uMAMA research is showcased at the 2017 ISIE-ISSST Conference in Chicago

Prof. Josephine K Musango and Paul K Currie, of the urban Modelling and Metabolism Assessment Research Team (uMAMA) based in the School of Public Leadership, Stellenbosch University, attended the 2017 Conference of the international Society of Industrial Ecology, hosted in Chicago in June 2017, to share their latest research into resource consumption in urbanising Africa. The conference brings together practitioners, thinkers and researchers working in industrial ecology, a field concerned with resource flows and sustainability in different industries, cities and economies.

They presented five papers:

Baynes T & Musango JK. estimation of global urban domestic material consumption.
Currie P & Musango J. A sustainable urban utopia – derived through a critical urban metabolism framework.
Musango JK & Currie P. The resource implications of informal upgrading in Cape Town: Lessons from Differential Urban Metabolism
Currie P & Musango JK. Measuring Household Metabolism in the City of Cape Town: A first step to a Differential Urban Metabolis
Bergesen J, Baynes T, Musango JK, Suh S. Integrated life cycle assessment of resource efficient urban systems


Tim Baynes, of CSIRO, presented a paper co-authored with Josephine based on research they are contributing to the UNEP’s report, Resources for Future Urbanisation (REFURB). The presentation detailed the process and outputs of estimating domestic urban consumption levels for each of the world regions, and the various scenarios which project future consumption trends. Similarly, Sangwon Suh, of University of California - Santa Barbara, also presented a co-authored paper in which Josephine contributed, based on REFURB project.

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The uMAMA project, The resource implications of informal upgrading in Cape Town: Lessons from Differential Urban Metabolism, was presented both orally and as a poster (found here) The project constitutes Paul’s PhD study and a few Master’s level studies and will investigate in detail how resources are consumed in different areas of Cape Town, over time. uMAMA understands urban metabolism as “a complexity of socio-technical and socio-ecological processes by which flows of materials, energy, people and information shape the city, service the needs of its populace, and impact the surrounding hinterland” The image bellow shows an analogy for our knowledge of the metabolism of cities, and arguing for a differential understanding of urban metabolism:

DUM Allegory
Analogising our current understanding of urban metabolism as a low-resolution image of the city of Cape Town. Urban Metabolic studies offer some useful basic information, perhaps detailing the type and quantity of resources through the city, perhaps allowing comparison of the relative resource efficiency of different cities, but not providing enough detail to guide local actions by urban planners and managers. The importance of a differential urban metabolic assessment is to provide this image of a city with more definition, so as to support local actions. This is necessarily more data intense, but with more data, a higher resolution image of the city’s metabolism may emerge.


uMAMA aims to communicate much of its quantitative research findings in novel ways, making use of visualisation and storytelling to share the notions of urban metabolism and urban resource sustainability to wider audiences. As part of the conference’s lightning presentations, Paul read a poem (available here), named the memory of water (or Cape Town’s unsustainable linear water metabolism and the lack of anticipatory planning that led to crisis), which conveyed some of the feelings related to the Western Cape’s prevailing water emergency.

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views of downtown Chicago past the Chicago River (left) and Lake Michigan (right).


The conference was an invaluable event for networking with thought leaders in industrial ecology and urban metabolism. The growth of the concept of urban metabolism across the discourses of political, urban, industrial and human ecology is promising, and uMAMA looks forward to more engagement with in the Sustainable Urban Systems chapter of the society, as well as to presenting the outcomes of its continued research at ISIE 2019 in Beijing.




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