Wild in the City: Chicagoland's Urban Ecology

A Growing Need for Green Space

As the city grew, so did the environmental problems associated with urban areas in the 19th century. 

Industrial waste was dumped directly into the Chicago River and flowed out to Lake Michigan. Coal dust blackened the landscape. The entire flood-prone city had to be raised several feet in order to install a sewer system. Cholera and other diseases broke out frequently, a grim reality requiring a practical solution. In 1837, even before designating Chicago a city, the state of Illinois granted Chicago land just north of the town limits for use as a public cemetery. The new Chicago City Cemetery would span 120 acres of sandy, low-lying lakefront property from North Avenue to Webster Street and from Clark Street to the shore of Lake Michigan. The property’s native savanna landscape was covered in wild grasses and dotted with occasional trees, including our little bur oak sapling standing just a few dozen feet within the northeastern boundary of the new cemetery. As the city continued its rapid development, the location of the cemetery quickly proved controversial. The high water table and proximity to downtown prompted public health concerns. The crowded city choking on dust from coal furnaces and dirt roads craved open spaces benefiting its living residents. By 1859, the city had sold its last plot at the cemetery and the next year the Commissioners of Public Works to the Common Council designated the area "Lake Park.”

Essay continues with "Planned Parks Take Root">>

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