Questions and ideas for Metabolism of Cities

Metabolism of Cities
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A place for all your questions and thoughts on the main page and how we can make things better, things you might want to see in the future or anything related to Metabolism of Cities as an organisation

Front page: Who's the target audience? People who know about UM already or not?

For me personally, the homepage is great if it's intended for contributors. It gets down to business straight away. If we want to reach anyone else, perhaps having a sister site .com or without the subsite 'new' or 'education' etc is better?

With the existing site (, being rudely blunt: I am thoroughly sick of seeing so-called inspirational quotes like "Cities are where the struggle for global sustainability will either be won or lost". So what? Who cares? How does that help me? It is implied that ... I think ... we are doing something with cities? I think the landing page should have something already explaining the term. Maybe a gif or infographic about how a city is like a cell or a bug or a little monster who needs to eat and poop and we want to take care of our little monster without it devouring us.
Maybe a little movie like this company does?

Hey Bernelle or shoud I say indiebio. Very very good questions.

We do need to do a better job on this and I think the answer is both. The idea is that we want to accelerate the uptake of UM. So the audience is both. Convince new people to use the concept but also to make sure that we collaborate with people already using the concept in order to gain always better insights.

Does that make sense?

And yes be rudely blunt. I do agree our previous homepage added some extra "beautification" steps that did not necessarily help to collaborate faster.

Hello everyone,
First of all apologies as I had never made a proper introduction of myself in the community (I will do it soon, promise!) although some of you may know me from Metabolism of Cities Educational Hub. I am currently enrolled on the Data Processing module contributing to the data processing of the city of Barcelona. As Kim Finlay stated on another post in the forum about Cities with Open Data , there are some cities with great contributions. And Barcelona is one of them.
The point I want to raise here (to keep alive the debate above and because I think it could be part of the data collection course) is that I would like to better understand the research/analysis scope of Metabolism of Cities. It is clear to me that the main aim is to reduce net environmental impacts through the system on place while promoting, creating, sharing open source practices and fostering communities. However, considering the (early-)mid stage of the project I would like to better understand what do we consider or what is our definition of environment and its limits within the urban space. Clarify what should be considered "part of the system or out of it". Theoretically I am talking about concerns that are part of Political Ecology, Environmental History, Historical Geography, Urban Commons, Feminist Urbanism, .. which at some point all them identify the relationship between the environment and the urban space. To be practical (and provocative) I ask myself: could we consider ourselves as humans as part of the environment, as being energy bodies that flow energy? would be the public health indicators something we would like to include in order to analyse its impacts on the natural environment (peripheric neighbours with high rates of cancer due to industrial areas, sacrificed zones, ...), or would we like at some point be able to identify the link between migrations and climate change?

The reason I am motivating this debate is because today I attended to a seminar called "the city and its health" where I found out that the municipality of Barcelona recently created a tool that allows you to monitor: (1) the state of health in the city and the inequalities between neighbourhoods and social groups and (2) the ' health impact of certain policies carried out by the City council, which I believe the environment is also related to them. Nonetheless, I don't think I am able to include this data in the current platform (as any of the current city layers include a section for this kind of information).
Apologies if this is too long or out of the topic, but I would love to generate debate around this topic within the academic and non-academic (I am not an academic) community of this platform in order to build an just, inclusive and collaborative platform.

Thanks Nina, this is something that has been on my mind recently as well. I come from an academic background but left as I found it too abstract, so can only give a non-academic opinion here. I am also from a science/engineering background and find my vocab and outlook woefully inadequate, limited and biased. I can only see that my outlook is limited and biased but I don't know what to do about it, so very happy that you bring this up. I think what we are trying to achieve can't work if we limit it to 'net environmental impacts'. Intriguingly I am also wondering more and more how to bring in the feminist lens to this...

For me I would love to see the platform extend and include the social aspects. For me I include humans as part of the environment. Not only would I feel strongly to include the public health indicators but also the links that our urban metabolism has on human movement, or behaviour more generally. So to answer your 'or' question I would ambitiously say both :) But if forced to choose one I would choose the latter, aspects like " the link between migrations and climate change". Migrations of humans as energy and mass bodies is a big part of the metabolism of a city. I'm sure we can either implicitly or explicitly cover this. I don't know how to effectively do that on this platform and it may be that we need a different platform, but with the ability to interface with this one.

Personally I am trying to explore this with the visual lens by telling stories, that are interactive and allow people to draw their own conclusions. So for me it would be using the data in this platform, with the human aspect a curated layer above that, if that makes sense? Surely it won't be too difficult to include the data on this platform though, it would merely need another section added? But I really don't quite know and am excited that this conversation is happening, thanks for bringing it up!

Hello Nina,

Thanks for your comment and your introduction. Your post is very relevant and very very welcome so please don’t hesitate to keep them coming.

It is a hard question to answer in one go so I’ll try to provide some context and hopefully it will make things a bit clearer (for us as well 😊 ).

Let me start with some context about us and how we came to be. You can find a bit of our story here [(] but perhaps the most relevant thing to know is that originally we all came together because we shared a “passion” for urban metabolism and more specifically about urban material flow analysis. While the topic exists for decades or centuries, in academia the efforts are very dispersed and so is the data that is collected and analysed. So we wanted to help the efforts consolidate in order that this field has a wider impact on policy making and practice.

However, Urban Metabolism is not a monolith field. As I said, we enjoy doing accounting exercises which could be dubbed as an industrial ecology perspective of urban metabolism. Nevertheless, there are many other perspectives of UM such as social ecology, political ecology, urban ecology, etc. and all of them look at different facets of urban challenges. For more info about this you can see these two videos

To caricature this, industrial ecology measures but does not look at the (societal/political) impacts of the flows and stocks, whereas political ecology looks at access/availability/justice of these flows but does not necessarily quantifies the flows.

Perhaps you would also like to watch these two podcast episodes that talk further about political ecology:

So, while we approach UM through the Industrial Ecology lens, we are of course very interested in better understanding what are the environmental and political consequences of material flows and stocks. Ultimately, we of course want to systemically reduce environmental impacts of cities in a socially just manner.

However, at this moment we still try to develop the (online/free/open source) tools for people to collaborate, analyse and propose systemic solutions and policies. This last task has consumed us for years and years because there is just so much to do. We’re not doing this for the love of “science” or “Urban Metabolism” (although we do a bit 😊) but to have a lasting impact. And so far, we feel that there is a gap of “systemic” tools for resource use and pollution flows in territories.

After a number of iterations of developing these tools, we are now trying to make them accessible and available to everyone and connect people in order to form a community of practice that easily exchanges analyses and solutions. This is where courses and seminars fit in.

And thus, we’re extremely happy that you are bringing up these questions. We need these debates and make them more tangible.

To finally answer your questions, yes, we hope to include the impacts of these flows (health, climate change, etc.) some time in the future. This might be as form of an additional layer or not sure yet how. If you have any suggestions please let us know and make sure to contribute in any form you want to make this happen!!

Thanks again Nina, I hope this has somehow answered your questions and let’s continue the debate.

Hi Aristide, thanks for the reply, can you please check those links? They're not working for me, all giving the same broken url: :

Oops!! Hope I'll do it correctly this time!

Ok here are the links about the different facets of UM:
Quo vadis Urban Metabolism
What is UM

And here are the links for the two/three podcast episodes that might be interesting (more are coming):
Podcast Circular Metabolism #4 - The right to flows (A. Prof. David Wachsmuth)

PCM #5 - Rethinking Urban Nature (Prof. Matthew Gandy)

PCM #16 - What can African cities teach us about future resource use ? (Paul Currie - ICLEI Africa)

Thanks a lot Aristide for all the information! and for encouraging us to work towards these critical approaches.
I will think about it how these social, environmental, political indicators, variables, flows could be incorporated in the system. I am currently moving abroad and my free time is a bit limited but hopefully I will come back with some inputs in the coming weeks.

Something I would like to deepen is who owns the land, so we can point out who is on charge/responsible to follow the laws, regulations applied there and therefore, the flows that go through it. I am aware is way more complex than pointing to ownership but I think it would be a good start or at least a good layer to take into account. There is an open platform organization based in Barcelona called "Debt Observatory in Globalization" that elaborate critical analysis of complex and/or structural processes to show the visible (and not visible) impacts and risks of the economic and political system, which I believe they may have a better idea how to get that ownership information I am curious about.

I still have pending to read your conference paper about spatializing the urban metabolism which I believe it will inspire me to keep working on that approach. Any other suggestions?
Let's keep it rolling!


I came across a lecture by Eva Gladek (found here) on sustainable cities and circular economies, and couldn't help but notice the parallelisms between the efforts of this group and that of the company, Metabolic. At that, I was wondering if these groups have ever been connected at one point. If not, I am of the impression that a linkage between this forum and that of Metabolic could be a catalyst to powerful projects. I'm not sure where that would lead specifically and neither am I connected with the company but figured there is no harm in dropping it here for your consideration. I'm convinced that urban metabolism is critical to attaining a circular economy. I did try and briefly look up some topics on this here in this forum, but was not able to find particular discussions on it. The efforts of Metabolic are also calibrated towards immediate impact, which I believe is similar to the goals of Metabolism of Cities.

Hi Mara,
Thank you for sharing the video and your thoughts. Indeed, we (Metabolic and MoC) focus on similar end goals. We try as much as possible to connect as possible and converge our efforts. For instance we organised a three part seminar talking about Urban Metabolism in Policy and Practice and they (as well as other practitioners) share their efforts (you can find the seminars here ).
In general, we this community and forum is meant for precisely what you say. A place to make collaboration happen, to learn, to share, and try to actually use these collaborations to change cities.
Don't hesitate to make suggestions!

Hi Aristide,

Thank you for your reply. I know it has been two years but my interest in urban metabolism has not waivered. I have also been visiting your Youtube channel from time to time. I am currently doing a PhD at Ohio State University, specifically because I want to inspect the intersections of planning and "policy metabolisms" through a socioecological lense. I refer to planning in its American form and context as in its operations via policy levers through zoning and land use, at the scale of the community, and what this means for inequality. I am potentially leaning towards a comparative global north and global south analysis.

I'm writing this now because I ran into your published article with Dr. Bahers (The place of space in urban metabolism research: Towards a spatial turn? A review and future agenda). For this particular study, I wondered if you still have a copy of the dataset that had a specific focus on planning practice, especially in the US context, and if you could point me to any more literature on this. I also ran into Dr. Fernandez and Dr. Maione's book "Urban Metabolism and Minority Pulse: An Education and Awareness Campaign Targeting Minority Groups"

In any case, I am glad that this website is still up and running and wanted to keep in touch. I also feel rather brave to ask if there are other resources that you can point me to, especially in the American planning context. I am aware that Urban Metabolism is losely gaining traction in the US and would like to better understand the criticisms against it. As somebody who has been in the field for far longer, I wondered if you might have any insight on this.

Thank you and more power to you and your endeavors!

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