Lab | Log

Flush Out Your System with a Movie Break

Alright, it’s movie time, folks. We’ve been pretty serious here on the Lab|log for a while, and you loyal readers deserve a bit of a break—but an educational one, of course.

The Lab has spent three weeks now crunching the architectural and social systems of the city with ZUS. Stay tuned here on the blog for a full recap of the lessons they learned during their time in New York.

Next week we’ll say goodbye to them and transition to the next Lab Team member, Olatunbosun Obayomi, a microbiologist from Lagos, Nigeria, who will look at a completely different urban system—the sewers.

In his research, Olatunbosun focuses on the conversion of human waste and wastewater into energy, among other things (read his bio here).

This means two things. The first is that there will be far more dirty (ha!) jokes and puns flying around the blog for a while.

The second is that in order to understand how a wastewater system can be converted for energy production or other uses, we need to understand how it works in the first place.

Luckily, we’re not the first ones ever to have become interested in this, which makes your homework super simple, and fun.

First up, check out this fascinating series about New York City’s sewer system, Secrets of New York—The Sewers. I know “fascinating” and “sewer system” aren’t often found in the same sentence, but I promise you that as this five-part series takes you through the history of New York’s first sewer system, on a tour of the North River Treatment Plant, and more, you will be far more interested than you ever thought you could be in where your toilet water goes. I’ll warn you, though: this series has a Class A rating in cheese factor, complete with sexy host in full-length black vinyl, so prepare yourself well for it.

Then join Steve Duncan (who, according to the film’s credits, is an urban historian) as he ventures on a DIY excursion into New York’s underground systems, including the Canal Street sewage lines, in his short documentary Undercity.

I hold no responsibility for anyone who tries to replicate his adventure after watching this.

And if you need a reminder of why we’re talking about this in the first place, why it matters that we find a way to fix these out-of-date systems, check out this short but poignant video interview with a group of fifth graders who probably have a better understanding of the enormity of our water crisis than most adults five times their age.

Oh, and for pure entertainment’s sake, do check out the video at the top of this post. You’ll still learn something about how the system works, but mostly you’ll get to see the Blue Man Group drum on New York City sewage tanks!