Panel 30

African mobilities as processes of urban metabolism

Panel organisers: Josephine Kaviti Musango, Paul Currie and Stephan Krysman, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.


Industrialisation and urbanisation are mobilising people, goods and services. This influences resource requirements and flows of water, energy, materials and information. A basic ecological principle is that of the limiting factor, the element which determines the degree to which an organism, person, economy or city reliant on it may grow. Limiting resources or limiting services shape the livability, growth, equity and interconnectedness of urban environments. The state of metabolism of a city can be measured by mobility, recognised as a change in movement in response to new stimulus or situation.

This panel makes use an urban metabolism lens in which cities are described as consuming resources from their global and local hinterlands for economic growth and social wellbeing before excreting wastes back into the local environment. The panel will make use of empirical case studies of resource flows and encourages a wider conception of a city’s metabolism. Submitted papers should focus their discussion around one or more of the following foundational services:

Water: Basis for life
Water supports multiple urban services and the very lives of residents. Threats to water supply can change residents’ relationship with water. New supply technologies could offer abundant supply of water, but shift the burden to energy provision, while effective behavioural interventions can improve demand-side management.

Energy: Basis for growth
Energy is a basis for economic productivity and affects residents’ quality of life, and achievement of several sustainable development goals. Improvement in energy source quality is an important consideration for the health of growing African urban populations, and the increased demands of energy will require shifts away from carbon-intense energy generators.

Information: Basis for equity
While the notion of a smart city has captured imaginations because of the interconnection of multiple systems, its current model is undermined by the authoritarian, centralised, monopolised manner in which smart infrastructures are deployed and controlled. In African contexts we imagine smart cities to make use of decentralised communication systems, in which people are vectors of information and agency. Cheap information flows will set the basis for knowledge sharing, skills building and access to a wider set of health, security, education and democracy services. 

Transport mobility: Basis for accessibility as a human right
Spatial planning influences accessibility to opportunities. Poor planning policies increase resource demands including congestion, space intensive transport options, environmental pollution and social exclusion. They often lead to unmet activity demands for vulnerable households. Novel policy innovations are needed to avoid lock-in to spatially exclusive cities.

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