Resource-conscious urban planning and design: Exploring the potential of urban metabolism assessments

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


In view of urbanization, climate change, resource depletion and the impacts associated with resource extraction, processing and consumption, it is of great importance that cities foster the sustainable management of resources.  For urban planning and design to contribute to sustainable resource management, a detailed and insightful understanding of urban resource flows and stocks is required. Urban metabolism (UM) assessments are considered valuable for providing insight in urban resource flows and stocks. Scholars acknowledge the potential of UM assessments generally and material flow analysis specifically for informing evidence-based, resource conscious urban planning and design, but they also point to the shortcomings that hinder the exploitation of this potential. Therefore, this research: (I) studies how comprehensiveness and resolution of analysis affect the potential of UM assessments in providing insightful understanding of UM, and (II) investigates the factors and mechanisms that underlie resource flows and stocks, to advance understanding of the systemic characteristics of cities and their metabolism. Energy and water were chosen as main resources of interest. This research is of transdisciplinary nature, integrating knowledge from different academic disciplines with knowledge from actors outside academia. Stakeholder input is acquired in a case study of Amsterdam, which is central to this research. Other case-specific parts of this research consists of analyses of empirical data, including a material flow analysis at the municipal level and analyses using more detailed spatial units such as neighbourhoods. UM-related literature with a wide range of research designs is taken into account, to engage with knowledge from relevant disciplines such as urban ecology and environmental history.

It is conclude that for UM assessments to provide insightful evidence of UM for resource-conscious urban planning and design, a city’s metabolism and its underlying factors of influence should be assessed comprehensively and at several spatial and temporal resolutions. This thesis shows that a comprehensive, ‘grey-box’ MFA provides a deeper understanding of UM than a conventional MFA. Such a comprehensive assessment is instrumental to evaluating the sustainability of a city’s UM and can inform urban strategies that aim to enhance the sustainability of an urban area. Higher resolution assessments are needed to inform the implementation of interventions, as stakeholders need a more detailed insight in resource flow variability for this. To ensure that UM assessments generate meaningful results for resource-conscious urban planning and design, it is foremost essential to provide a solid underpinning of the chosen resolution(s) of UM assessment. Taking such a comprehensive, multi-scale approach is also essential to provide a systemic understanding of a city and its metabolism. This thesis show that the relationship between consumption patterns and factors is case and scale dependent, and consumption patterns are a reflection of place-specific interconnections between factors in time and space. Combining the methods and perspectives from different academic disciplines with stakeholder knowledge is essential to acquire an in-depth understanding of a city’s metabolism. Moreover, a place-based and multi-scale perspective in UM research is essential to advance our understanding of (case-specific) consumption patterns and their underlying case- and scale-specific mechanisms of influence.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Rijnaarts, Huub, Promotor
  • Stremke, Sven, Co-promotor
  • Sutton, Nora, Co-promotor
Award date11 Dec 2020
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463956048
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2020


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