Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Books and Articles on the History of the NYC Water System and Its Bridges

Empire of Water
An Environmental and Political History of the New York City Water Supply
by David Soll

Empire of Water, An Environmental and Political History of The New York City Water Supply by David Soll was just published in April of 2013  by Cornell University Press. Below is the publishers description of the book.  The book covers the Jervis Croton Aqueduct development, the first municipal water supply system for New York City:

Supplying water to millions is not simply an engineering and logistical challenge. As David Soll shows in his finely observed history of the nation's largest municipal water system, the task of providing water to New Yorkers transformed the natural and built environment of the city, its suburbs, and distant rural watersheds. Almost as soon as New York City completed its first municipal water system in 1842, it began to expand the network, eventually reaching far into the Catskill Mountains, more than one hundred miles from the city.  Empire of Water explores the history of New York City's water system from the nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, focusing on the geographical, environmental, and political repercussions of the city’s search for more water.
Soll vividly recounts the profound environmental implications for both city and countryside. Some of the region’s most prominent landmarks, such as the High Bridge across the Harlem River, Central Park’s Great Lawn, and the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County, have their origins in the city’s water system. By tracing the evolution of the city’s water conservation efforts and watershed management regime, Soll reveals the tremendous shifts in environmental practices and consciousness that occurred during the twentieth century. Few episodes better capture the long-standing upstate-downstate divide in New York than the story of how mountain water came to flow from spigots in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Soll concludes by focusing on the landmark watershed protection agreement signed in 1997 between the city, watershed residents, environmental organizations, and the state and federal governments. After decades of rancor between the city and Catskill residents, the two sides set aside their differences to forge a new model of environmental stewardship. His account of this unlikely environmental success story offers a behind the scenes perspective on the nation’s most ambitious and wide-ranging watershed protection program.


Liquid Assets 
A History of New York City's Water System
by Diane Galusha

The New York City water system is, by every measure, an engineering marvel. Delivering 1.2 billion gallons of water each day to more than nine million people, it is a complex network of reservoirs stretched out over a vast upstate region and connected by a web of subterranean aqueducts to rival the aqueducts of the ancient Romans. The system, so pivotal to the development of the nation's largest city and its northern suburbs, was realized over the past century and a half, and indeed is still being built beneath the subways and skyscrapers of New York.

But clean, abundant water has not come without peril and pain. Thousands of people were forced to relinquish their homes in dozens of communities leveled to make way for the reservoirs of the Croton, Catskill, and Delaware Supplies. Hundreds of workers died building the tunnels and dams; countless more were injured. The story of the New York water system is one of genius and daring, sacrifice and tragedy. It is peopled with visionaries, scoundrels and "the little men with the picks and shovels" who tore away mountains and built new ones to capture the sweet essence of wild rivers far from the Big Apple's teeming streets.


                   A Journey Around Manhattan
                           by Phillip Lopate

Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan

Fusing history, lore, politics, culture, and on-site adventures, esteemed essayist and author Phillip Lopate takes us on an exuberant, affectionate, and eye-opening excursion around Manhattan’s shoreline. Waterfront captures the ever-changing character of New York in the best way possible: on a series of exploratory walks conducted by one of the city’s most engaging and knowledgeable guides. Starting at the Battery and moving at a leisurely pace along the banks of the Hudson and East Rivers, Lopate describes the infrastructures, public spaces, and landmarks he encounters, along with fascinating insights into how they came to be. Unpeeling layers of myth and history, he reveals the economic, ecological, and political concerns that influenced the city’s development, reporting on everything from the building of the Brooklyn Bridge to the latest projects dotting the shorelines.

New York’s waterfront has undergone a three-stage revaluation—from the world’s largest port to an abandoned, seedy no-man’s land to a highly desirable zone of parks and upscale retail and residential properties—each metamorphosis only incompletely shedding earlier associations. Physically, no area of New York City has changed as dramatically as the shoreline, thanks to natural processes and the use of landfill, dredging, and other interventions. Everywhere Phillip Lopate walked on the waterfront, he saw the present as a layered accumulation of older narratives. He set about his task by trying to read the city like a text. One textual layer is the past, going back to the Lenape Indians, Captain Kidd, and Melville’s sailors; another is the present—whatever or whoever was popping up in his view at the moment; a third layer contains the constructed environment, the architecture or piers or parks currently along the shore; another layer still is his personal history, the memories recalled by visiting certain spots; yet another consists of the city’s incredibly rich cultural record—the literature, films, and artwork that threw a reflecting light on the matter at hand; and finally, there is the invisible or imagined layer—what he thinks should be on the waterfront but is not.

Waterfront is studded with short diversions where Lopate expounds on some of the greater issues, characters, and sites of Manhattan’s shoreline. Be it a revisionist examination of Robert Moses, the effect of shipworms on the city’s piers and foundations, the battle over Westway, the dream of public housing, the legacy of Joseph Mitchell, a wonderful passage about the longshoremen and Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, or the meaning of the World Trade Center, Lopate punctuates this marvelous journey with the sights and sounds and words of a world like no other.

A rich and impressive work by an undisputed master stylist, Waterfront takes its rightful place next to other literary classics of New York, such as E. B. White’s Here Is New York and Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel. It is an unparalleled look at New York’s landscape and history and an irresistible invitation to meander along its outermost edges.


A good article on the watershed of the New York City water system and the display at the Queens Museum.

last modified 1/27/15

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