Following formative work in the 1970s, disappearance in the 1980s, and reemergence in the 1990s, a chronological review shows that the past decade has witnessed increasing interest in the study of urban metabolism. The review finds that there are two related, non-conflicting, schools of urban metabolism: one following Odum describes metabolism in terms of energy equivalents; while the second more broadly expresses a city's flows of water, materials and nutrients in terms of mass fluxes. Four example applications of urban metabolism studies are discussed: urban sustainability indicators; inputs to urban greenhouse gas emissions calculation; mathematical models of urban metabolism for policy analysis; and as a basis for sustainable urban design. Future directions include fuller integration of social, health and economic indicators into the urban metabolism framework, while tackling the great sustainability challenge of reconstructing cities.
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