African Urban Metabolism Network

The African Urban Metabolism Network (AUM Network) was founded by the Urban Metabolism Group at MIT and researchers at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town, South Africa. The mission of the AUM Network is to use science and design to assist a diverse range of organizations and stakeholders in creating resource efficient cities through research partnerships and trans-disciplinary collaboration. The outcomes of the work will complement policy relevant initiatives for social inclusion, economic development, and environmental regeneration and support sustainable pathways through improved access to, and quality of urban resources.

Predictions assert that Africa and Asia will account for 85-90 percent of growth in urban population in the coming four decades. Currently, the African continent hosts nine of the fifteen fastest growing national economies in the world [1]. By 2050 the African urban population will exceed 1.2 billion, an increase of 786 million new urban residents [2]. The research project "Resources and Urban Africa" seeks to understand this growth in terms of the physical resources consumed at present and required in the future. The research consists of multiple parallel research projects.

The first project develops a typology of African cities using material flow and statistical analysis to establish a classification of cities based on distinct urban resource consumption profiles. The typology is based on the overall and per capita consumption of key resources including: water; materials; fossil fuel energy carriers; and CO2 emissions. A second project, entitled Mapping Resource Flows in African Cities, develops detailed resource maps showing the paths and volumes of resource extraction, acquisition, delivery and waste dispersal in six countries and the primary city in each: Cairo, Egypt; Cape Town, South-Africa; Lagos, Nigeria; Nairobi, Kenya; Kinshasa, DRC; and Luanda, Angola. Based on this information, and with the cooperation and engagement of local partners, the team aims to define specific strategies to guide sustainable development of African Cities in terms of energy and material flows.

The inaugural event of the AUM Network, 'Resources and Urban Africa' took place on June 17-18, 2015 at the Sustainability Institute in Lynedoch, South Africa, to discuss African cities and critical resources. Participants included academics, students, consultants, public officials, and international agency representatives from several cities: Cairo, Egypt; Nairobi, Kenya; Kinshasa, DRC; Lagos, Nigeria; and Cape Town, Pretoria, and Johannesburg, South Africa. The two-day workshop consisted of a series of discussions and working sessions intended to see the network with the principles and priorities most relevant to the assembled group. Prof. John E. Fernández, Director of the Urban Metabolism Group at MIT, and Dr. Josephine Musango of Stellenbosch University presented the research findings developed by their groups, elaborating on Urban Typologies, Urban Metabolism, Urbanization in Africa, African Urban Typologies, Mapping Resource flows and Infrastructure, Alternative Urban Technologies and Systems. Some of the most pertinent questions guiding the research are:

What are the best methods for collecting, processing and understanding data and information about the intensity of African urban resource consumption? Can a typology of African cities based on consumption facilitate communication and planning for alternative urban technologies? How can the geographical mapping of resource extraction, consumption and disposal sites and a volumetric understanding of resource flows steer urban planning strategy and infrastructure implementation? 

Visit the Urban Metabolism Group for more information on the research and workshop.

[1] AFDB, 2014, Annual Development Effectiveness Review 

[2] UNEP, 2012. Sustainable, resource efficient cities - making it happen!

Image credits:

1 & 2: Mapping of six resource flows for [1] Egypt and [2] Cairo: Water, Electricity, Fossil Fuels, Industrial Minerals and Ores, Construction Materials and Biomass. The combination of cartography and Sankey diagrams shows the connection of resource consumption volumes and the related geographical impact. Mapping by Phebe Dudek, with help for data research by Nour Magdy.

3: AUM Network Resources and Urban Africa Workshop Participants

4: John Fernandez presenting Research Findings to workshop participants including MIT students: Ethan Lay-Sleeper, Cynthia Odu, Phebe Dudek, Jenny Kim, and Natasha Balwit.

5: Workshop Session 1: Water Group. Moderated by Phebe Dudek (MIT); Reporting: Katie Sessa (MIT); Spokesperson: Graeme Gotz (Gauteng); Participants: Kerry Bobbins (Gauteng), Godelieve Mbotekola (Kinshasa), Heba Khalil (Cairo).

6: Workshop Session 3 Cape Town and Gauteng Group. Moderated by Josephine Musango (SU) and Paul Currie (SU), Reporting: Jenny Kim (MIT) + Cynthia Odu (MIT). Spokespersons: Graeme Gotz (Gauteng), Blake Robins (Cape Town) and Camaren Peter (Cape Town). Participants: Eddie Hanekom (Cape Town), Paul Hoekman (Cape Town), Sandiswa Tshaka (Pretoria), Nalini Naicker (Johannesburg), Christina Culwick (Johannesburg), Kerry Bobbins (Johannesburg).

7: Urban Scenario Development. Lucy Bii (Nairobi), Heba Khalil (Cairo), Cristina Camara (Luanda), Abdul Yussuf (Lagos), Hussein Abaza (Cairo), Edgar Pieterse (Cape Town).