Sunday 8 September 2013

Chicago: The Infinite Beauty of Decay

Once a small trading post on Lake Michigan, Chicago grew to be the fifth largest city in the world by 1900. New immigrants, particularly the Irish, , Germans and Italians, were attracted to the new city in the 1800's and early 1900's.  After the First World War, these immigrants were joined by Blacks from the Deep South as part of the Great Migration.

Victorian home on Cook Ave. courtesy 

It was no surprise that immigrants were attracted to Chicago which boasted a series of firsts:  the first skyscraper, the first refrigerated railcar, the first mail order retailing system, the first car radio, the first television remote control, the first self sustained nuclear reaction and one of the first highways, Route 66. 

St. Stephen's Church courtesy 

With progress came drawbacks.  The Great Fire of 1871 wiped out tens of thousands of buildings in the metropolis.  But Chicagoans rebuilt their city.  The year 1884 saw the threat of a waterborne illness to wipe out much of the population; yet city officials rerouted the Chicago River, along with the sewage, away from Lake Michigan and into the Mississippi River.  The 1930's saw the rise of the Mob and the battle to eliminate Prohibition.  But through the struggles, Chicago's population continued to bloom, peaking at 3.6 million in 1950, second only to New York City.  

Chicago Stock Exchange courtesy

By the 1960's, Chicago would experience a slow but steady decline in population.  The textile mills ceased operation.  The meat-packing plants started to close.  The steel mills shut down.  Some chalked it up to the all-powerful unions.  Even the convention goers looked elsewhere, choosing Las Vegas and Orlando over the Windy City.  

The former glory of a Chicago hotel courtesy

White flight also played a role in Chicago's shrinking size.  Today, only 9% of the public school population is White.  The rest have either moved to the suburbs or to other cities.  Today, experts estimate the population of the city to be at 2.6 million.  The city is a shadow of its former self.

Abandonned Chicago School courtesy

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