Waste and the City

Waste and the City:The Crisis of Sanitation and the Right to Citylife

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Sanitation is fundamental to urban public life and health. We need Sanitation for All.

In an age of pandemics the relationship between the health of the city and good sanitation has never been more important. Waste and the City is a call to action on one of modern urban life's most neglected issues: sanitation infrastructure. The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the devastating consequences of unequal access to sanitation in cities across the globe. At this critical moment in global public health, Colin McFarlane makes the urgent case for Sanitation for All.

The book outlines the worldwide sanitation crisis and offers a vision for a renewed, equitable investment in sanitation that democratises and socialises the modern city. Adopting Henri Lefebvre's concept of 'the right to the city', it uses the notion of 'citylife' to reframe the discourse on sanitation from a narrowly-defined policy discussion to a question of democratic right to public life and health. In doing so, the book shows that sanitation is an urbanizing force whose importance extends beyond hygiene to the very foundation of urban social life.


  • In this brilliant book bristling with ideas and evidence from around the Global South, Colin McFarlane maps the world's sanitation crisis as well as a way out of it through a manifesto of rights to the city that connects up vernacular strategies of making infrastructure, a public right to wellbeing, and city efforts to improve systems. The book is full of hope and possibility without ever losing sight of the sanitation catastrophe we face.'

    Ash Amin, Emeritus 1931 Chair of Geography, Cambridge University
  • Interesting, insightful, sometimes surprising, beautifully written, challenges us to look at sanitation (and lack of it) in new ways.

    David Satterthwaite, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)
  • In this immensely well written and accessible book, Colin McFarlane draws on over two decades of his research on sanitation, setting out his argument as to why access to toilets is fundamental not only to reducing poverty and inequality but also to what he refers to as citylife, or the right to a liveable urban life. His superb command of his subject starts with the fleshy, messy feminist understanding of sanitation as a bodily act and of the millions of people living through the crisis of sanitation, at the centre of which lies the social reproductive labour of women and girls. From people he moves comprehensively across sanitation's material infrastructures (the 'things' of sanitation) and lives (the urban ecologies of human and non-human animals and microbes and the politics of the body), to protest (human waste is political!) and allocation (who gets what sanitation resources, where). It is this networked view of sanitation, as far more than a simple technical or policy issue, that underpins the democratic right to citylife. This is a brilliantly incisive book, setting a global agenda for all of us who care about cities, poverty and inequality. For those urban researchers and activists for whom the urban sanitation crisis is not yet on that agenda it will be after reading this book.

    Linda Peake, Director, The City Institute, York University, Toronto