- The role of social innovations in a revised urban metabolism concept framed by sustainable development paradigms   click here to open paper content73 kb
by    Gezik, Peter | petergezik@gmail.com   click here to send an email to the auther(s) of this paper
Short Outline
This paper presents the outputs of the research focused on a revision of
urban metabolism conceptual framework, and a suggestion for a new approach
considering social innovations as a key component shaping and redirecting
metabolic processes and determining a city’s sustainability.
The urban metabolism concept emerged in the mid-sixties when Wolman (1965)
compared metabolic processes of material and energy transformation into the
performance and waste occurring in living organisms with processes in the
cities. Based on this concept, researchers have been struggling to develop
a better understanding of energy and material flows in urban socio-
ecosystems, and between them and the surrounding environment, with a
special focus on their environmental impacts. Since the late twentieth
century, output measures from urban metabolism analyses have been utilized
for indicating urban sustainability and livability. Unfortunately, the last
50 years of this theoretical concept’s development focused on precise
energy and material flows measuring, and has not brought decisive progress
in the comprehensive interpretation of urban metabolic processes. In the
last decade many authors have called for an expanded urban metabolism
concept which can overcome the inconsistencies and be utilized as a widely
applicable system-based approach (Goonetilleke et al., 2011; Minx et al.,
2010; Pincetl et al., 2012;). Some authors argue that a city is a complex,
dynamic, collective entity which should instead be compared to a socio-
ecosystem, rather than to an individual organism. They point out that
individual components of a whole not only cooperate, as it is in organisms,
but they also compete and do not rigorously rely on an overall decision-
making executive (Golubiewski, 2012; Marshall, 2009). There is a lack of
information provided in available literature, in terms of which components
determine a distinct metabolism of a respective city and how these
specifics should be taken into account in the analytical and regulatory
processes. There is also a knowledge gap in how changes in the metabolism
modify spatial and functional structure of complex and dynamic urban areas,
how to manage these changes as well as what the drivers of these changes
are. Pincetl et al. (2012) argue that “without being able to attribute
flows to people, places, and uses, it is nearly impossible to determine the
metabolism of a specific city”. In this paper, reported interdisciplinary
research, based on critical analyses of available literature and data
sources from multiple urban metabolism case studies (Barels, 2009;
Havranek, 2008; Minx et al., 2010) challenged the urban metabolism concept
and outlined possible paths for its further extensions with high potential
to overcome the aforementioned gaps. Social innovations understood as “the
generation and implementation of new ideas about social relationships and
social organization” (Mumford, 2002) alongside technical and economic
innovations were found as crucial phenomenon in urban metabolism. Character
and development of innovations shape technical and socioeconomic processes
that occur in cities and determine the character and extent of urban
structure modifications. They seem to be possible drivers which expand,
reduce, create or eliminate resource use, waste production and impacts on
the environment. A targeted analysis of the innovation’s character and
their site-specific potentials can possibly specify past, present and
further orientation of metabolic flows. Further research on the role of
innovations in urban metabolism has the potential to outline pathways
regarding how cities can move from one metabolic state to another,
possibly, more sustainably. This paper has the ambition to expand the
concept of urban metabolism as a generally applicable theoretical
background for further studies and experiments regarding the interplay
between social innovations and material, and energy flows in urban
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