Current Issues on Urban Metabolism & Harvard University Graduate School of Design Lectures, Part 1 of 3.

Urban Metabolism has always fascinated me. I came to know about this in 2000 when I was attending a short course on Designing Sustainable Development under the Master in Urban Management Program at the University of Canberra in Australia. Since then, I got hooked by it because of how it was used in urban planning and design. Its idea of treating urban area or as I would like to use it – human settlement – like a human body that metabolizes, is really relevant in the development, planning, and designing of cities and urban areas. But what is Urban Metabolism?

The word urban refers to or pertains to a city, or belonging to a city. (Wikipedia)


“Metabolism (from Greek: μεταβολή metabolē, “change”) is the set of life-sustaining chemical transformations within the cells of living organisms. These enzyme-catalyzed reactions allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. The word metabolism can also refer to all chemical reactions that occur in living organisms, including digestion and the transport of substances into and between different cells, in which case the set of reactions within the cells is called intermediary metabolism or intermediate metabolism.” (Wikipedia)

WHAT IS URBAN METABOLISM? Wikipedia has a nice explanation of this:

“Urban metabolism is a model to facilitate the description and analysis of the flows of the materials and energy within cities, such as undertaken in a Material flow analysis of a city. It provides researchers with a metaphorical framework to study the interactions of natural and human systems in specific regions.[1] From the beginning, researchers have tweaked and altered the parameters of the urban metabolism model. C. Kennedy and fellow researchers have produced a clear definition in the 2007 paper ‘’The Changing Metabolism of Cities’’ claiming that urban metabolism is “the sum total of the technical and socio-economic process that occur in cities, resulting in growth, production of energy and elimination of waste.” [2] With the growing concern of climate change and atmospheric degradation, the use of the urban metabolism model has become a key element in determining and maintaining levels of sustainability and health in cities around the world. Urban metabolism provides a unified or holistic viewpoint to encompass all of the activities of a city in a single model.”


In my research about Urban Metabolism, I encountered this video on youtube about “Projective Views on Urban Metabolism” presented by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. It caught my attention very greatly that I wish to share this with our readers. I do not claim to be an expert on this topic because I am also a “student”, a searcher just like the rest of us.

Earthniversity does not own this video but is thankful to Harvard University Graduate School of Design for uploading and sharing this on youtube, so that interested people around the planet could learn from this topic – Urban Metabolism. This video was published on youtube on February 14, 2014.

This is the description of the video according to HUGSD.

“DDes Conference: Projective Views on Urban Metabolism (Part 1)
In the last two decades, the concept of urban metabolism, aiming to grasp the continuous processes of energy, material and population exchange within and between cities and their extensive hinterlands, has been subjected of both extensive empirical research and, increasingly, critical discussion within the social and natural sciences. However, these interdisciplinary challenges have not yet been met with a synthetic response from the design disciplines. The goals of this one-day conference are, through the lens of urban metabolism, to generally, reassess the planetary rescaling of contemporary urbanization processes; unpack the transformation of spatial forms and structures and subsequently, the emergence of new operative territories for design; explore the agency of design in confronting these challenges.”

There are several speakers who will tackle various topics. The videos come in three parts. This is Part I – Metabolic Upscaling. Hereunder is the list of Speakers and their Topics:

1. Jason W. Moore – “Metabolic Shift or Metabolic Rift”.
Moore is connected with the Department of Sociology, Fernand Braudel Center, Birmingham University.

2. Erle Ellis – “Ecologies of the Anthropocene, Global Upscaling of Social-Ecological Infrastructures”. Ellis is connected with Geography & Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

3. Timothy W. Luke will deliver a Commentary on Urban Metabolism. Luke is Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Political, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Virginia.

4. Matthew Gandy will talk about Circulations of Metabolisms. Gandy is Professor of Geography at the University College of London and many other connections.

5. Moderator: Neil Brenner
Toastmasters: Daniel and Nickus.

1. Harvard University Graduate School of Design for uploading this video on youtube for all people of the world to watch.


This post comes in 3 parts. This is Part 1 so the next post will be parts 2 and 3. Please watch for the next post here at Earthniversity and also labeled under “Classroom”. These are also available on youtube.

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Updated on June 11, 2019.