus
of contemplation rather than material necessity as the last vestiges of any cyclical interaction with a rural hinterland were replaced by
a metropolitan emphasis on nature as a
source of leisure (see Green, 1990; Gandy,
2002). By the 1890s advances in the science of
bacteriology in combination with the persistence of water-borne disease outbreaks had
largely supplanted the earlier organic
conceptions of urban order.11 The discovery
of pathogens and their role in disease epidemiology introduced the role of germs as
biological protagonists in the on-going
debate over urban sanitation and as a result
the physical transformation of the city and
the introduction of new water purification
technologies became a historical inevitability.
At the same time as the hidden city of
pipes and sewers was being extended beneath
the city streets a parallel transformation in
the private sphere was also taking place.
When reflecting on the relationship between
water and cities it is easy to underestimate
the significance of transformations in the
design, use and meaning of private space in
contributing towards the reshaping of urban
space as a whole. Indeed, one might argue
that the growing use of water within the
home, exemplified by the diffusion of the
modern bathroom, drove the hydrological
reconstruction of the modern city. The
spread of the private bathroom marked a new
bashfulness towards the body as emerging
fashions for washing, hygiene and bodily
privacy fostered increasing aversion to
human excrement. The modern home

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became subject to a new moral geography of
social behaviour that enabled the development of modern technologies to be incorporated into an invented tradition of
domesticity.12 The plumbing of the metropolis was thus a process of both physical reconstruction and social engineering so that the
use of water in the modern city was marked
from the outset by a tension between punitive and progressive hygienist discourses.
The evolution of modern plumbing systems
can be conceived in Foucauldian terms as
part of a bio-political dynamic wherein
social relations and codes of bodily conduct
were increasingly subjected to indirect
modes of social discipline (see Osborne,
1996; Otter, 2002). By invoking a Foucauldian reading of power we can extend our
conception of the regulation of urban space
to include those aspects of social order and
behavioural conduct which lie outside of the
formal arenas of legal sanction and administrative control yet are nonetheless crucial to
our understanding of how modern societies
function (see Agamben, 1998). The symbiotic
relationship between water supply systems
and the development of the modern city has
not only involved a hybridized interaction
between nature and culture but also a coevolutionary dynamic between technology
and the human body. Although the spread of
these new technological and architectural
interactions with the human body remained
highly uneven in different national and
cultural contexts (and was largely restricted
to middle-class homes until the wider diffusion of prosperity in the second half of the
twentieth century) we might argue that the
ideological force of emerging ideologies of
cleanliness and bodily conduct extended
beyond the private bathroom to include the
development of municipal baths, public
health campaigns and other aspects of everyday life in the modern city (see, for example,
Glassberg, 1979; Trupat, 1996).
The diffusion of water technologies is
closely linked with the development of the
public realm as an identifiable facet of the
modern city but it is at the same time a fragile

dimension to urban space that reveals a

number of tensions underlying the political
and economic impetus behind capitalist
urbanization as a geographically uneven and
historically episodic process of social and
cultural transformation. The emerging
bacteriological city involved a medley of
different social, political, economic and environmental goals set within the context of a
movement away from fragmentary and laissez-faire approaches to urban governance.13
With its dense networks of water infrastructure and its eventual integration into modern
discourses of pollution control, the bacteriological city forms an integral element in the
development of the public realm as both a
physical artefact and a political idea. The
close relationship between urban water infrastructure and the development of municipal
governance emerges as one of the critical
dynamics behind the development of the
modern city. Yet we should be careful not to
exaggerate the significance of public health
concerns within this process since the core
dynamic of urban reconstruction rested on
the facilitation of a more rationalized urban
structure for the political control of space
and the enhanced role of modern cities as
arenas for capital accumulation. The heroic
school of urban history has tended to
provide a highly romanticized and individualized account of the role of architects, engineers and physicians in this urban
transformation that ignores the wider political and economic exigencies underpinning
the development of the modern city and new
modes of urban governance.
By the early decades of the twentieth
century the bacteriological city was widely
perceived as the logical end point to the
processes of spatial rationalization under way
since the middle decades of the nineteenth
century.14 A distinctive arrangement of space
emerged which reached its zenith in the fully
networked industrial city of the Fordist era.
The hygienist emphasis on the purification
and ordering of space had radically altered
the relationship between the body and the
city to produce a new socio-technological

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CITY VOL. 8, NO. 3

nexus extending from the interior space of

the modern home to territorially bounded
managerial modes of urban governance. In
historical terms the bacteriological city
and the associated modern infrastructural
ideal to use Graham and Marvins (2001)
term represents a remarkably stable structure or constellation of different elements
since its inception in the middle decades of
the nineteenth century. An emerging interface between water, space and society gradually extended from the urban milieu of the
bacteriological city to encompass regional
and national dimensions to water resources
planning and wider strategic goals such as
rural development, power generation and
fiscal policy (Bakker, 2002; Moral and Saur,
2000; Swyngedouw, 1999). The development
of water infrastructure was thus integrally
connected not only with the emergence of
new forms of municipal governance but also
with a wider transformation in the scope and
rationale of state activity. Giant water infrastructures such as dams and aqueducts
became part of a distinctive technological
landscape founded on the Promethean
impulse to transform nature in the service of
a new society at the forefront of science,
modernity and progress (see, for example,
Banham, 1988). The local, regional and
national state took on a variety of waterrelated tasks that the private sector was either
unable or unwilling to perform leaving managerial and technical expertise concentrated in
the public sector. Yet these new regional
structures were increasingly remote from the
original political dynamic between municipal
reform and potable water supply in which
water infrastructures had played an active
role in fostering the development of a viable
albeit partial public realm.
The development of the bacteriological city
with its integrated technological networks
rested on a widely held misconception that
all cities would ultimately conform to this
model. When viewed in a global context,
however, the anomalies inherent in the bacteriological city become immediately apparent.
The water revolution which emanated

from the nineteenth-century cities of Europe

and North America did not in fact extend
very far with even the better-connected
towns and cities elsewhere often dependent
on intermittent or sporadic access to piped
water. In most colonial cities, for example,
the reconstruction of the underground city
was only ever partially completed with disastrous consequences for public health. During
the early decades of the twentieth century, at
a time of rapid public health improvements
across Europe and North America, cities
under colonial control such as Baghdad,
Bombay and Lagos, all experienced devastating outbreaks of disease on account of their
chaotic and inadequate urban infrastructure
(see Klein, 1986). Until recently, the uneven
levels of connectivity in developing countries
had been widely perceived as a temporary
phenomenon to be overcome through ambitious efforts at urban planning and reconstruction. In the late 1970s, for example,
urban planners in Lagos, Nigeria, anticipated
that within 20 years the entire city would be
connected to a modern water supply system
yet the actual figures for West Africas
premier metropolis by the early twenty first
century were under five per cent for direct
household water connections leaving most of
the citys fifteen million people dependent on
wells, boreholes, standpipes, tankers, street
vendors and other sources (Coker, 2003; UN,
1980). The infrastructure crisis now facing
fast growing cities such as Lagos, Mumbai or
Nairobi, is a testament not simply to the technical and fiscal challenge inherent in the
production of the bacteriological city but the
legacy of an incomplete modernity which
rested on a brutal distinction between citizens who could lay claim to potable water
and mere subjects who were left to make
do as best they could (see Mamdani, 1996).
The period since the 1970s and 1980s has,
despite a series of international declarations,
witnessed a general deterioration in urban
living conditions. The teleological discourses
of technical and managerial progress associated with the bacteriological city fostered
by the positivist impulses of the engineering

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sciences served to obscure the contradictory dynamics behind capitalist urbanization.
Processes of industrial restructuring, mass
rural-urban migration in the developing
world, and the gathering impetus of
economic globalization since the early 1970s,
shattered the assumptions and relationships
which underpinned the integrated urban ideal
that had developed during the first half of the
twentieth century. The megacities of the
global South now reveal some of the sharpest
dilemmas and contradictions posed by the
urban infrastructure crisis with widening
disparities emerging in access to sanitation
and potable water. The emerging brown
agenda, focused on the need for global
improvements in water and sanitation with its
implicit linkage to a rights-based conception
of access to water and sanitation, sits uneasily
alongside the shift away from the bacteriological city with its focus on centralized,
universal and state-directed patterns of
service delivery. Yet the current sanitation
crisis is most acute in precisely those cities
that never enjoyed the same kind of technological transformation as that experienced in
the cities of Europe, North America or more
recently in parts of south Asia.

Fractured spaces
Though we can delineate the characteristic
features of the bacteriological city it is much
more difficult to discern any clearly defined
infrastructural successor. The contemporary
city is being shaped by a different combination of fiscal and political pressures which
have generated new kinds of relationships
between the physical structure of space and
changing patterns of urban governance. The
era of municipal managerialism which
persisted under a range of different political
systems has been displaced by a more diffuse,
disconnected and differentiated urban form
in which the idea of the public as a clearly
defined political and ideological entity has
been thrown into doubt and in which those
activities formerly undertaken by the state

have become redistributed among a panoply

of different private or non-governmental
agencies ranging from corporate giants in the
field of municipal service provision to new
types of grassroots organizations. It would
be wrong, however, to suggest that the bacteriological city has disappeared since most
cities remain dependent on these immense
technological networks yet the context in
which these urban hydrological systems now
operate has been radically transformed. What
is now emerging is a complex palimpsest of
different forms and structures that leaves
existing conceptions of the city in a state of
flux and uncertainty.
The drift towards an increased marketization of water can be interpreted as an intensification of incipient trends contained
within the history of capitalist urbanization;
the most recent chapter in an oscillating
dynamic between public and private in
the provision of water and sanitation which
both predates and extends beyond the
specific arena of European and North American urbanization. Water has always been
closely intertwined with the flow of capital;
municipal bonds for water infrastructure, for
example, represent a core element in the
development of modern capital markets. The
issue hinges on the changing relationship
between capital, space and power: namely the
intersection between patterns of capital
investment and the evolution of municipal
governance. This process involves a series of
different elements or possible configurations
between tiers of governance, capital markets,
corporate entities and other players, but the
core issue is that a relatively stable, centralized and state-dominated structure is being
replaced by a very different set of political
and economic dynamics to those that
prevailed under the bacteriological city.
A key development since the mid-1970s
has been the emergence of a fiscal crisis
facing the maintenance of urban infrastructure with declining levels of investment leading to widespread dilapidation and neglect.
By the late 1980s, for example, over 25 per
cent of Londons water mains were over 100

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CITY VOL. 8, NO. 3

years old and over 30 per cent of its water

was being lost through leaks. Rusted and
corroded water supply systems in London
and elsewhere had become part of an emerging post-industrial landscape marked by new
patterns of social segregation, rising poverty
and a pervasive politics of municipal crisis.
By the 1990s, and the widespread reorientation of municipal governance towards the
needs of capital, the large-scale divestment of
public assets such as municipal water supply
systems had become an integral component
in ambitious privatization programmes.
Although these vast sales raised money in the
short-term as a means to bolster state
finances the underlying pretext has been an
attempt to avoid fiscal and political responsibilities in the future: a prospect underpinned
by new technical and regulatory complexities
facing the management of urban infrastructure in comparison with the relatively simple
systems of the past. Recent changes in the
water and sanitation sector have been marked
by a transition from a municipal ethos dominated by civil engineering to a commercially
driven need to assuage the demands of shareholders which has generated intense conflicts
of interest between the users of water
systems and the profit maximization strategies of privatized utilities. In the UK, for
example, cost-cutting measures by water utilities after privatization in 1989 led to spiralling water charges, a surge in disconnections
and outbreaks of dysentery. The ensuing
political outcry eventually led to new legislation in 1999 encompassing a windfall tax
on the vast profits enjoyed by privatized utilities and lower price caps to protect low
income households from escalating water
and sewerage charges (though utilities have
partially circumvented this with the introduction of more expensive token based pay
as you use systems for poorer households).
As a response to these changes share prices
for UK water utilities dropped by as much as
50 per cent to levels below their regulatory
asset value and two of the ten privatized utilities adopted a mutualization structure
whereby long-term capital costs would be

passed back to the state (see Bakker, 2001,

2004; Castro et al., 2000).
Other changes experienced in the UK and
elsewhere include the diversification of water
companies into other services and an internationalization of activities into lucrative overseas contracts. Examples of this process
include Thames Water Londons former
public water utility which after privatization in 1989 developed overseas interests in a
number of countries including China, Egypt,
Indonesia and Thailand, and was itself
acquired by the German multi-utility RWE
in 2000. At an international level there is now
a drift towards an increasingly oligopolistic
structure for global water provision dominated by a small number of mainly European
companies. There is also the prospect in the
wake of the disastrous water privatizations in
Buenos Aires and Manila of a further widening of disparities in supply with the strategic
withdrawal of these corporate entities from
problematic cities or regions to focus only on
those urban citadels from which higher water
charges and profits can be extracted so that
the poor must continue to rely on degraded
and inadequate public supply systems (see
Chinai, 2002; Swyngedouw et al., 2002). The
material assets of capital infrastructure have
also been increasingly used as leverage for
other financial activities. In this instance
capital assets such as water and sewerage
systems usually developed over many
decades from public sources of investment
have become closely entwined with the
development of new forms of economic
activity rooted in speculative rather than
productive forms of profit generation (notable examples include the ill-fated Enron
corporation which collapsed in 2001). Taken
together these changes mark a further shift
away from the municipal model though some
cities such as New York have, after a
protracted political debate, opted to retain
public control over their water systems (see
Gandy, 2002). A range of research has indicated that many of the most efficient water
utilities remain under public control (Stockholm being an axiomatic example), that

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public utilities are better able to respond to
new political challenges such as improved
equity in water access (as in South Africa)
and that public utilities in developing countries can raise their own sources of capital (as
indicated by the successful bond issue in
Ahmedabad, India). The implications are that
the alternative to the bacteriological city is
not necessarily outright privatization as
promoted by the World Bank and other
Western financial institutions but extends to
a range of possibilities in part dependent on
the ability of different interest groups,
including the local state itself, to articulate
different patterns of service delivery and
mobilize alternative sources of investment
such as municipal bonds rather than bilateral
loans vulnerable to currency fluctuations (see
Hall, 2004; Lobina and Hall, 1999). Pivotal to
the efforts of the World Bank to extend
privatization is the dependence of inadequate
and dilapidated municipal systems on external sources of capital that cannot be generated locally (hence the crucial significance of
local bond issues and other strategies being
pioneered in India and elsewhere). In some
instances state divestiture has been a precondition for obtaining bilateral loans in a
dramatic contrast with the nineteenthcentury cities of Europe or North America
which could utilize colonial sources of capital to finance the expansion and modernization of urban infrastructure.
The conversion of water from a public
good into a marketable commodity also
holds wider implications so that water is no
longer perceived as an integral component of
modern citizenship rights (though this
distinction was in any case very unstable in
the bifurcated context of colonial and postcolonial cities). The decline of the bacteriological city has been accompanied by an
erosion of the political connections between
water supply and the public realm that developed under the aegis of technological
modernism and scientific modes of municipal
governance. Since the notion of modern citizenship as articulated by David Harvey,
Richard Sennett and other urban scholars is

pivotal to the development of a thriving

public sphere it follows that a weakening in
the ostensible connection between urban
infrastructure and the public realm has
profound political implications (see Harvey,
1996; Sennett, 1974). The connection
between water and citizenship rights is now
left in an anomalous position since there is no
longer any clear connection between the
socio-spatial structure of the city and the
articulation of a cogent public interest. The
contemporary city can be characterized by a
form of antibiotic urbanism in which the
historic associations between urban governance, political reform and public health,
pioneered by figures such as Edwin Chadwick, James Hobrecht and Robert Koch no
longer apply. The public health crises of the
past exemplified by cholera and typhoid
affected not only the poor but also the
middle classes and threatened the social and
political cohesion of the entire city. Contemporary public health threats, by contrast, are
largely restricted to zones or enclaves of
deprivation in the absence of organized
urban social movements to rival those of the
industrial city.
In addition to this fracturing of the public
health dynamics of urban space we can also
identify a series of changes in the relationship
between water and urban society. Trust in
public water supplies in developed economies has declined since the 1980s as a result
of tangible health scares from pathogens such
as Cryptosporidium and E. coli, as well as the
generalized spread of political and environmental mistrust.15 Public supplies both in
developed and developing economies must
also contend with the emergence of more
differentiated markets for potable water
exemplified by the proliferation of bottled
waters in an apparent reversion to nineteenth-century patterns of elite water
consumption. The Coca Cola soft drinks
manufacturer, for example, has recently and
somewhat controversially been selling
repackaged municipal tap water to consumers in London after minimal and from a
public health standpoint quite unnecessary

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CITY VOL. 8, NO. 3

treatment procedures. And in India the same

corporation has been aggressively promoting
table water to urban elites whilst at the same
time promoting soft drinks in water deficient
rural India in preference to the development
of more equitable potable water sources (a
strategy underlined by the rapacious water
extraction activities of bottled water companies in India and elsewhere).16 The rural
water crisis affecting much of India and
many other parts of south Asia and subSaharan Africa is also a crucial dimension to
the subsistence crisis which is forcing
millions to seek a better life in cities so that
the urban infrastructure crisis is integrally
related to intensifying patterns of rural
A key dilemma behind the shift to an
increasingly market-driven conception of
urban infrastructure is that those elements of
fixed capital with the greatest sunk costs
generate significantly lower rates of return
than other infrastructure networks such as
telecommunications. There is not so much an
emerging digital divide, as has been
mooted in some of the literature, but rather a
glaring concrete divide in the corporeal
experience of space marked by persistent and
widening disparities in access to basic
services. The continuing global prevalence of
water-borne disease is a clear indication of
this regional and global disparity in urban
living standards. The urban slum is now the
focal point for contemporary debate over the
future of urban infrastructure. In subSaharan Africa, for example, over 70 per cent
of the urban population live in slums and
global numbers of slum dwellers are set to
double within the next thirty years (Davis,
2004; UN, 2003). Widening inequalities in
the distribution and quality of urban services
such as water supply form part of a process
of urban polarization over which the state
appears to now play only a minimal role in
the face of pressures towards further liberalization, deregulation and fragmentation. This
is not to argue, however, that the state itself
especially the nation state is becoming
irrelevant to this process since it continues to

play a pivotal role in facilitating processes of

globalization (see Sassen, 1995; 1998) so that
control over the apparatus of state power
must remain a focal point for political
discourse despite the burgeoning significance
of different forms of grassroots democracy
(see Appadurai, 2002). Democratic control
over municipal water supply has become a
contested arena that links with the antiglobalization movements attempts to defend
public services. The issue of the local state,
therefore, whether as service provider or
regulatory agency, remains pivotal to the
resolution of the urban sanitation crisis not
least because NGOs and other grassroots
organizations cannot act as credible substitutes for democratic forms of urban governance. The cyber slums of the South
with the latest wireless technologies but
inadequate water and sanitation lie caught
between the discourses of grassroots activism
and neo-liberalism; the question as to who
will coordinate, build and finance the necessary water and sanitation infrastructures that
can offer the prospect of a better quality of
urban life for the majority of the global
urban population remains unanswered.17
As for the affluent cities of the future, these
are likely to contend with the extension of
water metering and other devices to promote
greater water efficiency within individual
homes as part of an integrated network of
technological control extending to all areas of
everyday life (see Mitchell, 2003). And
beyond the spaces of the home a new hydrological landscape may evolve bringing the
latest developments in water efficient design
to even the most arid urban locales (see
Suzenet et al., 2002). At a regional scale,
however, there is likely to be escalating
conflict over access to diminishing and
increasingly expensive water resources so that
socially created forms of water scarcity begin
to intersect with conflicts generated by the
hydrological frontier of fast growing cities.
The kind of complex political dynamics experienced over many decades in parts of the
Middle East or southern California, for example, and other semi-arid urbanized landscapes,

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will become a much more widespread
phenomenon. In more extreme cases rates of
urbanization may even be curtailed by water
stress, particularly where fast growing cities
are dependant on vulnerable ground water
reserves, having wider implications for
economic growth within the economy. The
cost of water is certain to increase further
under intensifying pressure for prices to
reflect the full marginal costs of production
(however these might be defined) as part of
the on-going challenge to welfarist patterns
of water provision associated with the bacteriological city. The further liberalization of
water services will intensify social and
economic contradictions within the urban
arena leading to complex regulatory and political dilemmas. And as increasing numbers of
cities become integrated into a highly competitive global urban system the scale and intensity of water conflict is likely to become more

Water is not simply a material element in the
production of cities but is also a critical
dimension to the social production of space.
Water implies a series of connectivities
between the body and the city, between
social and bio-physical systems, between the
evolution of water networks and capital
flows, and between the visible and invisible
dimensions to urban space. But water is at
the same time a brutal delineator of social
power which has at various times worked to
either foster greater urban cohesion or generate new forms of political conflict. When we
think of what a city is we cannot avoid
contemplating the complex mass of structures that bind different elements of urban
space into a coherent functional entity. Yet
this integrated urban form is by no means the
prevalent model when we consider the
phenomenon of modern urbanism in a wider
geographical or historical context: the diversity of different institutional structures and
arrangements for water provision illustrates

the complexity of urban infrastructure and

its evolving relationship with different modes
of social and economic organization.
The urban ideal of the fully connected
metropolis emerged as a powerful symbol for
modernity in the wake of the chaotic and
disconnected nineteenth-century city. Under
the bacteriological city a relationship evolved
between more democratic forms of urban
governance and the development of modern
citizenship rights. The ostensible technical
and managerial simplicity associated with this
phase of urban governance afforded the
possibility for an unproblematic conception
of urban metabolism as an assemblage of
material flows; a web of movements enabling
what we would recognize as an archetypal
modern city to function effectively. In practice, however, the interweaving of social and
technological systems within the bacteriological city was far more complex than most
architects, engineers and planners were ever
willing to admit. The messy and indeterminate spaces of the urban unknown persisted
within this intellectual context as a margin or
boundary beyond which these technical
discourses fell silent. With the fading of the
bacteriological city and its characteristic
modes of urban governance the bio-physical
conceptions of urban metabolism have
become further problematized through an
inability to explicate the changing nature of
the contemporary city within an increasingly
globalized urban system. The use of biological analogies may serve some heuristic or
imaginative value in the context of architectural design for individual buildings but when
applied to an entire city or region these essentially arbitrary combinations of scientific
metaphors quickly become untenable and
lose any analytical utility. If the idea of urban
metabolism can be disentangled from its
organicist and functionalist antecedents,
however, it can serve as a useful point of entry
for a critical reformulation of the relationship
between social and bio-physical processes. A
dialectical or hybridized conception of urban
metabolism can illuminate the circulatory
processes that underpin the transformation of

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CITY VOL. 8, NO. 3

nature into essential commodities such as

food, energy and potable water: the idea of
metabolism in this sense derives not from any
anatomical or functional analogy but from an
emphasis on the interweaving of social and
biophysical processes that produce new
forms of urban or metropolitan nature in
distinction to the rarefied realm of nature
which remains dominant within much urban
and environmentalist discourse. A scientistic
model is replaced by a historically driven
conception of urban nature which is rooted in
the political dynamics of capitalist urbanization as a contested and multi-dimensional
process of urban change. We can discern a
coalescence here between neo-Marxian
conceptions of the transformation of first
nature and more recent emphasis on the role
of networks in the production of urban space.
In developing a more bio-dynamic conception of urban space we can also draw on
significant contributions from within the
history of modernist architecture and design
such as Alvar Aalto, Hans Scharoun or Bruno
Zevi.18 Relational or hybridized conceptions
of urban metabolism with emphasis on
phenomena such as commodity chains, the
particularities of local context and the fluidity
of urban form are quite different from
non-dialectical models of urban metabolism
rooted in a homeostatic conception of the city
as a self-regulatory system. The newly emerging conceptions of urban hybridity developed
by Bruno Latour, Erik Swyngedouw and
others, recognize that water networks are also
active agents in the production of space not
only through reflexive interactions with
processes of socio-technical evolution but
also through their constitutive role in the
production of urban culture.19 These relational perspectives differ fundamentally from
the linear flow-based models of urban space
associated with concepts such as industrial
metabolism, ecological footprints and
other functionalist conceptions of urban
space.20 Though the ecologically orientated
ideas of Peter Baccini, Herbert Girardet and
others seek to make a clear differentiation
between their conception of urban space and

the technocratic urban models derived from

the classic genres of scientific urban management exemplified by the intervention of
Abel Wolman there is nonetheless a
convergence between these different perspectives around the conception of the city as a
metabolic system which can be examined in
isolation from wider processes of historical
Under the twentieth-century discourses of
scientific urbanism and technological
modernism we find that the hydraulic
conceptions of the modern city were
extended and consolidated to produce a
highly sophisticated model of urban space as
an efficient machine. In reality, however, the
evolving dynamics of urban space from the
middle decades of the twentieth century
onwards became increasingly difficult to
subsume within the technocratic assumptions
of the bacteriological city. A combination of
political, economic and social developments,
which gathered accelerated momentum in the
wake of global economic turbulence of the
1970s, contributed towards the emergence of
a set of new configurations between space,
society and technology. The role of water
within this process of urban restructuring
reveals a series of tensions between the
abstract commodification of space and the
continuing centrality of material interactions
between human societies and technological
networks. By focusing on the flow of water
through urban space we can begin to disentangle the nexus of social and technological
structures that constitute everyday life in the
modern city and the creation of a viable
public realm. What is clear, however, is that
the relationship between the development of
urban infrastructure and a functional public
realm is a fragile and historically specific
phenomenon. The need to connect policy
deliberation over water infrastructure with
the establishment of effective and legitimate
forms of urban governance remains as
important now as it was in the past but such
arguments can no longer rely on either the
bacteriological logic of public health advocacy or the rationalist conceptions of urban


space promoted by political and economic


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Eckbo, (1990, p. 3).

Swyngedouw (2004a, p. 1).
Koolhaas (1994, p. 1264).
Swyngedouw (2004b). The development of the
concept of metabolism in the nineteenth century
also involved significant intellectual exchanges
between developments in, for example, agricultural
science and new approaches to political economy
exemplified by the influence of Justus von Liebigs
critique of capitalist agriculture on the writings of
Karl Marx. See, for example, Foster (2000).
Recent examples of organic architecture and
metabolic conceptions of urban form are to be
found in, for example, Gans and Kuz (2003),
Gauzin-Mller (2002), Pearson (2001), Senosiain
(2003) and Slessor (1997).
The cultural and symbolic dimensions to water are
explored in, for example, Bhme (1988; 2000),
Ipsen (1998) and Sennett (1994).
On the history of attempts to control urban pollution
see, for example, Barles (1999), Bernhardt and
Massard-Guilbaud (2002), Luckin (2000) and Tarr
The corporeality of the water-technology-body
interface sits uneasily alongside those urban
discourses which emphasize the putative
dominance of the digital realm. The increasing
emphasis on various manifestations of cyber space
has brought into sharp relief the somewhat
anomalous characteristics of water infrastructure in
comparison with other urban technological
networks. It is difficult, for example, to relegate the
crumbling water infrastructure of the modern city to
Marc Augs (1995) notion of non-place because
it continues to play such a significant role in the
way we perceive space as a cultural as well as a
tangible dimension to the urban experience (see,
for example, Baeten, 2002; Garver, 1998; Kaika
and Swyngedouw, 2000; Keil and Graham,
1998; Skeates, 1997).
On the history of water supply see, for example,
Barles (1999), Barraqu, (1995), Goubert (1989),
Guillerme (1988), Jacobson and Tarr (1994),
Melosi (2000), von Simson (1983) and Tepasse
On nineteenth-century debates over the continuing
use of human manure in agricultiure see, for
example, Bschenfeld (1997), Gandy (1999),
Tepasse (2001) and von Simson (1983).
We should note, however, that disputes over the
epidemiology of urban disease persisted long after
advances in bacteriology as evidenced by the









public disagreements between the experimental

hygiene of Max von Pettenkofer and the new
science of bacteriology advanced by Robert Koch.
See Koppitz (2004) and Vgele (2001).
On ideologies of domesticity and the modern
home see, for example, Frank (2003), Kaka
(2004), Lupton and Miller (1992) and Wright
(1975; 1980).
On public health campaigns, water supply and the
reform of urban governance see, for example,
Evans (1987) and Penzo (1994).
By the early decades of the twentieth century rates
of water connection neared 100 per cent across
much of urban Europe and North America (see, for
example, Barraqu, 1995; Goubert, 1986;
Guillerme, 1988; Melosi, 2000). Despite the
significance of this technical transformation of
space we still know comparatively little about the
evolving relationship between the technical
and political transformation of cities with most
attention devoted to the development of other
technological networks such as electricity,
telecommunications and transport infrastructures.
France, for example, completed its water
distribution network significantly later than Britain
and Germany and in much of the developing world
the extent of network coverage has steadily
declined in relation to rapid urban growth. The
development of more sophisticated and
interdisciplinary approaches to the study of urban
technological networks can be traced in particular
to the work of Thomas Hughes (1983). Other key
sources include Bijker et al. (1989), Coutard
(1999), Gkalp (1992), Graham and Marvin
(1995; 2001), Guy et al. (2001), Jacobson and
Tarr (1994), Lahiji and Friedman (1997) and Troy
On recent public health scares affecting water
supplies in developed economies see, for example,
Gostin et al. (2000), LeChevallier et al. (1991) and
MacKenzie (1994).
See, for example, McDougall (2004).
The United Nations, the World Bank and other
multinational institutions estimate that vast
investments of at least $60 billion a year are
needed to avoid a further deterioration in urban
living conditions (see, for example, Camdessus and
Winpenny, 2003).
See, for example, Frampton (2003), Pelkonen
(2003) and Porteous (2002).
A focus on the production of metabolized water
encompasses not just its physical and chemical
properties but also an associated assemblage of
symbolic and cultural meanings as it becomes
incorporated into the political ecology of the
modern city. See, for example, Swyngedouw
(2004), Latour (2004) and Latour and Hermant

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CITY VOL. 8, NO. 3

20 Some similarities can also be discerned here with

recent post-structuralist theorizations of urban space
which seek to counter the nodal emphasis of much
of the world-city literature (see, for example, Crang,
2000; de Landa, 1998) but these ideas have thus
far been mainly applied to virtual rather than
concrete spaces in the city. For overviews of recent
flow-based conceptions of urban and industrial
metabolism see, for example, Baccini (1997),
Fischer-Kowalski and Htter (1999) and Schramm
(2000). Different variants on the urban metabolism
theme also include, for example, the Japanese
based Metabolist movement which emerged in the
late 1950s and played on the cybernetic impetus
within planning and architectural discourse.
Founder members such as the Japanese architect
Kisho Kurokawa used elaborate capsules and other
structures to capture aspects of urban growth and
effectively invert the tendency for urban
infrastructure to be hidden within architectural
structures (see Kurokawa, 1992).

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