City Water, City Life: Water and the Infrastructure of Ideas in Urbanizing Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago

May 15, 2013

(TNL/file)

A city is more than a massing of citizens, a layout of buildings and streets, or an arrangement of institutions. It is also an infrastructure of ideas, an embodiment of the beliefs, values, and aspirations of the people who created it. In City Water, City Life, historian Carl Smith explores this infrastructure of ideas through an examination of the development of the first successful waterworks systems in Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago between the 1790s and the 1860s.

Through an analysis of a broad range of sources, Dr. Smith shows how the discussion, design, and use of waterworks reveal how Americans framed their conceptions of urban democracy and how they understood the natural and the built environment, individual health and the well-being of society, and the qualities of time and history.
 
City Water, City Life is more than a history of urbanization. It is also a meditation on water as a necessity, as a resource for commerce and industry, and as an essential—and central—part of how we define our civilization.
 
Carl Smith is the Franklyn Bliss Snyder Professor of English and American Studies and professor of history at Northwestern University. His books include three prize-winning volumes: Chicago and the American Literary Imagination, 1880-1920; Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb, and the Model Town of Pullman; and The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City.
 

 

 

 


Recorded live Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at The Newberry Library.