U is for Urban Metabolism

Nothing should be sustainable. Sustainability means to “sustain” the status quo. The future of sustainability is metabolic because metabolic systems are dynamic, open systems where there is a continual state of communication and energetic exchange within systems and between environments. Understanding that metabolic systems are informed by networked intelligence, which involves shared processes between the inside and outside, is the performative business initiative behind urban metabolism. For example, the design of future cities will be based on the metabolism of organisms, as it is believed that cities hold the key to metabolic living due to the fact that not only is the world’s population surpassing 50% urban but we are seeing a rise of megacities where there is a population of 10 million people or more as cities link to the countryside, leading governments, planners, architects and designers to dream up new ways to design tomorrow’s urban jungles. Dongtan City, an island outside of Shanghai, is slated to be the world’s first eco-city, where integrated thinking will allow for the city’s energy to come from entirely renewable resources, and instead of wind farms and solar panels, its waste treatment plant will have anaerobic digesters to convert sewage and compost into bio-gas. As society begins to view the city as a living organism, the future of house design, which currently consumes over 50% of the world’s energy just in heating and electricity alone, will now be engineered to function more like a plant or a processor, taking in materials and energies and giving out excess materials or excess energies in an eco-wired feedback loop. Since metabolic living requires a new economic metabolism, resilient thinking, the ability to learn and adapt in the face of unforeseen change, is now the initiative of business, realizing that the capacity for renewal in dynamic environments not only offers security, but allows systems to be alive, growing, healthy, changing and evolving. The great green hope, of course, is that as these changes are underway we may begin to adopt an eco-psychological frame of mind.

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