Urban Metabolism

Following our series on “Cities and Our Future,” I’m pleased to introduce the second of our special programs on the theme of the Urban Anthropocene. Starting today, and running through April, we will have a series of posts that take up the idea of “urban metabolism:” the analogy between cities and organisms that focuses attention on the systems by which cities obtain resources, and generate and dispose of wastes.

Stephanie PincetlWe are delighted to be working on this series with urban theorist Stephanie Pincetl, director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at the University of California, Los Angeles. Lynn Soreghan’s post on her recent paper about cities in the Anthropocene introduced us to Dr. Pincetl’s work; we immediately recognized it as setting a pattern for what we are trying to do on this blog. That includes both her interdisciplinary methodology, and also the way she theorizes “habitation” in very much the way we understand it: as the complex of activities by which human beings transform their physical surroundings, ultimately at a global scale, for the purpose of providing for themselves a particular way of living.

We were very much taken with Dr. Pincetl’s use of the image of metabolism as a way of conceptualizing the process of habitation, and decided to engage with that idea more deeply. Her research (see also) has helped articulate the urban metabolism concept, and she has used it to study Los Angeles. We were therefore thrilled that she accepted our invitation to work with us by suggesting a set of papers that can be read as “inputs” for the urban metabolism concept. Over the next six weeks we will do posts on some of those papers. Then, on April 19, Dr. Pincetl will join us on the OU campus for a panel discussion. She and members of our group of bloggers will share with each other, and the public, their developing understanding of how to think about cities in a metabolic way.

(We thank the OU Provost’s Office, the College of Architecture, the Biological Survey, and the Departments of Biology and Geology, for their support of Dr. Pincetl’s visit to OU, which is held in conjunction with OU Earth Month.)


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