Conference paper

This paper discusses the vulnerability of Melbourne’s food and fuel supply within the interconnected frameworks of complexity and systems theory. This approach starts from the acceptance that this complex adaptive socio-technological system we label ‘Melbourne’ cannot ever be truly reified, as its composite infrastructures and subsystems, often labelled its ecofootprint, exist across an array of nested scales and spatial locations. This implies that the boundary delineation of such complex systems is therefore always a contingent and contested political act, rather than an exercise in identifying and cataloguing some Platonic True Form. From the viewpoint of ‘far-from-equilibrium’ thermodynamics, Melbourne can instead be seen as an open system which only maintains its contingent existence through the continual input and dissipation of energy. This urban metabolism involves the continual input of food, energy, fuel, air and sunlight (and the export of related waste by-products) to sustain the consumption practices of 4.5 million people with no spatial proximity to either fuel or food in any meaningful sense. This paper looks at the interconnected networks of fuel and food supply and distribution within which Melbourne is sustained, arguing that Graham and Thrift’s (2007) discussion of ‘tools only becoming visible when they are broken’ best explains a broader social reluctance engage with the fragility of these highly interconnected and spatially diffuse networks.

Publication Details
Source title:
Proceedings of the 14th Australasian Urban History Planning History Conference 2018