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King, S, 2015 –– How has urban metabolism been interpreted and communicated?

Project overviewSuzanne King

My project was on the topic of ‘urban metabolism’, which is a concept that can be used to quantify the resource flows of a city to show how the circulation of flows within a city system operate, and to evaluate the environmental impacts.  My analysis considered urban metabolism through the lens of integrated urban water management (IUWM), which provides guiding principles for considering the total water cycle of urban areas and economic, social and environmental benefits. Stakeholder participation is a key principle of IUWM, making effective communication crucial for sustainable water management.

With the ultimate goal of IUWM in mind, my project focused on answering the question how urban metabolism has been interpreted and communicated? During the project, I was based in Barcelona and also spent time in Brisbane and Austin. The study included qualitative interviews with nine urban metabolism experts across three continents (North America, Europe and Australia). 

With an understanding of how the urban metabolism concept has been interpreted by experts through the theoretical framework of IUWM and water communication, the aim of my final project was to help reframe our perspective from being a one-way dissemination of scientific information to building shared understanding and mutual trust among disciplines, sectors and stakeholders in order to move collaboratively towards IUWM.

The research identified a gap in shared understanding and stakeholder participation. While urban metabolism has the potential to account for urban water flows from an integrated systems approach, a two-way dialogue with all stakeholders is recommended for moving beyond expert circles while upholding IUWM principles. Communication among stakeholders through expert networks and knowledge brokerage could enable the co-production of knowledge in order to move urban metabolism towards IUWM within and outside expert circles.

Some of the highlights of my final project experience included working with two very supportive and engaged supervisors, Dr Steven Kenway and Dr Marguerite Renouf, both of whom are passionate about the topic as well as committed to supporting me in my work on IUWM. It was an amazing experience to be able to interview urban metabolism experts from three different continents.

Overall, the entire process of learning how to focus within such broad and complex topics and writing a thesis, honed my writing skills and gave me a deeper understanding of the interplay between communications and integrated water management.


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