The Dubai Poop Snake

In 2009 a youtube video shot by a car passenger in Dubai went viral and started an internet meme.

There’s a LOT of swearing on the soundtrack. If that’s too much, you could mute the sound. The video itself is well worth watching.

CDBSmithy2.

The video’s introduction is quite clear about what is the story behind the poop snake. “Where does all the poop go in Dubai? Millions of people and no sewers, just holding tanks and poop trucks”.

The idea that Dubai’s planners neglected to put in a sewage system for the the World’s tallest building (and perhaps for the whole of Dubai City) was iresistable and soon became an internet meme. It was also iresistable to bloggers with an anti-Muslim or racial agenda. For them, lack of a sewage system was proof of backwardness and incompetence.

skyscraper skyline in Dubai City
Nepenthes

Kate Ascher, former executive vice president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and author of The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper, explained the reality behind the poop snake in an interview with KALW Radio.

“Well, you know, you have to remember that a place like Dubai really emerged in the last 50 years. It was a sleepy, you know, Bedouin town half a century ago. And what you do is when you bring in the world’s, you know, most sophisticated architects and engineers, you can literally build anything, including a building of 140 or 150 stories. But designing a municipal network of sewage treatment is, in some ways, more complex - certainly requires more money and more time to make it happen. So one just seemed to jump ahead of the other.”

Since the poop snake video was made, the Dubai sewage system has done a lot of catching up. New plants have been built, existing ones have been expanded and many buildings have been connected.

I think the poop snake meme story is really interesting. The video graphically shows how much a city poops. The assumption behind the meme, that compared with building skyscrapers, creating a sewage system isn’t a big deal, reveals how little most of us realise the scale and complexity of the infrastructure that takes our poop away.

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