A River in the City of Fountains

An Environmental History of Kansas City and the Missouri River

Amahia K. Mallea

Founded as a port at the confluence of two great rivers, Kansas City has the waters of the Missouri running through its bloodstream—threading expressways, delivering drinking water, carrying traffic and sewage, and emerging most visibly in the city’s celebrated fountains. Despite, or perhaps because of, the river’s ubiquity, the complex and critical nature of its presence can be hard to understand, which is precisely why Amahia Mallea’s enlightening book is so essential.

Moving from the city’s center to the outer limits of the metropolitan area, A River in the City of Fountains offers a clear view of the reach and intricacies of the Missouri River’s connection to life in Kansas City. The history of this connection is one of science and industry working, sometimes at cross-purposes, to bend the river to the needs of commerce and public health. It is a story populated with heroes and villains, visionaries and robber barons, scientists and civil engineers, politicians and activists—all with schemes and plans and far-reaching ideas about what, and whose, demands the power of the Missouri should serve. And so, inevitably, it is a story of disparities: a story of, from one flood to the next, the haves staking out higher ground, leaving the have-nots to the perils of low-lying land. But what the book also shows us is a slow awakening to the ways in which all those vying for the rivers favor are inextricably connected by its course; here we see, finally, a growing awareness of the river’s essential role in the health and welfare of the whole urban environment.

“A smart, elegantly written, deeply researched, theoretically informed book that offers an important and original perspective on the history of the Kansas Cities while providing urban environmental historians with important tools for exploring other river cities.

—Missouri Historical Review

“An excellent work of urban environmental history that has something for everyone. Mallea’s commentary on the divergent paths the Kansas Cities took to cope with problems of water quality and quantity runs throughout the book and is particularly insightful for discussions about race relations, urban planning, and watershed management at the local, state, and federal levels.

—Annals of Iowa
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In the end, all citizens of Kansas City are both upstream and downstream; all are equally dependent on the health of the river. What this book helps us see is, at last, as much the city in the river as the river in the city.

About the Author

Amahia Mallea is associate professor of history at Drake University.

Publication of this book was financially supported by the Drake University Center for the Humanities.