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Gotham and Its Garbage
In the next coming weeks I will be hosting a series of programs on the subject of NYC sanitation. Below is a post devoted to the first program Gotham and Its Garbage: A History of Public Waste, Public Health and the Department of Sanitation. A Slide Lecture with Robin Nagle Ph.D.
No matter where you live or what your economic status is, in New York City garbage is your neighbor. You may live in a penthouse apartment and never actually touch the garbage yourself, but chances are you pass it all the time on the street. If you do live on a high floor, in a full service building, on garbage days you will undoubtedly notice a mound of filled fat black garbage bags piled high and long on the sidewalk curb, outside your building. When you have lunch at your favorite café, you may notice that the outdoor seating is beautiful but just beyond the greenery is a mound of black garbage bags. Everyone everywhere in New York City has an intimate knowledge of the garbage that is piled on any given block or corner on any given day. Like any disgusting entity, we choose to ignore what is a necessity and obvious nuisance rather than adequately address it. Not that any one of us could actually do anything to help change the way we process our trash. Because of this, we have an uneasy arrangement of being silent and patient, as the trash is picked up and hauled away. At the same time, we seethe with anxiety until the streets are empty of the big black bags that line the sidewalk at least twice a week, in front of where we live. For homeowners, it is hoped that no animal will tear into the bags for the chicken carcass resting inside or that a bottle collector will not aggressively rip through the plastic to get to a redeemable bottle, clearly visible through the blue plastic bag.
We live in probably the greatest garbage producing city in the world, with tons of trash being collected daily. Garbage collection has had an interesting history in New York City from swine roaming the streets as the first street sweepers, to white coated men who swept the street in the 19th century into the 20th century, to incinerators and transfer stations of present day and a host of recycling attempts. Early on in NYC’s sanitation history, garbage was transported to the piers of lower Manhattan, piled high into big barges and then brought out to sea and dumped. This practice went on for decades. The many changes of garbage collection in New York City has been initiated through political reform and public health campaigns, plus simply education, throwing trash out your window is not the way civilized human beings live. Garbage collection has also been closely associated with the underworld, where crime families controlled the dumping of commercial trash. New York City garbage collection is a complicated affair. From the beginning there were always problems and there still continues to be. Nonetheless trash must be collected and dumped and preferably “not in my backyard.”
Please join Robin Nagel as she presents Gotham and Its Garbage, on Monday June 8th, at 6:30 PM at the Mid-Manhattan Library.