Slowing Down the Water: Counter-Narratives and Acts of Refusal in Newark’s Sewershed

Authors: Kessie Alexandre*, Princeton University
Topics: Geography and Urban Health, Urban Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: urban agriculture, water management, environmental justice, United States
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Napoleon B3, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Across the United States, cities face the immediate challenges of aging and inadequate water systems as a result of decades of disinvestment. Drawing from twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper examines the nexus of water management, environmental justice, and urban agriculture in the city of Newark, NJ. It suggests that taken together, flood events and urban gardens reveal ways in which Black residents simultaneously assert a sense of place and lay bare lived histories of urban disinvestment as they pertain to water management and beyond. First, this paper analyzes a 2015 flood event and the subsequent media attention it attracted in order to highlight tensions of knowledge production arising from salient moments of infrastructural failure. This analysis suggests that Black Newarkers circulate flood counter-narratives as a means of rejecting the production of uncertainty and of reintegrating flood events into a record of racial inequality and decline of public services. Second, this paper examines how residents co-produce Newark’s sewershed through practices of urban greening as part of the City’s green infrastructure for stormwater management campaign. In following everyday participation in green infrastructure projects, this ethnographic account aims to theorize urban gardens as layered multifunctional spaces that residents must employ to attend to their neighborhood’s unmet needs, including food security, crime prevention, beautification, and now stormwater management. Juxtaposing these two scenes from the flood and the garden, this paper argues that studying ordinary events and spaces of water management may reveal meaningful accounts of disinvestment, abandonment, and refusal in the city.

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