Exploring an Urban System’s Dependence on the Environment as a Source and a Sink: The City of Rome (Italy) Across Space and Time Scales

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Abstract

The material, energy and environmental flows supporting the growth and welfare of the city of Rome, during a recent forty-year period (from 1962 to 2002) were investigated in order to understand the resource basis of its present welfare and lifestyle. The study focused on the local scale of the urban system (resources actually used within the system’s boundary) as well as on the larger regional and national scales where resources come from. Assessing the resource use change over time allowed to understand what are the main drivers of lifestyle changes of the local population. In particular, while the direct, local-scale use of the main material and energy resources exhibits a quadratic growth over time, the total (direct+indirect) consumption on the scale of the global economy is always 3–4 times higher, is so highlighting how much of a city’s growth depends on economic and production activities that develop outside of its boundaries. Water use shows an even more alarming trend, in that the indirect consumption grows much faster, suggesting a shift from the use of a less water-intensive mix of products to a different mix that requires much more water in its industrial production. Such trend calls for increased awareness of the water footprint of goods used as well as increased efficiency in water management by both industries and households. The evolution of resource use and standard of living also affects the release of airborne emissions, an issue that is becoming crucial due to concerns for climate change and urban air pollution. The extent of such additional environmental burden is also explored in the present paper.

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