Wild in the City: Chicagoland's Urban Ecology

Civic Societies Form

Parallel to the growth of the Chicago Park system, Chicago residents interested in the natural world began to organize their efforts. Local naturalists and amateur researchers founded the Chicago Academy of Sciences in 1857. Originally a private group of pioneering citizen-scientists, the Academy opened its specimen collections to the public in 1869, becoming the city’s first public museum and adding a level of cultural caché to the growing metropolis. After the Great Fire of 1871 destroyed their original location and decimated the collection, the Academy energetically rebuilt along with the rest of the city. In 1894 a stately and elegant new museum dedicated to the study of the natural world was opened on the western edge of Lincoln Park at Clark and Armitage Streets, serving as the Academy’s home and public exhibit space for the next 100 years.  
The 1890s witnessed an era of widespread cultural growth for Chicago. At the time of the Academy's museum dedication, the city was basking in the glow of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The tremendously successful fair brought three-quarters of a million visitors to the vibrant city, eager to showcase its impressive rebuilding following the Great Fire. In addition to the Columbian Exposition and the Academy of Sciences’ impressive new edifice, the Chicago Horticultural Society was formed during this decade. Its founding group of civic leaders aimed to make the city’s somewhat aspirational motto “Urbs in Horto,” or “City in a Garden,” a reality.
The Society embraced the City Beautiful movement popularized by the Exposition’s spectacular White City with its monumental architecture built around serene lagoons, canals, and gardens. The movement aspired to create a better quality of life for residents through enlightened urban planning, an endeavor that would transcend socioeconomic lines. The City Beautiful Movement favored Beaux-Arts and Neoclassical architecture, a style exemplified by the Chicago Academy of Sciences' building situated on the edge of Lincoln Park, just down the road from our bur oak tree. 

Chicago and the surrounding area approached the end of the 19th century with not only a host of problems associated with the extraordinary pace of its urbanization, but also with an emerging network of public greenspaces and civic societies interested in environmental concerns.




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