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Comments (3) Posted 05.20.10 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Video: Center for Urban Pedagogy

The Water Underground

You turn on the tap and the water flows. You press the lever and the toilet flushes. But where does your drinking water come from? And where does the wastewater go?

As the Brooklyn-based Center for Urban Pedagogy learned, in the course of researching its video, The Water Underground, most of us haven't a clue — and some of us might not want to know. "Below the surface of New York City," says the CUP promo, "lurks an immense grid of pipes designed to carry water in various states of grossness." Or, in the words of one of their interviewees, the superintendent of a wastewater treatment plant on Manhattan's Upper West Side: "You flush the bowl ... it goes to the center of the earth. Somebody else's problem."

Created by CUP in collaboration with the Lower East Side Ecology Center and City-as-School, the 24-minute video tracks the complex — and aging and sometimes contested — systems of water supply, treatment and waste that serve New York City.

The CUP staff and student researchers and videographers criss-crossed the five boroughs and assembled a multi-vocal primer on some essential urban infrastructure. We hear from engineers, plant superintendents, construction workers, marine biologists, urban divers, educators, and environmental justice advocates. We learn that New York City uses about 1.3 billion gallons of water per day (or 200 gallons per person; just slightly above the average for developed cities, according to the Colorado-based Water Information Program) and that all these gallons come from three watersheds (the Croton, Delaware, and Catskill) and are treated in 14 water pollution control plants. We learn that for many years just two tunnels — Water Tunnel No. 1, completed in 1917, and Water Tunnel No. 2, completed in 1935 — have carried water into New York, and that the city is finally constructing a much-needed third — Water Tunnel No. 3 — scheduled to be operational in 2012.

The CUP team is sensitive to matters of environmental justice, and so we learn too that most of the treatment plants that serve the entire city are located in Harlem and the Bronx. Which means, as one community activist put it, "When Robert De Niro flushes his toilet in Tribeca, Harlem has to deal with it."

Continuing our affiliation with the Center for Urban Pedagogy, which began with Bodega Down Bronx, Places is pleased to present The Water Underground. Made in 2006, the video has so far had only limited screenings in New York City and Rotterdam. CUP is planning to release the video in the coming weeks, along with a related project, Sewer in a Suitcase

Nancy Levinson

Project Team

Teaching Artist: Kate Zidar

City-as-School Students: Sean Kelleher, Kim Nuñez, Maggie Acevedo, Ruben Arroyo, Danny Aviles, Adrian Lau, Jared Pierre, Edwin Rodriguez

Center for Urban Pedagogy: Damon Rich, Rosten Woo, John Mangin, Christine Gaspar, Valeria Mogilevich, Jonathan Palmer-Hoffman, Amber Yared, Naoki Fujita, Jae Shin

Graphic Design, Sewer in a Suitcase: Damien Correll

Streetscape Fabrication: Chris Specce, Rachel Gottlieb

Thanks to Michael Scimeca and the Industrial Design Model Shop at RISD, Dan Wiley, Mark Torrey, and Karen Miller.

Special thanks to Color-X.

This project was made possible through the support of The New York City Environmental Fund.
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Comments (3)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Outstanding production! informative and entertaining. congratulations to everyone involved!
Scott Dempwolf
05.22.10 at 12:39

Incredible doc for anyone who lives in a city.
05.26.10 at 10:36

Good effort; very interesting!

05.29.10 at 04:05

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The Center for Urban Pedagogy makes educational projects about places and how they change. The Brooklyn-based organization is inspired by the idea that the power of imagination is central to the practice of democracy, and that the work of governing must engage the dreams and visions of citizens.
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