The ‘desiccator difficulty’: surprise, indignation and the local politics of planning for sanitary technology in nineteenth century Melbourne

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Abstract

‘Desiccators’, large machines that used steam and beaters to reduce waste into
powder that could be sold as fertilizer, were one solution put forward in
response to late nineteenth century Melbourne’s sanitation problems. Despite
some initial enthusiasm for them, challenges with finding locations for
desiccators were soon dubbed the ‘Desiccator Difficulty’. The ‘Desiccator
Difficulty’ is one, all but forgotten, story of the fragmented governance
contributing to Melbourne’s delays in coordinating a metropolitan sewerage
system. This paper examines desiccators as a story with parallels in and legacies
for planning today. It focuses on the role of local property-based conflicts –
arguing these constituted emergent forms of planning, underscoring an
increasing urban separation and control later embodied in metropolitan
planning and infrastructure. Fragmented standoffs and bylaws also rationalized
spatial disparities – with suburban municipalities refusing to house desiccators,
nightsoil was sent to outer shires for decades. The paper argues Melbourne’s
socio-technical transition to metropolitan sewerage and governance occurred
not because water-borne technology was necessarily superior, but because
legal assumptions and property interests made alternatives difficult to maintain. Desiccators are examples of ‘muddling’ details that belie simple narratives of technological change, and which have implications for how wider urban environmental change occurs and is understood.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages23
JournalPlanning Perspectives
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Cite this

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title = "The ‘desiccator difficulty’: surprise, indignation and the local politics of planning for sanitary technology in nineteenth century Melbourne",
abstract = "‘Desiccators’, large machines that used steam and beaters to reduce waste intopowder that could be sold as fertilizer, were one solution put forward inresponse to late nineteenth century Melbourne’s sanitation problems. Despitesome initial enthusiasm for them, challenges with finding locations fordesiccators were soon dubbed the ‘Desiccator Difficulty’. The ‘DesiccatorDifficulty’ is one, all but forgotten, story of the fragmented governancecontributing to Melbourne’s delays in coordinating a metropolitan seweragesystem. This paper examines desiccators as a story with parallels in and legaciesfor planning today. It focuses on the role of local property-based conflicts –arguing these constituted emergent forms of planning, underscoring anincreasing urban separation and control later embodied in metropolitanplanning and infrastructure. Fragmented standoffs and bylaws also rationalizedspatial disparities – with suburban municipalities refusing to house desiccators,nightsoil was sent to outer shires for decades. The paper argues Melbourne’ssocio-technical transition to metropolitan sewerage and governance occurrednot because water-borne technology was necessarily superior, but becauselegal assumptions and property interests made alternatives difficult to maintain. Desiccators are examples of ‘muddling’ details that belie simple narratives of technological change, and which have implications for how wider urban environmental change occurs and is understood.",
author = "Taylor, {Elizabeth Jean}",
year = "2019",
doi = "10.1080/02665433.2019.1578252",
language = "English",
journal = "Planning Perspectives",
issn = "0266-5433",
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AB - ‘Desiccators’, large machines that used steam and beaters to reduce waste intopowder that could be sold as fertilizer, were one solution put forward inresponse to late nineteenth century Melbourne’s sanitation problems. Despitesome initial enthusiasm for them, challenges with finding locations fordesiccators were soon dubbed the ‘Desiccator Difficulty’. The ‘DesiccatorDifficulty’ is one, all but forgotten, story of the fragmented governancecontributing to Melbourne’s delays in coordinating a metropolitan seweragesystem. This paper examines desiccators as a story with parallels in and legaciesfor planning today. It focuses on the role of local property-based conflicts –arguing these constituted emergent forms of planning, underscoring anincreasing urban separation and control later embodied in metropolitanplanning and infrastructure. Fragmented standoffs and bylaws also rationalizedspatial disparities – with suburban municipalities refusing to house desiccators,nightsoil was sent to outer shires for decades. The paper argues Melbourne’ssocio-technical transition to metropolitan sewerage and governance occurrednot because water-borne technology was necessarily superior, but becauselegal assumptions and property interests made alternatives difficult to maintain. Desiccators are examples of ‘muddling’ details that belie simple narratives of technological change, and which have implications for how wider urban environmental change occurs and is understood.

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