[URBANTH-L]REV: Whitehead on Kaika, _City of Flows_

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Mon Jun 13 11:19:28 EDT 2005

[Cross-posted from H-HistGeog]

Published by H-HistGeog at h-net.msu.edu (April 2005)

Maria Kaika. _City of Flows: Modernity, Nature, and the City_. New York:
Routledge, 2005. xi + 200 pp. Illustrations, maps, notes, endnotes,
index. $85.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-4159-4715-4; $24.95 (paper), ISBN

Reviewed for H-HistGeog by Mark Whitehead, Institute of Geography and
Earth Sciences, University of Wales, Aberystwyth

Hydrological Politics and the Dark Spaces of Urban-Nature

Water has in many ways become the new money. In asserting this
seemingly unusual parallel, I am of course not suggesting that you
should rush down to your nearest hypermarket and instigate some form of
bartered exchange for a litre of H20 you have acquired. Instead the
parallel I draw between water and money is based upon the fact that
they both flow. In the case of money we can discern its "flow" from the
labor process into our bank accounts, then investment schemes,
commodities, buildings and infrastructure. In terms of water, it is
possible to trace its "flow" from river catchments, into reservoirs,
along aqueducts, through treatment plants and underground pipes, and
into our domestic taps, hoses and toilets. While the nature of the
"flow" of money and water is of course very different, the fact that
they do flow makes them particularly interesting things to study. The
intellectual importance of things that flow is that they force us to
look beyond the seemingly static objects which are routinely studied
within the humanities and social sciences, to consider the processes
which constitute, challenge and reform the world around us. Water is
the new money because it has become one of the most fashionable neo-
and post-Marxist objects of flow-analysis. Whether it is in relation to
political restructuring and the privatization of water provision in
Western states, geopolitical struggles over water supply in the Nile
Basin, or the moral imperatives of ensuring the delivery of potable
water to communities around the world, water studies are everywhere.[1]

It is in the context of this emerging and important school of critical
water studies that Maria Kaika's fascinating _City of Flows_ must be
positioned. _City of Flows_ is, to use Kaika's own words, "an
historical geographical analysis of the urbanization of water in
Western metropolises" (p. 5). Focusing predominantly, but not
exclusively, on the politics of water supply in Athens and London,
Kaika weaves together an empirically lucid and intellectually
challenging account of the problematic relationship between cities and
their water. As a geographer, Kaika's focus on the urbanization of
water is significant because it signals two concerns with the politics
of water which, while prominent within geographical analyses, have
often been given far less attention within other disciplinary
approaches. First, by focusing on the historical struggle to provide
adequate water supplies to cities, Kaika draws attention to critical
spatial factors that influence the flow of water. With the global urban
population set for the first time in human history to overtake rural
levels, the challenge of providing large amounts of water to densely
populated metropolitan districts (often located at great distances from
sustainable water supply sources) is increasingly defining the spatial
parameters of twenty-first-century water flow. Second, while exploring
the spatial flow of water from its rural sources to its urban
consumption, Kaika questions the ambiguous relationship between water
and nature. While at one level, there may seem nothing more natural
than water, Kaika critically analyses what exactly is left that is
natural about the water we consume after its engineered transportation
and chemical transformation. These twin concerns mean that Kaika's
_City of Flows_ must be contextualized not only within existing work on
water politics, but also within the celebrated history of Marxist
analyses of urbanization and the emerging desire within geographical
circles to uncover the spatial parameters around which the dichotomy
between society and nature is constituted and reinforced.[2]

Kaika sets out the main goals of her book in the first chapter "Visions
of Modernization." In this short chapter, Kaika describes her desire to
challenge our compartmentalized vision of the world as an autonomous
set of social and ecological spaces (home, wilderness, city,
countryside, neighborhood, zoo) and to reveal the messiness and
interconnected nature of socio-ecological existence. In order to convey
the ways in which nature and society routinely become spatially
compartmentalized and separated, Kaika introduces the intriguing notion
of _space envelopes_. According to Kaika, space envelopes are forms of
sealed space within which the supposedly purified realms of society and
nature are preserved as uncontaminated zones of existence. Kaika
attests that the proliferation of spatial envelopes for social and
ecological existence is intimately tied to the historical unfolding of
modernity as a program for social change and scientific development. In
many ways _City of Flows_ is a book about modernity-- or perhaps more
specifically the effects of modernity on urban development and the
urbanization of water supply. In order to facilitate a careful analysis
of the effects of modernity on urban water supply, _City of Flows_ is
presented in two parts. Part 1 contains four chapters (including
Chapter 1), the first two of which outline the theoretical stance of
the volume. The final chapters of Part 1 then trace the flow of water
from its "natural" points of origin into urban spaces and the domestic
sphere of the home. The purpose of this first section is to illustrate
the socio-ecological continuities which connect different space
envelopes like the countryside, city and home, and to reveal the hybrid
hydrological networks which flow through these spaces. Part 2 builds on
the generic account of the flow of water through space developed in
Part 1 to provide a more detailed historical geography of urban water
supply in Athens and London. Part 2 is divided into three main
chapters, each of which charts particular moments within the unfurling
social ecologies of Western modernity.

Although _City of Flows_ is only one of a series of contemporary books
charting the relationship between water and urbanization, in Part 1
Kaika develops some highly original insights into the urban experience
of water.[3] In chapters 3 and 4 Kaika describes the ways in which the
modern urbanization of water has been simultaneously visualized through
the celebratory architecture associated with urban hydrology, and also
rendered invisible by a series of hidden urban infrastructures which
ensure the regular supply of clean water to our homes. In the first
instance, Chapter 3 charts the aesthetic celebration of urban-based
technological networks devoted to the supply and treatment of urban
water. In this chapter Kaika describes how modern urban water projects
were deliberately given visual form through the grand architecture of
water pumping stations and organized tours of newly completed
underground sewerage systems during the nineteenth-century. In Chapter
4 Kaika describes how, despite its commemoration in the urban
landscape, the arrival of clean water in the home has been consistently
obscured and hidden. Kaika describes the highly selective and hidden
flow of water into the domestic sphere through an account of the
construction of subterranean water networks and the designation of "wet
rooms" within the modern home. The highly obscured arrival of water in
the modern home is, Kaika asserts, part of the continuing human desire
to insulate ourselves from the vagaries and threats of nature. In this
context, while the modern home is dependent on the regular supply of
clean water for its operational maintenance, Kaika notices how before
it enters the domestic sphere, water is stripped of its ecological
trappings and unwanted qualities. The purified and highly regularized
entry of water into domestic life ensures, according to Kaika, that the
home can remain that comforting and familiar space of social existence.
Drawing on the writing of Marx, Benjamin, and Freud, Kaika claims that
both the architectural commemoration and domestic concealment of water
tend to hide the socio-ecological consequences of the urbanization of
water from us. Utilizing Marx's notion of the fetish and Benjamin's
"wish images," Kaika describes how urban water consumers are insulated
from the processes of social and ecological exploitation which
under-gird urban water supply by the imagery and ideological
architecture through which water is produced and commodified. Deploying
Freud's description of the "uncanny," Kaika further recognizes that it
is only when urban water networks stop working (in the form of taps
that don't work, leaking pipes, or flooding) that we begin to perceive
the hidden geographies of urban water provision.

In Part 2 Kaika considers the urbanization of water through a detailed
historical geography of Athens and London. In the case of Athens (which
provides the stronger and clearer narrative) we discover that the
restructuring of the city was intimately tied to a series of attempts to
create a modern democratic state in Greece following the demise of the
Ottoman Empire. In Chapter 5 we see how the modernization of Athens was
initially, and perhaps paradoxically, pursued through a series of
attempts to uncover its ancient history and architecture. In the case of
water, this was expressed most famously in the failed attempts to
improve clean water supply to the capital through the excavation and
reactivation of Hadrian's Aqueduct. In the same chapter we hear about
the wider use of water in a series of strategies designed to make Athens
a Western city--such strategies varied from the utilization of water to
control street dust to the creation of the first royal park in the city.
In Chapter 6 Kaika describes how during the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries a new era of water conquest started to emerge in
Athens. Based upon the high modernist creation of new dams, aqueducts,
and aquifer drilling projects, this new era culminated in the highly
symbolic completion of the famous Marathon Dam and a new period of water
abundance in the city. In the final chapter, Kaika discusses emerging
urban water crises in twentieth-century Athens and London. Kaika
describes the processes whereby urban water supply has been transformed
from a public, largely state-run venture to a privatized industry.
Echoing her previous observations, Kaika argues that the continuing
fetishization of urban water supply today is enabling private water
producers to respond to contemporary water shortages by increasing
prices (for a "naturally" scarce resource), rather than reforming the
water supply networks which are so inefficient at delivering water to
metropolitan centers in the first place.

While I would recommend _City of Flows_ as a crucial text for anyone
interested in the history of nature and cities, or in the policies and
politics of water supply, I do have certain, albeit limited concerns
with the volume. My first is a fairly stylistic issue and relates to the
treatment of London within the book. While the book states that Athens
and London are the main empirical foci of the volume, the historical
analysis of water supply in London is far less complete, integrated, or
detailed as that provided for Athens. While the selective empirical
focus on Athens as opposed to London is not necessarily a bad thing, the
reader is left at times wondering precisely what the material presented
on London is adding to that already discussed in relation to Athens and
this can be frustrating. My second concern is more theoretical and
relates to the treatment and analysis of water by Kaika. Throughout
_City of Flows_ Kaika consistently emphasizes the importance of
developing a hybrid account of the urbanization of water. In the context
of this promised hybridity, I expected to read much more about the
agency of water in resisting its modern manipulation and transformation
and in consequently shaping the urbanization process it feeds. However,
Kaika's account of water is surprisingly conventional, as we are
persistently reminded of the subjugation of water to the economic,
technological, and political will of modernity. While at one level I am
sympathetic to Kaika's low intensity interpretation of hybridity, I felt
that the volume as a whole would have benefited greatly from a more
detailed explanation of how the notion of the hybrid was to be deployed
within the book, and how it related to Kaika's underlying dialectical
approach. The point is that in her desire to trace the flow of water,
and to thus reveal the inner workings of urbanization and modernity,
Kaika is perhaps guilty at times of depicting water as pure flow and of
thus failing to account for its qualities as a chemical and fluid thing.

These limited criticisms are, however, not meant to detract from the
overall quality of the book. If you read _City of Flows_ you will enjoy
it. It is a clearly written, engaging, and at times provocative book
which can proudly take its place among the required readings for anyone
with an interest in urban-nature relations.


[1]. For a good overview of contemporary work on the politics of water
supply see A. P. Elhance, _Hydro-Politics in the Third World: Conflict
and Co-operation in International River Basins_ (Washington: United
States Institute of Peace Press, 1999); J. Selby, _Water, Power and
Politics in the Middle East: The Other Israeli-Palestinian Conflict_
(London: IB Tauris, 2003).

[2]. For a more detailed discussion of the spatial dimensions of the
divide between society and nature see D. Harvey, _Justice, Nature, and
the Geography of Difference_ (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), chapters 13 and
14; C. Katz, "Whose Nature, Whose Culture? Private Productions of Space
and the 'Preservation' of Nature" in _Remaking Reality: Nature at the
Millennium_, ed. B. Bruan and N. Castree (London: Routledge, 1998), pp.

[3]. G. Desfor, and R. Keil, _Nature and the City_ (Phoenix: University
of Arizona Press, 2004); M. Gandy, _Concrete and Clay: Reworking Nature
in New York City_ (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002); E. Swyngedouw, _Social
Power and the Urbanization of Water: Flows of Power_ (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2004).

Copyright (c) 2005 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the
redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational
purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web
location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities &
Social Sciences Online. For other uses contact the Reviews editorial
staff: hbooks at mail.h-net.msu.edu.

More information about the URBANTH-L mailing list