A couple visited a fatberg to celebrate their anniversary

Your minibreak starts here. Image: Thomas R Machnitzki at Wikimedia Commons.

Just as New Yorkers secretly love their sewer alligators, others have a place in their hearts for even the most disgusting of sewer oddities.  Fatbergs, in case you haven’t had the pleasure, are enormous, congealed lumps of cooking fat and other unmentionables that turn up in city sewers from time to time. Here’s one now:

Image: Rene Walter via Flickr, republished under Creative Commons

And, it turns out, they have groupies: yesterday, The Guardian reported that a British couple were such big fans of the UK’s largest, 15 tonne fatberg, that they took a trip to visit it. To celebrate.

Thames Water, amazingly, were happy for the pair to take the trip – they already had a BBC film crew plumbing the depths that day, so the couple, Dan MacIntyre and Dunya Kalantery, just tagged along. “It was unexpectedly pleasant down there,” MacIntyre told the paper.

“Then, says Kalantery, ‘we saw the fat, which was pretty great.’ Sadly, there were no giant clumps, thanks to the maintenance by sewer workers, but there was enough for the grease enthusiasts to get excited about. It was congealed around the pipes – the result of cooking fat and oil being poured down drains that solidifies around items such as wet wipes and sanitary towels that have been flushed (they shouldn't be, but increasingly are), creating blockages. This causes sewage to back up, which can flood homes and streets.

“Was the fat as fascinating as she had hoped? ‘Yes, completely.’ She touched it, she smelled it (‘like solidified burnt oil’); she wanted to take some home as a souvenir, but it was impractical.”

The 15 tonne fatberg was lurking beneath the streets of Kingston-upon-Thames, where a family home will currently set you back somewhere in the region of £700,000. It was discovered by Thames Water workers in July 2014 and was, at the time, the size of a bus; unfortunately for fatberg fans, it's since been removed, leaving nothing but some goo round the pipes.

Smaller fatbergs are apparently rife in the London sewer system, thanks to the nasty way cooking fat washed down sinks tends to congeal and harden as it cools. They require regular “flushing” by sewer workers to keep the pipes moving. In 2010, according to Londonist, "a team led by chief flusher Danny Brackley removed enough fat to fill nine double-decker buses, digging the stuff away from the walls using shovels". 

You can read the rest of the Guardian’s (frankly, pretty brilliant) report on the official best anniversary ever here.

 
 
 
 

Coming soon: CityMetric will relaunch as City Monitor, a new publication dedicated to the future of cities

Coming soon!

Later this month, CityMetric will be relaunching with an entirely new look and identity, as well as an expanded editorial mission. We’ll become City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications coming soon from New Statesman Media Group. We can’t wait to share the new website with you, but in the meantime, here’s what CityMetric readers should know about what to expect from this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is going to be a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission will be to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we’ll cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing, and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications this fall, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

City Monitor will go live later this month. In the meantime, please visit citymonitor.ai to sign up for our forthcoming email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our forthcoming digs. You can already follow City Monitor on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, sign up or keep following our existing account, which will switch over to our new name shortly. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

In the meantime, stay tuned, and thank you from all of us for being a loyal CityMetric reader. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.