City Water, City Life: Water and the Infrastructure of Ideas in Urbanizing Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago

City Water, City Life: Water and the Infrastructure of Ideas in Urbanizing Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago

Language: English

Pages: 344

ISBN: 022615159X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A city is more than a massing of citizens, a layout of buildings and streets, or an arrangement of political, economic, and social institutions. It is also an infrastructure of ideas that are a support for the beliefs, values, and aspirations of the people who created the city. In City Water, City Life, celebrated historian Carl Smith explores this concept through an insightful examination of the development of the first successful waterworks systems in Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago between the 1790s and the 1860s. By examining the place of water in the nineteenth-century consciousness, Smith illuminates how city dwellers perceived themselves during the great age of American urbanization. But City Water, City Life is more than a history of urbanization. It is also a refreshing meditation on water as a necessity, as a resource for commerce and industry, and as an essential—and central—part of how we define our civilization.

















get their water by some other means. This usually meant fetching it from the polluted river or the lake, or purchasing it from watermen. As Chicago’s leading nineteenth-century historian, A. T. Andreas, recollected, “For a large and rapidly growing city this state of affairs was alarming, especially as the general health was perceptibly suffering.” The state of Chicago’s water moved from being a source of annoyance to one of ridicule, shame, and danger, the last because of the vulnerability of

free-market competition as such, but they did say that private enterprise could serve the community better, and at a lower cost, than could the government. The author of the pamphlet Hints to the Honest Taxpayers of Boston, who called himself “Temperance,” charged that the Long Pond plan, which he derisively dubbed “a long job,” had “neither prudence nor economy” in its favor. Another pamphleteer, who took the name “Prudence,” contended that by contracting with a private company, the city “will

idea of unpretentious democratic civility. The Centre Square waterworks plays a central role in the painting. Despite its position behind the foreground figures, Latrobe’s white temple, with the smoke of the steam engine spiraling from its oculus, dominates the scene both formally and thematically. It does so by dint of its size but also because of what it represents: a technological and aesthetic achievement that stands for the city as a whole, which Krimmel presents as a convergence of industry

the Schuylkill, “There matchless Fair Mount rolls its waters down / Through iron veins, beneath the thirsting town,” personifying both the waterworks and the city while likening water pipes to blood vessels. The most salient discussions of the relationship between the actual bodies of urban residents and the metaphorical body of the city went well beyond such relatively simple analogies, however, in describing the two kinds of bodies as mutually and continuously creating one another. As

demands of every 174 Chapter Five citizen, of all men of all kinds to make this provision for the wants of the whole community.” According to Lawrence, who sounded like some early twenty-first-century advocates of universal health care, wealthy Bostonians “have no excuse to withhold this provision from those less favored than ourselves.” To do so would be no different, and no more morally acceptable, than withholding food from the famished. Both sanitary reformers who blamed the dirty poor

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