This essay examines the twentieth-century water infrastructure of Phoenix, Arizona. An extensive network of canals transformed the desert into farmland, then farmland into suburban sprawl. This infrastructure can be studied as a vital force, one whose arrival so contradicted preexisting geology and ecology that it produced unexpected effects and admitted uninvited visitors. Historical documentation of the canals’ transition from agricultural to suburban infrastructure reveals complex human-nature interactions mediated by engineered waters. This brief account argues for the potential of infrastructural history as a form of vibrant postnatural history, one which challenges the notion of genius loci on sites where terrestrial definitions of region have been ruptured.
Keywords: landscape, urbanism and planning, 1900–1999, environmental systems, infrastructure.