• The Miasmist: George E. Waring, Jr. and the Sanitary Landscape
    Catherine Seavitt Nordenson
    University of Texas Press, 2022
    Catherine Seavitt Nordenson

George E. Waring, Jr., "Map of Drainage System on Lower Part of the Central Park," New York, NY, 1859. Collection of the New-York Historical Society

In 1867, nineteenth-century sanitary engineer George E. Waring, Jr. (1833–1898) published an influential manual entitled “Draining for Profit, Draining for Health,” reflecting the obsessions of his gilded age—wealth, health, and miasma. Even as the germ theory emerged, Waring supported the anti-contagionist miasma theory, positing that disease spread through the air as a poisonous vapor, emerging from damp soil. He applied his knowledge of farm drainage to an urban theory of public health, with a drainage plan for Central Park; a sewerage system for Memphis; a transformation of New York City’s Department of Street Cleaning; and a sanitation plan for Havana, Cuba. Waring’s battle against miasma was an endeavor to transform both the physical landscape and its inhabitants’ morality. An understudied figure of American environmental history, Waring's brilliant failure (in scientific terms) is worth reassessing in light of the public health and equity issues arising from today’s pandemic and climate crises.

Catherine Seavitt Nordenson is a professor and director of the Graduate Landscape Architecture Program at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, City College of New York. Her design interests include urban climate adaptation and novel landscape restoration practices given the dynamics and indeterminacy of the climate emergency. Seavitt Nordenson’s research and publications reflect her ongoing investigations into political power, environmental activism, and public health, particularly as they intersect in the design of equitable public space and policy. Her books include Depositions: Roberto Burle Marx and Public Landscapes under Dictatorship (University of Texas Press, 2018); Structures of Coastal Resilience (Island Press, 2018); Waterproofing New York (Urban Research Press, 2016); and On the Water: Palisade Bay (Hatje Cantz, 2010). A registered architect and landscape architect, she is a graduate of The Cooper Union and Princeton University, a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, and a recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship for research in Brazil.