#818: Tour de Chicago – Lakefront Encroachment

July 19th, 2017

If all went according to plan, the wife and I are currently backpacking through Marseilles following the Tour de France and you’ve already taken bike routes through the history of newspapers and the LGBTQ community.

Now let’s talk about the lake.

Chicago exists because of water, with the early 1830s land boom that created the city a byproduct of a plan to dig a canal connecting the Chicago River to the Illinois River and, via that, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River systems.

As far back as 1836, a year before the town of Chicago became the city of Chicago, the lakefront was deemed “Public Ground—Forever Open, Clear and Free of any Buildings, or Other Obstruction Whatever.”

The rules protecting this land have changed over the years — the Field Museum wouldn’t be able to build on the lake by today’s laws, as George Lucas can attest. But that guiding principle of a public lakefront is why Chicago has open fields, beaches and bike paths instead of private beaches divvied between condo developments like Miami, or skyscrapers all the way up to the water like Manhattan.

This tour isn’t about the rules; it’s about the people who pushed their buildings further and further into parkland, “transforming the breathing spot for the poor into a showground of the educated rich” as Montgomery Ward put it in the early 1900s.

I’ve written about some of these places before, and there you can find links to stories about how people use this lake. Other spots on the tour I left silent for you to wonder and maybe research how this got there.

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You are currently reading #818: Tour de Chicago – Lakefront Encroachment by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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