The Nexus City: Researching connectivity between networks and flows of urban food, energy, and water

Moises Covarrubias

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


This research elaborated in greater depth how the connectivity of WEF flows occurs and how their related governance networks reconfigure. This research argued that resource flows contain a social and a material dimension that interplay with one another in giving shape to resource provisioning systems and in connecting WEF. This research work contributed to the theorising of the urban nexus. It shed light on the socio-material interface of flows in shaping connections between WEF, and the actors facilitating these connections. Its main argument is that in the quest for understanding the WEF urban nexus, cities are crucial spaces in which environmental flows get configured and linked through governance networks. Some of the key actors to look at when identifying nexuses are switchers and programmers. These are actors that link and configure the socio-material flows of WEF facilitating the emergence of nexus governance networks. These actors play an important role on how nexus governance networks emerge, and how they connect and (re)configure WEF flows. This research focused on the interaction of structures, functions, and power dynamics of networks (re)connecting and (re)configuring WEF in higher or lesser nexus outcomes. This thesis proposed a set of concepts to analyse the nexus as exemplified through examples from geothermal energy in Reykjavik, a food centre showcase in Bologna, proximity food in Barcelona, the cases of the last mile of food and the car-regulated last time in Amsterdam (the experimental city). In the in-depth case study of Barcelona, this thesis argued that the sustainability of proximity food is not just determined by distance (between places of production and access) but by the specific ways in which food flows relate to connections with energy-and-water flows. We conclude that in Barcelona, proximity is developed as a concept to improve and gain on food sustainability and it has been employed as a crucial element in the re-coding of the urban food network and its food flows. However, such code and coding still deserve further developments in closing physical and social distances, not only within the food network (through its processes) but between the WEF dimensions at and through every process of food provisioning in Barcelona. In the in-depth case study of the car-regulated city of Amsterdam, this thesis unpacked the content and meaning of what occurs in distributing food in the proximity. The authors study the case of emergent e-transport alternatives distributing food in the last mile (following food flows on board of electric boats, electric vehicles, and electric bikes). The authors argued that a more sustainable last mile of food requires more than a shift toward greener modes of transport. It is also about the wider supporting urban infrastructure, including fuel shifts, alternative infrastructure provisioning (e.g. the use of canals as opposed to roads), and the socio-political infrastructure supporting or limiting the sustainable urban food transition (e.g. who supports or obstructs the transition). One of the final conclusions of this thesis suggests that governing the nexus requires a nexus interface which is mainly developed by switchers & programmers with the help of incumbent actors. The thesis concluded on two tools that switchers, programmers, and incumbents used for steering nexus projects in cities. 1) Food proximity: learning from food short supply chains and practice, and 2) New social relations organising water, energy, and food: the open-code experimental city. between urban versus global governance, for proximity or for an experimental-city policy. After critically reflecting on the pros and cons of such tools, this research suggests that researching the urban requires to also study the continuum of urban flows on the move (socio-material), across urban and global scales, through resource networks. A final thought on actors making the nexus of governance networks is that new social relations as shown in cities do not always come along straightforwardly. WEF nexus thinking needs to be assisted by guiding principles, concepts, methodologies, and tools (as proximity and experimentation, but also many other ones) that can provide an initial direction towards pathways of further connectivity. In either way, from a closed-code fashion or from a more open-source code one.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Spaargaren, Gert, Promotor
  • Boas, Ingrid, Co-promotor
Award date5 Nov 2020
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463954990
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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