when I think about water, a number of images come to mind: water is everywhere and yet we fight for it. water is associated with the image of purity, cleansing, renewal, yet it is not always possible to find it in such pristine form.
This suggests that water is not only nature, but also culture.
Zainub Varjee’s talk spoke to this double significance of “water” in the context of urbanity. Recently, there has been an enormous migration of populations towards the cities. Thus, reflecting on the sanitization and the cultural understanding of water in our cities may not only help us shed a new light on the dichotomy between nature and society but it also help us reveal how the understanding of water in the cities has transformed its role and meaning beyond the cities themselves.
Urban water shapes the socioeconomic systems of our cities: historically, the building of functional water systems brought a sharp distinction between “good water” (unsanitized) and “bad water”(sanitized, purified and drinkable water). furthermore, it intensified class separations: new technologies such as “flushing” could be afforded by the more affluent population, while exclusion and lack of access to water characterized the poor.
However, as Varjee reminds us by mentioning the infamous “Great Stink” ), building a sanitization system in the city has become also a way to rescue the city from the casualties of “nature” (the “great stink” affected the whole city of London, also the more affluent).
unfortunately, if improving the sanitization system is of great benefit to the city, it also causes great increase in consumption , an increase in the amount of contaminated sewage water and a further dichotomy between what is perceived as good and what is considered bad water. it is interesting to see how in our contemporary cities, despite various discussions on sustainability, we keep flushing our toilets and washing ourhandswhile the tap is running wild, while we send pee poo bags to third world countries and we have a hard time thinking of methods of sanitation that might go against our good vs bad water beliefs (see for instance how countries like Singapore seem to have gone beyond this dichotomy)
Varjee then asks:
is sustainability an ideology? a method? sure our politics of sanitization are entrenched in our socio-cultural customs.