Toward Sustainable Urban Metabolisms: From System Understanding to System Transformation

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenZeitschriftenaufsätzeForschungbegutachtet


Within the next two decades, large areas will be converted into urban environments, a process that will include enormous transformations in economic activity, environmental health, and social justice. To address these complex problems, scholars use the metaphor of the “urban metabolism,” describing an understanding of the interdependencies and dynamics of cities and the ecosystems they rely on. Research on urban metabolism has achieved important methodological advancements, such as descriptive analytical frameworks, decision-making models, and resource flow models. However, these contributions have rarely engaged with the transformational potential of designing sustainability solutions for socio-ecological dynamics. This study aims at investigating the current state of the urban metabolism discourse in linking material flows to human well-being, ecological integrity, and social justice, as well as the transformational potential of interventions. To accomplish this, we conducted multivariate statistics of 221 scientific publications, seeking to clarify the normative and transformational aspects considered in the design, context, and products of urban metabolism research. Results differentiated eight clusters of urban metabolism research highlighting the diversity of research along disciplinary and methodological dimensions. We identify pathways to strengthen the conceptualization of a “sustainable urban metabolism” and conclude with suggestions for collaboration between urban metabolism and sustainability research.

ZeitschriftEcological Economics
Seiten (von - bis)402-414
Anzahl der Seiten13
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 01.03.2019