Concrete and Clay: Reworking Nature in New York City

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Overview

In this innovative account of the urbanization of nature in New York City, Matthew Gandy explores how the raw materials of nature have been reworked to produce a "metropolitan nature" distinct from the forms of nature experienced by early settlers. The book traces five broad developments: the creation of a modern water supply system, the expansion and redefinition of public space in Central Park, the construction of landscaped highways, the radical environmental politics of the Puerto Rican barrio in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the contemporary politics of the environmental justice movement. Drawing on various perspectives including political economy, environmental studies, social theory, cultural criticism, and architecture, Gandy shows how New York's environmental history is bound up not only with the upstate landscapes that stretch beyond the city's political boundaries but also with more distant places that reflect the nation's colonial and imperial legacies. Using the shifting meaning of nature under urbanization as a framework, he looks at how modern nature has been produced through interrelated transformations ranging from new water technologies to changing fashions in landscape design. Throughout, he considers the economic and ideological forces that underlie phenomena as diverse as the location of parks and the social stigma of dirty neighborhoods.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
New York has attempted to balance progress with health, safety and aesthetics during the course of its development, argues Gandy, a scholar in geography and urban studies at the University College of London. Gandy has pieced together a fascinating environmental history of New York along five specific axes: the creation of a workable system of water supply, the developing concept of public space, the establishment of landscaped highways, the profound changes that environmentalism had on the Latino barrio in the 1960s and '70s, and environmentalism as a political movement. The facts accumulate somewhat haphazardly: Aaron Burr's 1799 Manhattan Water company never delivered on its promise to bring clean water to the city, but did become a major banking concern; Olmstead's Anglophile vision of Central Park "was anathema to Irish political and intellectual opinion"; the post-WWII "spread of car ownership" spawned trips similar to the 19th-century railroad's "nature tourism," leading to landscaped parkways. But by the end, Gandy ties them all convincingly and neatly to issues in contemporary environmentalism. By examining, for example, how health issues embraced by such militant community groups as the Black Panthers and the Young Lords translated into environmental activism in the 1970s, and how an unlikely coalition between Latino and Hasidic activists against a proposed Brooklyn Navy Yard waste incinerator challenged and changed New York's community politics, Gandy deftly and provocatively connects issues of health, politics, economics and urbanology in a compulsively readable (for the more wonkily inclined) and illuminating cultural analysis. (Apr.) Forecast: As pundits, developers, administrators and activists enter the debate over what to do with the World Trade Center site and how to do it, this history of the city's politico-environmental nexus should find its way into many of their hands, particularly those concerned about the site's toxicity. Heightened New York interest continues outside the city; expect solid sales from campus and issue-oriented shops. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

Gandy deftly and provocatively connects issue of health, politics,
economics, and urbanology in a compulsively readable and illuminating cultural analysis.

The MIT Press

Ari Kelman

Concrete and Clay is a towering achievement and a wonderful addition to the literature on the urban environment.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Matthew Gandy is Professor of Geography at University College London and was
Director of the UCL Urban Laboratory from 2005 to 2011. He is the author of
Concrete and Clay: Reworking Nature in New York City (MIT Press),
recipient of the 2003 Spiro Kostof Award from the Society of Architectural
Historians, and has published widely on urban, cultural, and environmental themes.
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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction 1
1 Water, Space, and Power 19
1.1 Water and the Nascent Civic Realm 24
1.2 Engineering the Technological Sublime 32
1.3 Urban Decay and the Hidden City 52
1.4 Paranoid Urbanism 60
1.5 Hydrological Transformations 70
2 Symbolic Order and the Urban Pastoral 77
2.1 Cultural Anxiety, Land Speculation, and Public Space 81
2.2 Creating the Garden of a Great City 87
2.3 Olmsted's Urban Vision: A Fragile Synthesis 97
2.4 Olmsted Rediscovered: An Emerging Preservationist Ethic 102
2.5 Emerald Dreams 109
3 Technological Modernism and the Urban Parkway 115
3.1 The Automobilization of the American Landscape 118
3.2 Robert Moses and the Radiant City 126
3.3 The Demise of Technological Modernism 138
3.4 Fractured Cities 147
4 Between Borinquen and the Barrio 153
4.1 Landscapes of Despair 156
4.2 Space, Identity, and Power 162
4.3 Disarray in the 1970s 177
4.4 The Power of Memory 182
5 Rustbelt Ecology 187
5.1 Across the Great Divide 193
5.2 Pollution and the Politics of Resistance 200
5.3 Reclaiming the Social Environment 213
5.4 Trash Can Utopias 221
Epilogue 229
Notes 235
Index 327
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