1 month ago



56 ON

56 ON TERRITORIAL METABOLISM proposes a comparison with the academic research from North America, in particular about the discourse of “landscape urbanism.” We conclude that the latter seems to build on the original contribution of ecology to urbanism— namely, the overcoming of traditional dichotomies such as urban and rural, city and landscape, etc. And yet current attempts in work being done in Brussels to apply concepts of urban metabolism largely focuses on urban flows and impacts and so falls short of providing a conceptual leap forward for understanding the spatial organization and ecology of these phenomena; it thus also overlooks the heritage of Duvigneaud and the Brussels School.

57 From Ecology to Urbanism INTRODUCTION: FROM ECOLOGY TO URBANISM Since its definition as a discipline, ecology has inspired urbanists with innovative spatial conceptualizations, models, and design tools for understanding and planning cities. 1 Since ecology studies the relationships between living organisms and their environment, it inevitably touches upon space and context. This influence still seems significant today, as a number of design studies are flourishing that integrate the ecological perspective while investigating the concept of urban metabolism (e.g., Kennedy et al., 2011; Tillie et al., 2014). Urban metabolism is defined as the sum total of material and energy exchange between the city and its biosphere, the countryside, and ultimately the planet (Wolman, 1965; Duvigneaud, 1974; Baccini and Brunner, 1991; Oswald and Baccini, 2003; Kennedy et al., 2007). Studying urban metabolism is thus a promising way to attune urban development to natural processes, anticipate natural dynamics, and achieve a sustainable use of the landscape (Ndubisi, 2014). In this contribution, we look at the longstanding relationship between ecology and urbanism from the standpoint of urban metabolism studies and their exploitation in the field of urbanism. We focus on the case of Brussels, given both the pioneering works by the Belgian ecologist Paul Duvigneaud and the current revival of the debate on urban metabolism concerning the city. Duvigneaud’s study on the metabolism of Brussels is one of the first to provide empirical evidence of the metabolism of a city for urban planning purposes. Concurrently, the metabolism of the Brussels Capital Region is today the subject of multiple considerations involving both academics and design offices. In the first section of this essay, we situate the contribution of Duvigneaud and the Brussels School in the context of urban metabolism studies. In the second, we then analyze the ecological background and thinking behind the resurgence of the concept of urban metabolism in the Brussels urbanism scene. In the third, we briefly retrace the influence of studies on ecology in urbanism in a North American context and of “landscape urbanism” in particular. And in the conclusion, we discuss how both these cases of North America and Brussels contribute to and reveal shortcomings in ecological discourse in urban theory and practice. THE BRUSSELS SCHOOL: GENEALOGY AND LEGACY The work by Duvigneaud and his colleagues on the city of Brussels stands as a milestone among early urban metabolism studies (Gandy, 2015). Today, these studies still represent a main point of reference for urbanists and planners. Focusing on “plant sociology” and the spatial dimension of the distribution of plants within the city, Duvigneaud proposed a meaningful transfer of ecological principles from biology into planning. After graduating as a biologist and chemist in 1937, Duvigneaud worked for many years as a botanist at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). Only after discovering the work of the biologist Eugène Odum on ecosystem ecology (1953) did Duvigneaud begin a more comprehensive study of ecology (Duvigneaud and Tanghe, 1962). Duvigneaud began by studying natural ecosystems in addition to Odum (Duvigneaud and Tanghe, 1962; Duvigneaud and Denayer-De Smet 1964) to then progressively shift his focus towards man-made ecosystems (Duvigneaud and Denayer-De Smet, 1977). At the Faculty of Science of the ULB, within the framework of concerns about the global environmental concerns of the time, Duvigneaud set up the center for the study of the urban environment. 2 In 1977, with the support of the Brussels Agglomeration Environmental Department, this group published the results of their