Metabolism of Global Cities: London, Manchester, Chicago

The metabolism of cities is at the heart of urban natures. History of cities seen through the metaphor of metabolism -- the conversion of energy from outside an organism into its life-sustaining processes -- reveals the multiple intertwined legacies inherited by human settlements and the biocultural landscapes on which they depend. These cities are best understood not as amorphously “global”, but rather as concretely translocal, successively shaping and reshaping distant (as well as contiguous) biocultural landscapes. In each historical period since the colonial era, emerging cities have sent rhizomes along specific, sometimes very long trajectories to find food for urban monocultures of humans and their unique activities. As a result, all places can be understood as sediments of rhizomal connections from successive periods, both emerging cities and the commodity frontiers that reshaped the lifeways of co-domestic species, human and other, both nearby and far away. Cities arose in a specific sequence, thus, slavery and sugar were keys to the metabolism of imperial London, at the same time transforming biocultural landscapes in Africa and the Americas; later American slavery was deepened and extended into new landscapes to provide cotton to feed the mills of industrial Manchester, together with landscapes incorporated or marginalized in Africa and Asia; finally, industrial cities called forth the food from transformed indigenous landscapes to feed agro-industrial Chicago. I conclude by inquiring into the less visible history of diasporic creativity that may be the enduring earthly basis of cities and indeed of human society, and the kinds of knowledge that might support the conscious evolution of cities as part of nature.

Associated space

Chicago , London , Manchester