Photography by:
  • Patrick Moerane & Martin Bolton

Metabolic flows and infrastructure transitions

This project examines the prospects for reducing resource consumption and waste flows through the transformation of infrastructure networks in the Gauteng City-Region (GCR). The need for such an assessment arises from the realisation that city-regions can no longer continue to grow while assuming unlimited resources. The study involves tracking the throughput of water, energy, biomass (food and non-food), waste and if possible other materials in economic and human activities in the GCR, as well as analysing the infrastructure that conducts flows of these inputs and waste outputs into, around and out of the city-region. While government has previously commissioned investigations into the state of environment or the state of energy in the province or its parts, this study looks to provide an overall picture of total resource consumption and waste outputs, giving clear guidance on how to effect an infrastructure transition to increase efficiency and sustainability of the GCR.

The project has key policy relevance as it is expected to inform decision-making in both provincial and local government with respect to: addressing water, energy, biomass (food and non-food) and waste challenges; planning for bulk infrastructure transition; and formulating spatial plans that will shape the morphology of the city region. The study is of academic relevance both nationally and internationally as it will contribute to the theory and practice of metabolic flow assessment, especially at a city-region scale. In addition, the study provides a different view on how to conceptualise the GCR through the lens of its resource ‘footprints’, and in turn a basis for benchmarking it with other regions where such studies have been undertaken.

In 2011/12 the project saw initial work with the development of a project proposal, followed by an exploratory investigation into the concept of urban metabolism and different methodological approaches for quantifying metabolic flows. This first year of work also saw a number of scoping studies providing direction for data collection.

In 2012/13 and 2013/14 the project saw the collection of flows data on waste, energy, food, water and materials, either through commissioning of experts or through research by GCRO’s own staff.

In 2014/15, the project sees a preliminary write-up of some of the data collected and a scoping of a longer term study into the GCR’s infrastructure networks, their current and future challenges, and infrastructure transition opportunities.

Over the longer term the project will explore what it will take to:

  1. Comprehensively map the infrastructure networks that span the region
  2. Analyse and quantify the past and future sustainability challenges represented by how these networks are configured and
  3. Define the opportunities for a transition to new modalities for planning, financing, building, integrating, and maintaining new generation urban services systems and technologies.


An Occasional Paper – that synthesizes some of the data collected during the earlier stages of the project, and scopes a longer term study into opportunities for an infrastructure transition in the GCR – is currently being written.



Gotz, G. (September 2013) ‘Resource crises and infrastructure transitions’, presented to the Gauteng Planning Forum, 10 September 2013

Gotz, G. Schäffler, A. and Bobbins, K. (July 2013) ‘Governing resource flows in the Gauteng City-Region’, presented to the 19th International Sustainable Development Research Society (ISDRC19) Conference, Spier Estate, Stellenbosch, 3 July 2013

Musango, J. (November 2012) ‘Understanding and measuring urban metabolism: the GCR perspective’, presented to AFD-Wits Roundtable, Sustainability in Johannesburg and its wider metropolitan region, University of the Witwatersrand, 7-8 November 2012

Musango, J. (June 2012), ‘Conceptual foundations and approaches to urban metabolism assessment’, presented to the GCRO-ACC-SI workshop, Stellenbosch, 13-15 June 2012

Musango, J. Schäffler, A. Mushongera, D and Storie, M. (June 2012), ‘Towards assessing the metabolism of the Gauteng City-Region’, presented to the GCRO-ACC-SI workshop, Stellenbosch, 13-15 June 2012


The GCRO sends out regular news to update subscribers on our research and events.