New York, New York
Chapter 2 examines Harlem Flats in New York City. A decade-long struggle over environmental problems arose from the speculative process of turning a salt marsh into an urban neighborhood. Once a quasi-rural area of farms, small homesteads, and shanties overlooking an estuary interlaced with small streams and popular with boaters, this lowland was filled with garbage to create real estate for Tammany Hall-affiliated property speculators. Landfilling was aided by public health concerns over cholera and other deadly diseases. Elected officials, waste haulers, speculators, sanitarians, and residents constructed a new neighborhood of tenements and factories. This chapter engages questions of political corruption, garbage, and sensory history. It calls attention to the physical processes of city building, the actors involved, and the role of odors and fear of disease in pejorative place labeling and city development. It also introduces nationally-known figures like Egbert Viele who engineered systems of drainage, sewerage, and parks. Landfilling erased the largest wetland complex in Manhattan, including Harlem Creek and Harlem Marsh, and slum clearance for public housing transformed the neighborhood a second time in the mid-twentieth century. Hurricane Sandy highlighted flood risk as a significant concern in the future of this urban lowland neighborhood.
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