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 IowaSee all reviews...
“[Mallea] explores the symbiosis binding together the river locally and regionally as social, scientific (medical), political, and engineered space. The book will have special appeal for those concerned with the ecology of urban and regional water system.”
“Kansas City was made possible only by the Missouri River. An unlikely river town, the city relied on its waterway for virtually all of its urban needs. Today’s city residents, however, would never know it. More than a century of intensive engineering has pushed the river out of view. But in this fresh examination of the city and its river, Amahia Mallea offers an expansive view of the urban environment, illustrating just how vital the Missouri River was (and is) to economics, environmental politics, race relations, and, perhaps most importantly, public health.”
—John Herron, professor of history, University of Missouri–Kansas City
“Writing passionately and persuasively on behalf of the Missouri and Kansas (Kaw) Rivers, Amahia Mallea brings much needed attention to racial and social disparities within the environmental history of the Kansas Cities. Equally important, the author uses the rather unique narrative of the Kansas Cities to steer readers towards a much broader conflict between public health and economic wealth that is as relevant today as it was a century ago.”
—Kenna Lang Archer, author of Unruly Waters: A Social and Environmental History of the Brazos RiverSee fewer reviews...
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.