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Accepted Contribution:

The tubular ecologies of New York City  
Liviu Chelcea (University of Bucharest)

Contribution short abstract:

The notion of tubular ecologies is useful for understanding the deployment and the limits of terrestrial techniques in the creation of New York City’s ground.

Contribution long abstract:

Working with Matthew Gandy’s notion of “tubular ecologies”, I describe the making of New York City ground in the last three centuries through the use of “terrestrial techniques” aimed at controlling surface and underground waters. While drainage and reclamations projects do control, overall, those waters, the city’s ground stability rests on three intricate networks of: water mains that bring drinking water from outside the city; sewers that transport used water, and former streams and creeks that have been buried underground; and steam pipes that transport superheated steam to buildings in Manhattan from the city’s cogeneration plants. The city’s ground emerged through the construction of these underground tubular ecologies, whose location and state of (dis)repair is not always known to utility companies. Cities complicate our understanding of water under the surface, because of the presence of water transported, leaked, purified or polluted by water infrastructures. Those waters inscribe pipes and the underground ecologies into residents’ consciousness. Tubular ecologies’ visibility and invisibility are interesting ethnographic sites to explore how water is experienced by the city’s residents. That includes the widespread use of domestic water filters because of fear of “old” water mains, projects of daylighting of creeks and streams confined to sewers during the 19th and 20th century, and the absence of trees along the streets where steam pipes are buried. While using a literal understanding of the "ground", an attention to tubular ecologies brings the ethnographic gaze to bear an unexpected objects above ground.

Roundtable RT178
Doing and undoing grounds: rethinking the groundings of anthropocene anthropology
  Session 1 Tuesday 23 July, 2024, -