3rd World Congress of Environmental History

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Water and Megacities in the 20th Century: Cases from the Americas

Thu, July 25, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Centro de Cultura e Eventos, Sala Goiabeira

Session Submission Type: Panel


Cities were the exception rather than the norm for human settlement before the modern era. Today, however, humans are increasingly concentrated in cities, with life in megacities (cities with populations of ten million or more) and densely populated metropolitan regions becoming the reality for billions worldwide. This densification, part of the broader accelerations wrought by the advent of the Anthropocene, has impacted urban areas’ relationship to water resources: the fluvial bodies that surround them as well as the way that water circulates through the city. As megacities emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century, planners and engineers struggled to provide adequate water to the expanding urban sphere. Within urban spaces, the reproduction of the city compounded inequalities that made access to water networks difficult if not virtually impossible for working-class, informal, or otherwise peripheral neighborhoods. This panel seeks to explore urban areas’ changing relationship to water in an era of accelerated urban growth. Presenting cases from Mexico City, São Paulo, and New York City, we analyze the social, political, and environmental trajectories of major water infrastructures and legislation with implications for an increasingly urbanized future.

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