Friday, October 14, 2011

The urban frontier

Enjoy this essay regarding the undeveloped land in Chicago's South Loop via the Chicago Reader.  It is a subject that has also fascinated me and it is good to get some historical perspective on the area.

Chicagoans I've brought here for the first time invariably find themselves amazed at what they see. Wide-eyed, a native will usually ask two questions: First, "What in hell is all this wilderness doing in the middle of Chicago?" Second, some variant of "Gosh, isn't this place marvelous?" 

The answer to the first question is complicated. The space was created during the 20s and 30s in two stages. From 1925 to 1937 the city vacated more than nine square blocks south of 16th Street between Wentworth and the Chicago River for Santa Fe rail yards and, at about the same time, passed an ordinance to straighten out the river where it snaked east between 10th Street and 18th, to push it a full block and a half west of its original location. Mid-century, the railroad business collapsed, the rails were removed, and a huge strip of wilderness was left to sprout in the middle of the city. On paper at least, this land has been carved up by developers, but they haven't built much yet because there are no utilities, phone wires, streets, or sewers on the land. 

As for the second question, the answer is yes. 

Do read the whole thing, and the ancillary essay the Brownlands.

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