Despite our declared era of ‘Big Data,’ we lack information on the flows of energy, water, and materials that support modern societies. These data are essential to understand how ecologies and the labor of people in far flung places supply urban areas, as well as how these resource flows are used by whom, where, and for what purpose. Like other places, the state of California is struggling with issues of data privacy and access. Water scarcity and the state’s commitments to greenhouse gas emission (GHG) mandates raise the issue of consumption and the unequal burdens that derive from it. These mandates have unveiled the lack of comparable and verifiable data to understand crucial production-consumption dynamics. This paper illustrates how spatially-explicit big data can be harnessed to delineate an urban political-industrial ecology of resource flows. Based on research using address-level energy and water use consumption data for Los Angeles County, the analysis reveals how the region’s wealthy residents use a disproportionate share of the water and energy resources. The paper also identifies structural obstacles to increasing fees and taxes or altering property rights that would reduce this consumption and foster more equitable resource use. This study has implications for theory, method, and policy related to urban sustainability, which is unobtainable without first unraveling the political-industrial ecology of the material basis of urbanization processes.
CSS Publication Number:
Princetl, Stephanie and Joshua P. Newell. (2017) “Why data for a political-industrial ecology of cities?” Geoforum 85:381-391.