Exploring resource futures for sustainable urbanisation

  • GCRO
  • Date of publication: 30 November 2016

In furthering GCRO’s ongoing research into metabolic flows and infrastructure transitions, Christina Culwick attended a workshop in Sheffield (UK) from 21-22 November 2016. The workshop, entitled ‘REsource FUtures for sustainable URBanisation (REFURB), was organised by Simon Marvin (University of Sheffield) and Mark Swilling (Stellenbosch University), with support from the EPSRC Global Challenges Research Fund. The aim of the workshop was to lay the foundations for a large-scale funding application to investigate opportunities for using metabolic flows analysis to build a new socio-technical framework for sustainable urban development. The project intends to focus on highly populated cities in Brazil, India, South Africa and Thailand, all faced with challenges of addressing housing and infrastructure demands.

Recent research predicts that by 2050 the world's urban population will be double its current size. The resources required to meet the associated demand for housing, infrastructure and services are likely to be beyond sustainable levels using any current ‘business as usual’ approach to designing and building cities. There is thus a clear need to realign the current trajectory to ensure that cities will be able to support their growing populations and economies without breaching the limits of sustainable resource use. This challenge will require innovative and collaborative approaches that transcend current practices by integrating knowledge from a range of disciplines, sectors and contexts.

The REFURB workshop drew on an international network, with participants from the UK, South Africa, Brazil, the Netherlands, Thailand, India and the United States. The workshop deliberately pulled together a group of people with a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds to explore how transdisciplinary knowledge can be leveraged to find innovative approaches to minimise the resource requirements of future urban development.

An immediate opportunity presented by the workshop was for participants to contribute articles to an upcoming special issue of the journal Environmental Research Letters. Christina Culwick is leading a team of GCRO staff co-authoring an article that reflects on experiences with data collection in three of GCRO's sustainability projects.


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