On 30 November 2021, I gave my inaugural lecture to conclude the formalities of my habilitation. The inaugural lecture (Antrittsvorlesung) is a very special occasion, a moment of celebration for the successful finalization of the habilitation and a tradition in the German academic system.
I choose the title: “The urban ecosystem. Can cities be sustainable at all?” to be broad enough while also provoking students and colleagues. I post here the full video (with subtitles in English and Spanish) and curious to hear any feedback.
Abstract – The urban ecosystem. Can cities be sustainable at all?
While the urban era is fully determining our lives, as it was announced by Lefebvre in the early ’70s, we continue experiencing increasing challenges to conceptualize, analyze, and measure cities and their impacts. The conceptual apparatus we inherited from theoretical and applied disciplines to deal with the urban question seems overcome by the paramount challenges posed by planetary urbanization, the ecological crises and climate change. However, at the beginning of the XXI century, our urban challenge remains more epistemological than operational. Can urban ecology help in reshaping our understanding of urban systems, guiding us in a process to learn to live with uncertainty and dynamic ever-changing urban challenges?
I would like to explore some angles of these questions looking at urban as dynamic systems far from equilibrium, determined by the laws of thermodynamics, having, therefore, a particular metabolism that is materialized in distinguishable spatial structures, that can be conceptualized and measured as ecosystems. I will concentrate on aspects of expansion, informality, metabolic fluxes and heat to explore the regularities that we found present in most urban systems. Using examples from Latin America and Europe I will illustrate some possible entry points for a generalized urban hypothesis that brings ecology from the periphery to the center of the urban epistemological discussion.
In the light of the necessary inclusion of humans as a fundamental natural force and an undeniable component of the urban ecosystem, ontological as well as operational aspects for such inclusion will be also discussed using the ecosystem services framework. Being cities the answer to a particular question, I would like to reflect on what type of question could that be.