The super garbage suctioning devices... I think. Credit: Fast Trash.

The super garbage suctioning devices... I think. Credit: Fast Trash.

I’m excited about garbage. Reallly. (Shoutout to VW.) The place we call home, our quirky New York locale, is being recognized for its garbage removal system. It actually reminds me of the sort of local pride one experiences when you come from a smaller country — sort of like South Africans bragging about inventing the automatic pool cleaner and coastal engineering marvels the dolosse or wave-breaking constructions, or Quebecois pride in manufacturing the Bombardier subway cars, or… you get the idea. But back to Roosevelt Island and its trash transit system.

Below is a cut and paste from the public relations material for the exhibition, “FAST TRASH: Roosevelt Island‘s Pneumatic Tubes and the Future of Cities,” an exhibition about Roosevelt Island’s highly effective yet little-known underground garbage collection system curated by Juliette Spertus. I hope to take Calvin to see the exhibit — we’re frequent RIVAA gallery visitors, and the little guy has a particular passion for garbage trucks and recycling centres.

On Roosevelt Island—located in the East River between Manhattan and Queens—there are no garbage bags on the sidewalks and no garbage trucks. Instead, garbage is collected from its 14,000 inhabitants via a retro-futuristic system of underground tubes. A computer empties the trash chutes several times a day, whisking away the waste of the Island’s residential towers, and zooming it through underground pipes to a transfer station at one end of the island. There it is compacted, sealed into containers, and loaded on a truck to join the rest of New York City’s waste.

Part infrastructure portrait, part urban history, the exhibition argues that service infrastructure plays a crucial role in cities and is even capable of inspiring the collective imagination. Roosevelt Island was designed in the late 1960s as a brand-new community where technology and urban design would allow New Yorkers of all incomes to enjoy the best of Manhattan without the nuisance of cars—or trash. Often perceived as Manhattan’s quirky doppelganger, the exhibition reveals Roosevelt Island to also be a groundbreaking case study for the future, offering valuable insights into a community built around progressive policies and technologies.

The exhibition explores the history of Roosevelt Island’s pneumatic garbage system by tracing key events in the Island’s development alongside milestones in New York City garbage collection and alternative transport technologies. Brochures, advertisements, and other ephemera from Roosevelt Island’s archives illustrate the themes and the urban preoccupations of the 1970s. Photographs of the engineers and technicians at work at Roosevelt Island’s facility and video interviews create a portrait of one of the world’s early pneumatic garbage systems, as it operates today.

The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) and students from Roosevelt Island’s Child’s School (TCS) collaboratively produced visual interpretations of the complex system to help Roosevelt Island residents better understand how their garbage is collected.

Cities around the world, from Stockholm to Seoul, are taking note of this technology because it takes trucks off the roads, easing congestion and lowering emissions. By exploring Roosevelt Island’s approach to infrastructure from a variety of angles we gain insight into how cities choose infrastructure, and what this means for a sustainable urban future.

Presented and curated by Juliette Spertus with Project Projects, the exhibition was produced with the support of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), Envac, the Swedish manufacturer of Roosevelt Island’s system, and CUP.

April 22 – May 23, 2010
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 22, 6 – 9pm
RIVAA Gallery, 527 Main Street on Roosevelt Island
Phone: 212-308-6630
Gallery hours: Wednesday, Friday, 6 – 9pm; Saturday, Sunday, 11– 5pm.
Admission is FREE.
Please visit for additional gallery hours and calendar of events.



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