Category Archives: Urban

New report on Race, Poverty, and Chemical Disasters

The report, called “Who’s in Danger? Race, Poverty, and Chemical Disasters,” sought to examine who lives in “fenceline” neighborhoods adjacent to large chemical plants. The report said those residents were more likely to be black or Latino and have lower home values, incomes and education levels than average Americans.

Commissioner of NYC’s Department of Sanitation on Hurricane Sandy

The following is a statement by John Doherty, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Sanitation, about the department’s response to Hurricane Sandy.

A Review of Infrapolitics: The Social Life of Water in Mumbai

This review of Nikhil Anand’s dissertation, Infrapolitics: The Social Life of Water in Mumbai, written by Tarini Bedi, will be of interest to discard studies scholars because of the methodological approach and how it highlights the politics of infrastructure.

Sanitation Workers: Hurricane Sandy’s First Responders

“We were the first ones there. And not only were we the first; we were the best. You know? We were the first responders in areas that nobody knew about– like I went to Sheepshead Bay and Arlene Avenue. It’s strange because if you’re driving up and down it, you wouldn’t notice them. But there were maybe a couple of dozen small houses. Nobody else knew they were down there. Our sanitation guys knew where every little nook and cranny was.”

Trash, debris, or neither? The Nature of Waste During Disaster

Not only do natural (and unnatural) disasters produce a lot of waste, they are also extreme but oddly quintessential events where practices, behavior, and cultures around waste and wasting, as well as their inverse–repairing, fixing, rebuilding–move to the fore. In the weeks proceeding and following the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy making landfall in New York City and surrounding area, Discard Studies will feature a series of articles about the complexities of disaster and waste, broadly defined. This article looks at the material and emotional nature of waste during disaster.

Installation @ AAA: Urban Infrastructure: Obsolescence and Futurity Walking Tour

Crucial infrastructures in North America have begun to reach the ends of their lifespan, with malfunctions and their effects increasingly commanding public and political attention. Our installation draws on a burgeoning conversation in anthropology on infrastructure, while emphasizing its aesthetic and material dimensions alongside its practical and functional ones.

A history of New York City’s solid waste management in photographs

By the nineteenth century, New York City was persistently and famously filthy. While other urban centers had begun to clean up their streets, approaching vessels could still smell New York far out to sea. Yet,  the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) was founded in 1881 as the Department of Street Cleaning and became one of the […]
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Review: The City Recycled: The Afterlives of Demolished Buildings in Post-war Beijing

Shih-yang Kao’s dissertation on demolition waste in Beijing provides rich material for scholars interested in the players involved in urban-rural discard commodity chains. While post-demolition waste was considered a resource for both socialist (1949-1978) and reform era (1978-present) governments, The City Recycled: The Afterlives of Demolished Buildings in Post-war Beijing narrates how values of waste shifted for each period, as well as how it continues to shift under different present-day policies, geographical locations, regional and local economies, and stakeholder groups.

The Decompository at the Arnold Arboretum

Most Arboretums don’t put their dirt, waste, and decomposition on visitor maps. In July, via a workshop on Digital STS at Boston’s Arnold Arboretum, we fixed that. We created “The Decompository” for the Arboretum. The Decompository cataloged the entire, often dirty, frequently smelly, certainly decomposing urban ecology of the park could be made more apparent for visitors and researchers.

Chennai Waste, Part 2: The rural urban divide and caste politics

While most of my middle class informants have shied away from discussing caste, and instead point to class as being more of a social indicator in Chennai nowadays, Elango is insistent that “development and economics are masking the social, caste system.” Urbanization is just a process; caste is a system, a way of life so deeply entrenched that it has become taken for granted. This caste system entrenchment has in turn translated into not only a lack of empathy, but a sense that certain people belong or deserve certain tasks, such as clearing garbage, or waste picking. Elango’s words reminded me of a Ramky Group (a private company in charge of waste disposal for a few Chennai zones) street sweeper in Mylapore with whom I spoke in April, who echoed this idea that people don’t stop to think that someone is coming behind them to clean up the garbage they throw on the streets.