Science News

It's Alive: Urban Areas are Organisms Too

Sun, 23rd Aug 2009

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I’m sure you’ve heard people use phrase like ‘heart of the city, lungs of the city and almost certainly arteries’ but now scientists are increasingly viewing urban environments as living, breathing entities of their own. And at the American Chemical Society meeting this week that was the major debate.

Well Charles Kolb gave a talk at the meeting on ‘urban metabolism.’ This is where cities are seen almost as animals that take in energy and nutrients but then defecate and expel a heap of waste. So going in is food, water, fuels and building materials. Coming out are gas emissions (or the farts if you like) such as methane and CO2 plus sewerage, heat and pollutants.

TokyoWell in Kolb’s model humans are seen as urban metabolisers, along with the factories, industry, landfill, pets, vermin and power stations. A key metaboliser that we can target is transport such as cars, lorries and buses, for example. Kolb claims that by using his model of urban metabolism he can reveal the balance or imbalance of what goes in and what comes out.

That’s the idea. By comparing the urban metabolisms of different cities Kolb hopes to identify the areas where changes can be made. Because some countries are experiencing greater problems controlling the growth of urban areas while other countries are tackling the waste products that their urban environments produce. Air quality is a huge problem in even the cleanest of cities and the different metabolisers will have different effects according to the location of your city.

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