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Garbage In The Cities

Garbage In The Cities: Refuse Reform and the Environment

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  • Book Info
    Garbage In The Cities
    Book Description:

    As recently as the 1880s, most American cities had no effective means of collecting and removing the mountains of garbage, refuse, and manure-over a thousand tons a day in New York City alone-that clogged streets and overwhelmed the senses of residents. In his landmark study,Garbage in the Cities, Martin Melosi offered the first history of efforts begun in the Progressive Era to clean up this mess.Since it was first published,Garbage in the Citieshas remained one of the best historical treatments of the subject. This thoroughly revised and updated edition includes two new chapters that expand the discussion of developments since World War I. It also offers a discussion of the reception of the first edition, and an examination of the ways solid waste management has become more federally regulated in the last quarter of the twentieth century.Melosi traces the rise of sanitation engineering, accurately describes the scope and changing nature of the refuse problem in U.S. cities, reveals the sometimes hidden connections between industrialization and pollution, and discusses the social agendas behind many early cleanliness programs. Absolutely essential reading for historians, policy analysts, and sociologists,Garbage in the Citiesoffers a vibrant and insightful analysis of this fascinating topic.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7268-6
    Subjects: General Science, Environmental Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-16)

    Since human beings have inhabited the earth, they have generated, produced, manufactured, excreted, secreted, discarded, and otherwise disposed of all manner of waste. Among myriad types of rejectamenta, refuse—solid waste—has been one of the most abundant, most cumbersome, and potentially most harmful. Beginning with ancient civilizations, there has always been refuse. There has not always been a refuse problem, however, at least not one of the magnitude that has developed in modern times. Simply to equate poor sanitation with the age of a society is to overlook the major factors that produce a refuse problem with serious health...

  3. ONE OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND: The Refuse Problem in the Late Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 17-41)

    In the late nineteenth century, urban America discovered the garbage problem. In an 1891 issue ofHarper’s Weekly, an observer noted, “As the world grows older it becomes not only conscious of new problems which it has to solve, but it becomes more keenly conscious of the importance of old ones which it has only imperfectly met.”¹ The refuse problem attained such massive proportions in the industrial United States that even the most insensitive city dweller could no longer ignore it. Heaps of garbage, rubbish, and manure cluttered alleys and streets, putrefied in open dumps, and tainted the watercourses into...

    (pp. 42-65)

    On October 1, 1898, Spanish and American diplomats met in Paris to negotiate a treaty ending the four-month war between their countries. The brief but significant conflict toppled the anemic Spanish Empire in the Caribbean and the Pacific, leaving the Philippine Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba under American control. Fearing a yellow-fever epidemic in occupied Cuba, President William McKinley appointed the noted sanitary engineer Colonel George E. Waring Jr. as special commissioner of the United States government to investigate health conditions in Havana as a preliminary step toward the establishment of a comprehensive system of sanitation there. While he...

  5. THREE REFUSE AS AN ENGINEERING PROBLEM: Sanitary Engineers and Municipal Reform
    (pp. 66-86)

    In a 1906 issue ofCharities and the Commons(later called theSurvey), the editor proclaimed the rise of sanitary engineering as “a new social profession.” This profession, he stated, “is neither that of physician, nor engineer, nor educator, but smacks of all three. It levies on autocratic powers, kin to those of ancient tyrants, but at the same time depends upon the sheerest democracy of information and co-operation to give its work effect.”¹ Sanitary engineers were the twentieth-century heirs of Colonel Waring and his sanitary reforms. In one sense, they were highly trained (or experienced) specialists in the increasingly...

  6. FOUR REFUSE AS AN AESTHETIC PROBLEM: Voluntary Citizens’ Organizations and Sanitation
    (pp. 87-110)

    In his widely circulated technical tractGarbage Crematories in America(1906), William Mayo Venable commented optimistically on the growing interest in sanitary reform in the early twentieth century, “The reason why the problem of refuse disposal is receiving an ever-increasing amount of attention from engineers, municipal authorities, and from the American public does not lie in the newness of the problem, but rather in an intellectual awakening of the people. The same spirit that leads men to realize the corruption of politics and business, and to attempt to remedy those conditions by adopting new methods of administration and new laws,...

    (pp. 111-124)

    Those committed to ending the refuse problem—from engineers to journalists, from municipal authorities to civic leaders—looked optimistically toward a time when cities would be uniformly clean and free of pollution and disease. The flurry of reform activity and the profusion of rhetoric heightened the anticipation. As with any attempt at change there was a gap between expectations and achievements. Public works and sanitation departments made strides in street cleaning and in the collection and disposal of solid wastes, but vestiges of the out of sight, out of mind mentality persisted. Partial solutions and incomplete victories were the best...

    (pp. 141-167)

    In 1908, refuse-disposal expert William F. Morse hypothesized that, as society became increasingly urbanized and as cities grew in size and number, methods for dealing with waste remained unchanged. Primitive methods sufficient for individual or family needs were simply applied to the new circumstances with little thought to the difference in context.¹ In an elementary way, Morse’s perception was accurate—at least until the late nineteenth century. Colonel Waring made some progress after 1895 by convincing city officials that refuse was more than a personal inconvenience. As with street cleaning, increased public awareness of the physical environment and the activities...

    (pp. 168-189)

    After World War I, solid waste collection and disposal underwent some significant alterations, due in part to an evolving environmental, economic, political, and social context, and to noteworthy technical and administrative changes in the services themselves. Through the mid-1960s, refuse management remained primarily local in practice and impact, transformed more appreciably after 1965 by increasing federal programs and regulations. It also emerged as a national environmental issue alongside air and water pollution as land—or third—pollution.¹

    Refuse had become a significant public issue in the nineteenth century as an urban problem. As American cities evolved in form and scale...

    (pp. 190-226)

    By the mid-1960s, solid waste became a truly national issue. The Lyndon B. Johnson administration passed the first federal regulations. The new laws did not establish federal control of local refuse management, but they did create renewed awareness that the problem of solid waste extended beyond individual city limits and that a new partner would weigh in on how to address that problem. In addition, counties, regional authorities, and special districts complicated the management process. In a more direct way, the rise of private agglomerates in the waste collection and disposal field in this period began to seriously challenge the...

    (pp. 227-238)

    The refuse problem in urban America between 1880 and 2000 had many dimensions. It was, foremost, an environmental problem of no less importance than air, water, or noise pollution. It also stimulated vigorous debate over the extent and limits of individual versus community responsibility. It became a significant focal point for municipal-reform efforts. Refuse, the seemingly mundane and oft-neglected residue of human activity, came into the public consciousness significantly during the late nineteenth century and raised several uncomfortable questions about health, aesthetics, and the quality of urban life.

    The rampant increase in solid wastes was a central feature of environmental...