Our Story

Urban metabolism is an academic approach to study the sustainability of cities by quantifying and unpacking material and energy flows. By trying to fully understand how energy and materials flow through a city, it becomes possible to better understand opportunities for improvements, to monitor the impact of interventions, and to see the relationships between different materials, sectors, people, and technologies. By providing an open source, community-led platform, Metabolism of Cities aims to improve the collection, sharing, and analysis of urban metabolism data and tools.


Originally started as a side project, Metabolism of Cities has over the years grown into a network of websites, backed by a non-profit registered in Brussels, Belgium, and run by different communities consisting primarily of volunteers. As a non-profit, Metabolism of Cities seeks to support the initiatives that are set up by the community. These initiatives, listed in our Projects section, can vary from a short-term exhibition, to a multi-year effort to catalogue and share data. Some projects involve on-the-ground intervention, whereas others revolve primarily around a digital platform. Some of the signature platforms run by Metabolism of Cities include a Data Hub, Library, Education Hub, and a Multimedia Library. Some key "on the ground", in-person projects include a set of Master classes, an Urban Metabolism & Minorities project, a Seminar series, and the CityLoops project.


Milestones


Below some of the milestones and key achievements of Metabolism of Cities are highlighted, year by year.

2014

Website launch
Website launch

Metabolism of Cities (initially called MFA Tools) was set up in August 2014 by Paul Hoekman

Online Material Flow Analysis Tool (OMAT)
Online Material Flow Analysis Tool (OMAT)

OMAT was the first open source tool offered by Metabolism of Cities, allowing researchers to administer data and activities around their MFA research in an easy, efficient way.

Metabolism of Cities Library
Metabolism of Cities Library

The online library provides a collection of academic and grey literature that is relevant to urban metabolism researchers as well as others engaging in material flow analyses.

2014 summary

Metabolism of Cities was originally set up in 2014 by Paul Hoekman (then called MFA Tools) to share information and tools around the topic of material flow analysis. From the start, this has been an open source project and people from the academic community were invited to collaborate.

2015

A team is born
A team is born

The first collaborators, Aristide Athanassiadis and Gabriela Fernandez, both doing their PhD, join the team.

Renaming to Metabolism of Cities
Renaming to Metabolism of Cities

Instead of focusing on a single material account methodology (MFA), the website focus is changed to urban metabolism, and the site is re-branded as Metabolism of Cities.

Library improvements
Library improvements

The online library continues to grow, now containing 210 records, and a single meta catalog can be instantly exported as a CSV file.

2015 summary

The first collaborators, Aristide Athanassiadis and Gabriela Fernandez, were both doing their PhDs on material flows analysis on an urban level and it was decided to specifically focus on cities and re-brand the website as Metabolism of Cities. The team continued to expand the website, focusing initially on adding publications, to the online library. In this library, academic literature is indexed and tagged with keywords to make it easy for people to get an understanding of the available literature in the field.


All of this was initially an exclusively online collaboration, with the collaborators being based in South Africa, Belgium, and Italy. However, the first face-to-face meeting happened in Surrey during the ISIE 2015 conference. Already then, there was some interest from the research community to the platform, but Metabolism of Cities was still fairly unknown to most academics.

2016

Booth at ISIE conference
Booth at ISIE conference

Metabolism of Cities is promoted in-person for the first time at an academic conference: a booth is set up at the ISIE Americas conference in Bogotá.

Stakeholders Initiative
Stakeholders Initiative

In October 2016 the Metabolism of Cities website launched the Stakeholders Initiative. This is an effort to create an international network of people that work or have a stake in the field of urban metabolism, starting with a data visualisation collection project.

Masterclass: Designing with Flows
Masterclass: Designing with Flows

OVAM in collaboration with .Fabric, Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij (VMM/MIRA), Team Vlaams Bouwmeester and Metabolism Of Cities present a first series of masterclasses.

2016 summary

A number of new tools and projects were rolled out that helped to spread the word. Thanks to the Stakeholders Initiative - which revolved around involving the wider community in our activities - a number of students and established professionals contributed to build an online database with data visualisations, and to vote for the best ones. A blog section was launched and the first blogs were posted. Rachel Spiegel joined the group and the website continued to grow in content and reach.

2017

Urban Metabolism and Minorities Project
Urban Metabolism and Minorities Project

Developed to help cities localize the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 in support of underrepresented minority groups as a part of the SDGs #Leave no one behind.

Global Urban Metabolism Dataset
Global Urban Metabolism Dataset

A first attempt is made by the Metabolism of Cities team to provide a central location for data and indicators around urban metabolism, extracted from existing academic literature.

Presence at ISIE-ISSST conference
Presence at ISIE-ISSST conference

Metabolism of Cities is highly active at the ISIE-ISSST 2017 conference in Chicago: five of our members meet up in person, we present our Global Urban Metabolism Database, we co-organise a material stock special session, and we host a booth at the conference.

MOOC for policy makers
MOOC for policy makers

Supported by UN Environment and the League of Cities of the Philippines, Metabolism of Cities develops a free, online urban metabolism course for policy makers.

2017 summary

In 2017, the team collected data points from urban metabolism publications and made available an open, global urban metabolism dataset. New team member Joao Meirelles presented the project at the ISIE 2017 conference, which was well-received by the industrial ecology community. This was the second face-to-face encounter between a number of Metabolism of Cities members, and this time the platform also featured a booth at the conference to further spread the word. It led to a number of collaborations and expanded academic interest in the platform. Furthermore, Aristide Athanassiadis recorded a series of interviews with urban researchers at the conference. Around this time, Yves Bettignies Cari, Carolin Bellstedt and Rupert J. Myers joined the team.


In Milan, Gabriela Fernandez organised an education and awareness campaign around urban metabolism, material flows, climate change and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), targeting minorities which included children, elderly, students and academics, homeless and refugees, women, people with disabilities, and LGBTI+ community. Gabriela Fernandez set up a collaboration with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and Politecnico di Milano to develop a number of presentations, seminars, and workshops related to the SDGs. Metabolism of Cities furthermore became a member of SDSN.


In the same year, Metabolism of Cities became part of the Global Initiative for Resource-Efficient Cities (GI-REC). This initiative, led by UN Environment, sought to increase the uptake of urban metabolism at policy level. Metabolism of Cities team members attended the Resilient Cities Conference in Bonn, Germany, and it marked the start of a collaboration with UN Environment around the topic of urban metabolism. One of the first outcomes was the development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on urban metabolism for policy makers.

Metabolism of Cities was part of the organising committee for the Material Stock special session at the ISIE conference. The special session wished to bring together all material stock aficionados to discuss the current challenges (methodology and data used, etc.) of the field but also think about future avenues of …

Since May 2017, Metabolism of Cities is proud to be a member of GI-REC (Global Initiative on Ressource Efficient Cities). On May 4th, we participated at our first partner meeting in Bonn at the Resilient Cities Conference. Over there we had the opportunity to discuss options to make the …

At the ISIE-ISSST conference, Metabolism of Cities presented the first research project of Metabolism of Cities, the creation of the Global Urban Metabolism Database! For more information, you can see the video footage of our presentation below, or check out our YouTube Channel.

Metabolism of Cities has worked together with Professor Lynnette Widder at Columbia University to use the Online Material Flow Analysis Tool (OMAT) as part of a class on urban metabolism. Students were taught how they can use OMAT to structure their data collection as part of the case …

Metabolism of Cities is very excited to share with you that the beta version of the first online course on "Urban Metabolism for Policy Makers" is out.

This is a collaboration between Metabolism of Cities, UN Environment and the League of Cities of the Philippines in the framework of the …

2018

Urban metabolism interview series
Urban metabolism interview series

Recorded at the ISIE/ISSST 2017 Conference in Chicago, this interview series features attendees from around the global to get their ideas on urban metabolism.

MultipliCity project
MultipliCity project

Based on the data collection efforts of the Global Urban Metabolism Dataset, Metabolism of Cities launches the first prototype of a central, comprehensive, community-managed urban metabolism data hub.

First retreat
First retreat

For the first time the Metabolism of Cities team met with the (nearly) entire team, in person, for a dedicated planning and work "retreat". The first time so many of the team met in person!

PlatformU
PlatformU

In collaboration with the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Metabolism of Cities starts building of an open source material matchmaking platform for Flanders (Belgium).

2018 summary

The team slowly continued to expand and the need arose to formalise the group - which had so far been an informal gathering of people around an online platform. Therefore, "Metabolism of Cities" was registered as a non-profit organisation in Belgium. Following requests to assist other organisations in urban metabolism research and reporting, Metabolism of Cities started offering services for urban metabolism projects. Up to this point, the group and the organisation had operated without any funding. The funding permitted the organisation to engage in more ambitious projects and to organise the first "retreat" in mid-2018, which was a week-long get-together of five members of Metabolism of Cities, coming from four countries, with the primary goal to discuss the structure, vision, and ambitions of Metabolism of Cities.


In 2018, a number of other milestones were reached. Development of the MultipliCity project was started, aiming to provide an online data dashboard for cities and researchers alike. With help from Rupert Myers, the Yale Stocks and Flows Database structure was modified to be used in an online application. Work also started on a resource exchange platform for Buda, an industrial area in Brussels. In the background, a complete redesign of the website was initiated with a large number of new sections, tools, and features. A collaboration with island-metabolism researcher Simron Singh at Waterloo University led to the development of a sibling website called Metabolism of Islands. The prototype was launched in December 2018, with the official launch scheduled for March 2019.

For urban metabolism researchers, obtaining data is one of the most important and time-consuming activities. This not only limits research activities, but it also creates a significant threshold for policy makers and others interested in using urban metabolism on a more practical level. The inconsistency and scattered nature of data …

From January-March 2018, Metabolism of Cities has run a Stakeholders Initiative with the topic of urban metabolism interviews. During the ISIE/ISSST 2017 Conference in Chicago, various members of the Metabolism of Cities team presented our work and showcased our work from our urban metabolism booth. As part of our work, …

The goal of these presentations is to spread the word about the MultipliCity project. This is an effort to crowdsource the collection of urban metabolism datasets by setting up a large network of volunteers all over the world. Working together, and taking advantage of the open source platform provided by …

Metabolism of Cities is happy to report that the 1st Metabolism of Cities Retreat 2018 took place in Ghent, Belgium from July 27 to August 3, 2018. It was the first time that so many of the team came together in one place for so long. In attendance was our …

During the month of October 2018, one of Metabolism of Cities’ co-founders, Paul Hoekman, visited the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. The goal of this trip was to work together with Simron Singh at the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, on the development of a new sibling website …

2019

Seminar series
Seminar series

With funding from the Urban Studies Foundation, and in collaboration with a number of different partners, Metabolism of Cities organises seminars ("Urban metabolism in policy and practice") in Cape Town, Beijing, and Brussels.

New site and data platform
New site and data platform

After more than one year of brainstorming, planning, writing, and programming, Metabolism of Cities has launched its new website in which the MultipliCity data platform prototype is now available!

Metabolism of Islands
Metabolism of Islands

In collaboration with Professor Simron Singh from Waterloo University, a sibling website focused on island metabolism was launched.

CityLoops project
CityLoops project

Working together with 28 partners on intervention activities in six European cities, Metabolism of Cities starts a 4-year project named "CityLoops - Closing the loop for urban material flows".

In collaboration with local partners and funded by the Urban Studies Foundation, Metabolism of Cities organises a three-part seminar series in 2019 to further the debate around the uptake of urban metabolism in policy and practice. The seminars will each be full-day events (1 day) and will take place …

After more than one year of brainstorming, planning, writing, and programming, Metabolism of Cities has launched its new website! The website was completely rewritten - both in content and in terms of code - and it contains a wide variety of new features, tools, and sections. Below follows an overview …

Last week, the first of three seminars on urban metabolism in policy and practice took place in Cape Town. This seminar series, funded by the Urban Studies Foundation, brings together policy makers, academics, urban planners, designers, and practitioners to discuss the opportunities and challenges of using urban metabolism to …

In a collaboration between Metabolism of Cities, Tsinghua University, School of Environment, local partners, and the International Society of Industrial Ecology Sustainable Urban Systems Section, and the Institute of Urban Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, a seminar on urban metabolism in policy and practice was held on July …

Early July, the 10th edition of the conference of the International Society for Industrial Ecology took place in Beijing, China. This conference is one of the most relevant academic gatherings for Metabolism of Cities, and the team has been present in various previous meetings, ever since the 2015 conference that …

In October 2018 a collaborative project between Simron Singh at Waterloo University and Metabolism of Cities was initiated, revolving around the development of a sibling website called Metabolism of Islands. After launching a prototype version of this website in March, an official first version of the Metabolism of Islands …

The third and final event in Metabolism of Cities' seminar series, made possible by the Urban Studies Foundation, took place in Brussels, Belgium on November 26, 2019. The seminar videos are now available on our website, social media channels.

For more information visit our Youtube Channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwW-hNvvDPU.

 

Three Metabolism of Cities team members, Aristide, Paul and Carolin, have started working on the newly launched EU-funded Horizon 2020 project called CityLoops. Beyond exciting doesn’t even put it into words that Metabolism of Cities is one of 28 partners in this consortium that is led by ICLEI Europe. …

2020

Complete website restructuring
Complete website restructuring

Now in its fourth edition, Metabolism of Cities receives a complete overhaul. Having grown out of its original format, the new platform includes a family of individual websites, all tied together through a single and interconnected structure.

CityLoops work progresses
CityLoops work progresses

Metabolism of Cities refines the database structure for CityLoops, starts building an online data platforms for the CityLoops cities, and develops a sector-wide circularity assessment method.

AScUS 2020 (un)conference
AScUS 2020 (un)conference

In collaboration with a number of partners, Metabolism of Cities co-organises the Actionable Science for Urban Sustainability (un)conference 2020.

Online courses for data contributors
Online courses for data contributors

We launched and trialed three new courses for data contributors: a course on collecting data, in English and Spanish, and a course on data processing, in Spanish.

In 2019, we had two new team members join Metabolism of Cities namely Carlos Soto and George Wieber, each carrying out an initial task to help their task force.

Carlos is based in Glasgow, Scotland and currently pursuing a Joint Master Degree in Urban Climate and Sustainability. He …

The call for abstracts for the Actionable Science for Urban Sustainability (un)conference is now open!

The 2020 Actionable Science for Urban Sustainability (AScUS) —pronounced ‘ask us'—(un)conference emphasizes the urgent need for the production of actionable and multidisciplinary knowledge to tackle urban sustainability challenges across the globe. It will serve as …

Our Metabolism of Cities member Dr. Gabriela Fernandez and Carol Maione have published a book chapter in the book "Sustainable Development Goals and Institutions of Higher Education" titled “Urban Metabolism and Minority Pulse: An Education and Awareness Campaign Targeting Minority Groups.”

 

Abstract
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development have …

Metabolism of Cities co-organised a series of seminars on urban metabolism in policy and practice over the course of 2019. Funded by the Urban Studies Foundation, this seminar series took place in Cape Town (May 2019), Beijing (July 2019) and Brussels (November 2019). The three events were focused on …

It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of João Meirelles earlier this year. João was the fifth member to join Metabolism of Cities when he became part of the team in January 2017. Originally from Brazil, João worked as a Data Scientist at the Big Data …

In the first three months of the CityLoops project, Paul and Carolin were researching methods of urban material flows and stocks accounting and their application in case studies. The results can be found in our first deliverable, where 91 subjects (possible accounting methods) were reviewed, 35 excluded, 18 labelled …

Metabolism of Cities is launching two new online courses, starting in the coming week. Both courses are the same, but one is taught in English and the other in Spanish. They are part of a new online course series that Metabolism of Cities is organising on "Data & Urban Metabolism". …

What is now Metabolism of Cities started out as an academic side-project in 2014, initially named MFA Tools. The initial goal of the website was to catalogue relevant Material Flow Analysis (MFA) literature, and to build a community around this open source platform. In 2015, a new version of …

Two and a half years after launching the MultipliCity project, Metabolism of Cities now launched the next version of the online, open source data hub on urban metabolism.

What started initially as an exercise to collect data from academic papers in 2017 has slowly grown into a platform to …

Metabolism of Cities is launching a new online Data Processing course in Spanish starting the 9th of November. It is part of a new online course series that Metabolism of Cities is organizing on "Data & Urban Metabolism". The series consists of three individual courses:



  1. Data Collection

  2. Data Processing

  3. Data …