Towards Measuring the Informal City: A Societal Metabolism Approach

The rapid growth of urban informal settlements, or slums, poses a particular challenge for balancing developmental and environmental goals. In South Africa, high levels of inequality, poverty, and unemployment contribute to widespread migration. The influx of migrant workers to cities, however, is rarely matched with adequate housing and infrastructure, resulting in the formation and growth of urban informal settlements. Despite the persistence of the slum phenomenon, very few studies provide an in-depth understanding of the metabolic processes that link these spaces, and informal economies, to the broader urban environment and economy. This article therefore utilized a multiscale integrated assessment of the societal and ecosystem metabolism approach to examine human activity and land use in Enkanini, an urban informal settlement in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The results highlight a number of issues to be addressed through spatial, developmental, and local economic policy, such as the need for improved transport linkages. The time-use results show that Enkanini is a net provider of labor to the surrounding area. Further, geographical mapping indicates Enkanini as a small, but vibrant, informal economy, while being grossly underserviced in terms of water, waste, and sanitation infrastructure. Key implications are discussed in terms of the theoretical, methodological, societal, and policy impact of the study, including the need for city observatories that conduct regular data collection and analysis.