Relation with Nature-Based Protocols

Biological analogies have been largely used by urban theory, but while the concept of urban ecosystems can be accepted as a scientific fact, urban metabolism still relies on a misused metaphorical analogy without sufficient evidences. The failing metaphor nowadays challenges the invention of new methodological tools to bridge the gap between ecological, thermodynamic and socio-economic approaches to urban systems theory.

The concept of technical metabolism was First stated by Ian McHarg in Design with Nature (1969) and later by McDonough and Braungart in Cradle to Cradle (2002), both proposing an overlapping of biological and artificial cycles defined as waste-less interdependent flows. In the early 1970s, the concept of material flows for Urban Metabolism analysis was formally incorporated as part of the UNESCO Division of Ecological Science. Since then, many agendas have noted the obsolescence of the current energy model—based on large Power plants and a unidirectional distribution network—and the need to build a new energy network based on distributed local production and capacity for bidirectional transfer. Apart from the aforementioned infrastructural obsolescence, there is another fact blocking this desirable urban resiliency in physical and procedural terms: the archaic disconnection between urban policies and technical building codes.

This hypothesis requires two substantial changes in our current models: the establishment of building entities as energy producers; and the existence of a small-scale infrastructural network[1] of energy/waste/information exchange based on symbiotic agreements between production and waste flows (Van den Dobbelsteen 2010).

As it has been scientifically proved, the high resilience of natural ecosystems is not based on energy-efficient individual protocols, but on multiple metabolic affiliations. Resiliency is a function of diversity and degree of functional connectivity between species (Odum 1992, p. 196). Spatial limits and decentralized patterns empower the increase of inner efficiency in our cities: the closer the cycle, the more proficient the exploitation of material and energy sources. The higher is the diversity of program and scale of the entities implied, the greater the potential for these local transfers to happen. This combination of diversity and hyperstatic connectivity is defined as functional redundancy.

Natural ecosystems do not follow the principle of economy: they grow till exhausting the limits of their immediate resources. To succeed and endure, ecosystems increase the wealth of their decentralized interconnections and agreements, involving in all cases in waste recycling. As the system evolves, waste becomes the main resource input: in old-growth forests, less than 10% of net production is consumed as living matter—e.g. grass—(Goldsmith 1996). In environments of scarce local sources, the relative low efficiency of certain biological processes from primary resources—such as photosynthesis or digestion- is surprising compared to the highly optimized metabolism of waste from other parts of the system (Marsh and Khan 2011).

SYMBIONT proposes a model change in terms of methodology of study approach, based on the definition of a new ecosystem urban unit beyond the classic property-based urban structure. One of the conditions of this new model is the need for programmatic hybridization (mixed-use) increasing spatial complexity and therefore the possibilities of exchange flows; as opposed to classic urban entities, Mixed-use Ecosystem Unit—MEU—has a novel metabolic capacity and can manage its energy balance internally. This protocol requires envisioning the maximum level of information—on usage, demands and consumption/waste household habits, so residents acquire skills to participate locally in space use management and waste/energy generation processes.

  • [1] Total municipal solid waste has decreased by 2% between 2004 and 2012, but in the same period,18 of the 28 EU countries increased the amount of municipal waste generated per capita, risingfairly steadily in 6 of these countries.
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