Handbook of Cities and the Environment
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Handbook of Cities and the Environment

Edited by Kevin Archer and Kris Bezdecny

With an ever-growing majority of the world's human population living in city spaces, the relationship between cities and nature will be one of the key environmental issues of the 21st Century. This book brings together a diverse set of authors to explore the various aspects of this relationship both theoretically and empirically. Rather than considering cities as wholly separate from nature, a running theme throughout the book is that cities, and city dwellers, should be characterized as intrinsic in the creation of specifically urban-generated ‘socio-natures’.
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Chapter 7: Towards an urban metabolic analysis of the informal city

Louise Guibrunet and Vanesa Castán Broto


Urbanization, a defining characteristic of our modern times, is a multidimensional process that involves both social and spatial transformations, within and beyond the boundaries of any given city. Urbanization today cannot be understood without examining the informal city. Informality refers to patterns of spatial organization, social relations, and economic exchanges which emerge in a variety of settings such as urban sprawl or the globalization of urban economic markets. Informality is crucial not just because it represents an important share of the existing and future urban fabric and economy of many world cities, but also because it relates to the myriad of ways in which everyday citizens go about their lives, thus shaping the city and its relation to the environment. Given the importance of informality in making the city, studies of urban metabolism (that is, flows of natural resources and materials through the urban system) may lose relevance if they are not able to engage with informality as a subject of study. In this chapter we advocate for an urban metabolism analysis that, while engaging with material flows and the political economy of the city, recognizes the dynamics of informal settlements and their importance in the making of the modern city. Urban metabolism is here a strategy to unravel the political ecology of the city, and in particular, how formal and informal relations shape material and political exchanges between cities and the environment.

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