Chicago’s new geography, illustrated | Bleader

Monday, July 3, 2006

Chicago’s new geography, illustrated

Posted By on 07.03.06 at 08:53 AM

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Is it legal to say that you love a new book when all you've done so far is look at the pictures? That’s my story with Northwestern University geographer John C. Hudson’s Chicago: A Geography of a City and Its Region (University of Chicago Press). There’s a lot of geographical theory inside; here's a short summary of Hudson's account of how, since the 1950s, racism has tilted the region's economy away from the south and toward the northwest.  But even without having tasted that, no cartographilic Chicagoan could resist this volume on the basis of the maps alone.

One that surprised me: City planners have long since fallen out of love with highway construction, so we aren’t usually treated to uberarchitect Daniel Burnham’s “General Diagram of Exterior Highways Encircling and Radiating from the City. Hudson does point out that any resemblance between today’s expressway system and Burnham’s 97-year-old vision is “rather superficial.” Burnham expected Chicago to be fed from nearby farms and didn’t foresee the scope of suburban development.

But four circumferential expressways!  The first one appears to run from Uptown to Austin to South Shore. The next, Winnetka-Des Plaines-Summit-Hegewisch. The third, Waukegan-Elgin-Joliet-Gary.  And the fourth, even farther out than the Hastert Highway and as yet unbuilt, runs Kenosha-Woodstock-De Kalb-Morris-Kankakee-La Porte.

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