Urban Metabolism of Six Asian Cities

Publication | September 2014

A streamlined urban metabolism approach based on material flow analyses was applied to six Asian cities—Bangalore, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Manila, Seoul and Shanghai.

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This approach provides a better understanding of how the use of natural resources correlates with urban economic activities, and has the potential to make a major contribution to the design of sustainable urban systems and infrastructure.

The urban metabolism framework maps the activities of cities from their consumption of materials, the different activities associated with those processes, and the wastes produced. Information generated provides a diagnostic tool for identifying high waste generating or inefficient activities and identifying potential points of policy intervention.

The streamlined approach surmounts the lack of city level data, which is often cited as the most significant limitation preventing material flow analysis at the city level. Extension of the methodology to cover more cities can contribute toward creating benchmarks for city typologies.


The material intensity of the economy is measured by the amount of materials it uses to produce one unit of monetary output. There is an apparent trend of higher material uses being associated with higher outputs, but material intensities vary considerably. For example, the economic output of Lisbon is almost triple that of Shanghai with approximately the same material use per capita; while for almost the same outputs, Bangalore uses an additional 3 tons of materials per capita than Ho Chi Minh City, and Bangkok uses an additional 3 tons of materials per capita than Seoul. Charting these parameters over 2001–2010 would be very helpful to gauge the degree of materialization or dematerialization of these economies.

This report points to a remarkable opportunity to cross the boundaries between economy and environment, and to establish strong and quantitative links between these dimensions at an urban level.


  • Introduction
  • The Urban Metabolism Framework
  • Measuring Urban Metabolism
  • Urban Metabolism of the Six Asian Cities
  • Comparative Assessment of the Metropolitan Metabolisms
  • Contributions from Urban Metabolism
  • Conclusions
  • Appendix

Additional Details

  • Environment
  • Urban environmental improvement
  • Urban development
  • China, People's Republic of
  • India
  • Korea, Republic of
  • Philippines
  • Thailand
  • Viet Nam
  • 76
  • 8.5 x 11
  • RPT146817-2
  • 978-92-9254-659-5 (print)
  • 978-92-9254-660-1 (electronic)

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