Urban Metabolism (en)

In the framework of the 3rd World Forum of Local Economic Development (Torino, Polo Reale, 14th October 2015) the Unesco Chair for Sustainable Development and Management of Territory organizes the workshop

Urban metabolism and local economic development


albero2Il metabolismo è un meccanismo di input/output che descrive il turnover energetico ossia l'input/output connesso alla conversione di materia ed energia (caratteristica intrinseca nella riproduzione di qualsiasi organismo) e ai processi regolatori che regolano il complesso scambio che avviene tra organismi e il loro ambiente. Se ammettiamo che le città sono macchine per la crescita del consumo, siamo costretti a definirle sistemi complessi del metabolismo urbano. (Decker et al., 2000) descrivono i processi metabolici attraverso i quali le città trasformano le materie prime in entrata - biomassa, energia, acqua, ... -  in strutture fisiche - ambiente costruito, dispositivi tecnici, cibo, rifiuti - che supportano una quantità enorme di attività riproduttive eseguite dai loro abitanti. (Kennedy 2007) parlano di metabolismo urbano  come la somma totale dei processi tecnici e socioeconomici che si verificano nelle città, con conseguente crescita, produzione di energia ed eliminazione dei rifiuti. Il metabolismo può dunque essere inteso come un insieme di processi che avvengono nel sistema urbano implicando la trasformazione di materia ed energia e il trasporto di tali quantità in modo tale che il sistema funzioni come un'entità organizzata.

Il workshop si propone di presentare metodologie per misurare il metabolismo urbano e di discutere gli indicatori da utilizzare.
Più specificamente, si propone di presentareil metabolismo urbano come:
• piattaforma per la raccolta di dati dagli insediamenti umani;
• strumenti per la regolazione del processo metabolico urbano;
• agenti sociali e decisori possono intervenire per modificare i processi del metabolismo urbano.


Bin Chen, School of Environment Beijing Normal University

Urbanization is a strong and extensive driver that causes environmental pollution and climate change from local to global scale. Modelling cities as ecosystems has been initiated by a wide range of scientists as a key to addressing challenging problems concomitant with urbanization. In this paper, ‘urban ecosystem metabolism (UEM)’ is defined in an inter-disciplinary context to acquire a broad perception of urban ecological properties and their interactions with global change. Furthermore, state-of-the-art models of urban ecosystems are reviewed, categorized as top-down models (including materials/energy-oriented models and structure-oriented models), bottom-up models (including land use-oriented models and infrastructure-oriented models), or hybrid models thereof. Based on the review of UEM studies, a future framework for explicit UEM is proposed based the integration of UEM approaches of different scales, guiding more rational urban management and efficient emissions mitigation.

Jukka Heinonen, Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering University of Iceland

We currently face an urgent need to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions we are causing. The newest projections say that the sea level is to rise at least six meters even if the two degrees warming target would be met and potentially much more if not. The vast majority of the anthropogenic GHGs are driven by the demand of materials and energy in cities and other human settlements. As a consequence, a lot of research has taken place to understand the drivers of the emissions and to find ways to reduce them. The prevailing thought arising from this research is that higher density is an efficient driver for emissions reductions due to reduced driving and residential energy use. However, these studies are mainly based on sectoral analyses of just either one or these two sectors. They thus fail to capture the feature of our settlements and lifestyles being tied together to a very complex system, where a change in one consumption category is reflected in others, and the actual change in the GHGs often totally something else than seen in a one-sector analysis. Looking at transport patterns, there is strong evidence that if just flying was included into transport analyses, the result would likely be that the reduction of GHGs from driving in denser settlements are compensated or even exceeded with GHGs from increased flying. Regarding residential energy consumption, in multi-story buildings in denser settlements there are a lot of common spaces and their energy requirements are often not taken into account when comparisons of energy requirements are made. And more importantly, living in a dense settlement vs. outside the densest areas is also a trade-off between own living space and easy access to all kinds of service spaces, which is clearly reflected in the lifestyles and the carbon footprints of the residents of different types of areas. As a consequence, it is a very complex task to define which features of a settlement would effectively reduce the GHGs caused by the residents, but only with a comprehensive systemic approach these can be reliably searched for.

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UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Development and Territory management
University of Torino


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