Chicagoland

Here are to be found articles about Chicago history and politics, about notable events and natural systems, much about its buildings, politics and urban planning, profiles, and reviews of books about the city as published in Chicago's Reader, Chicago Times, Chicago Enterprise, Inland Architect, Illinois Issues, and Illinois Times. 

 

I moved to the Chicago area (Oak Park) in 1988. I had gotten to know the area slightly in the late 1960s—a girl—but while the girl left, the city stayed behind, and I got to know it better.

 

Much better. I made new friends, my mind was exercised by new issues, and I discovered in Oak Park a new home, the sort of city Springfield might have turned into had it been populated by Oak Parkers.

I did a little business explaining Chicago to Downstate and vice versa, and continued my work for national magazines, but mainly I wrote about Chicago places and issues for Chicago readers. Some of my very best work was done there, a secret life that remained invisible to my Illinois Times readers, where I wrote about Springfield places and issues for Springfield readers.

 

The Chicago Reader was thriving by explaining the world to North Side cosmopolites—the big-city cousin to Illinois Times, which meant mainly that its larger reader base allowed it to pay its writers more.

In a few years I’d made a name for myself and was honored to be made contributing editor at two worthy magazines and a regular at two others. Specifically, my feature articles, reviews, and commentaries were published in the Reader for twenty years beginning in 1978. I was a contributing editor of the bimonthly magazine Chicago Times from 1989 until 1990  and a regular contributor of features and reviews and essays (the last appearing in the column, "Politics and Policy") in Chicago Enterprise magazine, the  monthly of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

 

Architecture loomed large in every sense in Chicago. I was made contributing editor of Inland Architect magazine from 1992 until its sale in 1994, and was a frequent contributor in the 1990s to the "Cityscape" department of the Reader. In 2008 I edited and wrote introductory material for The Plan of Chicago@100, a collection of essays about the work of Daniel H, Burnham, published to commemorate the centennial of Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago.

I was overworked and loved it. I rented space above a drug store, a one-room office  with a frosted glass door and a sink in the corner where I would wash up after being worked over by editors. There was deli across the street, a copy and fax shop downstairs, and up the street an Ace Hardware and a Mobil station that sold chocolate long johns. I'd never been so productive or so happy and would never be again.

And the city itself? Too many of the Downstaters I know regard the city with varying proportions of dread, distaste, confusion, and awe. "Big, noisy," ugly, scary"—these words pretty much exhaust the vocabulary with which casual talk about the place is conducted where I came from.

 

As I noted above, explaining Chicago to the rest of the state became a recurring assignment. But first I had to understand it better myself. The Chicago that shimmers in the minds of most travelers derives from the pages of The Jungle, movies about Al Capone, and highlights footage of Michael Jordan. That none of these emblematic Chicagos is complete, or even representative, is to be expected. The guards at Buckingham Palace are hardly typical of today’s London, any more than the Central Park mugger or the wisecracking cab driver is of Manhattan. But what, then, is “Chicago”?

The usual approach is to depict Chicago as a king on a throne, with its suburbs, collectively, as a retinue of servants attending to the city’s various needs. It is not a wholly misleading image; no single suburban city rivals Chicago in size, even after several decades of city shrinkage and suburban growth. However, the suburbs are a powerful and growing presence in Illinois’s economy, its politics, and social life. Chicagoland’s suburbs, taken all by themselves, would be the nation's fourth largest metropolitan area, and cumulatively they surpass the city in population.

That shift merely restored the region’s demographic status quo ante. As late as 1860 or so Chicago counted nearly 110,000 residents, but the combined population in the rest of Cook, Du Page, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties was nearly a third bigger. The industrialization of the late 1800s caused the big city to metastasize, of course, and for a few decades it outsized its collected neighbors, but only, it should be noted, by gobbling up dozens of them through annexation. From the 1940s through the ‘80s, each census showed the City of Chicago shrinking while the total suburban population went from peak to peak, at a pace that varied only with the vigor of the region’s economy. The result was that by 2000, roughly two of every three citizens of Chicagoland did not live in the city.

Describing “Chicago” thus demands that one treat the city and its suburbs as parts of a whole. But what constitutes that whole? Urban planners often delineate a region by its people’s common attachment to a government entity. There is no lack of regional governments in greater Chicago—planning authorities, sewage treatment agencies, mental health regions have been around for decades. None are coterminous however, so that every Chicagoland citizen lives in a slightly different place, jurisdictionally defined. And if one lives in 20 regions at once, one doesn’t really live in any one region. Rather, people here identify civic life in terms defined by the neighborhood, the interest group, the ethnic group, the church, not government boundary-makers.

“Collar counties” is handy journalistic shorthand for the six counties that have constituted suburban Chicago in the modern era, but no one says they live in “the collar.” In any event Chicago’s collar is being stretched. Regional economists who use commuting patterns to define the boundaries of a region consider today’s Chicago metropolitan area to include not six counties but twelve—eight northeastern Illinois counties, Kenosha County in Wisconsin, and three counties in northwest Indiana. The “Lower Lake Michigan Megalopolis” that the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago takes within its purview is even larger; it includes not only northeast Illinois and northwest Indiana but no fewer than seven Wisconsin counties, including the entire Milwaukee metropolitan area. This is regionalism on the continental rather than the state scale, and thus is useless both to tourists as a means of framing the experience of the place and to a writer attempting to write about it.

“Greater Chicago” smacks of Chamber of Commerce puffery. “Chicago metropolitan area” is as cumbersome to pronounce as it is to govern. “The Chicago metropolis” is only three syllables more efficient. “Northeast Illinois” is coming into wider usage for sheer lack of an alternative; it is a flexible tarp that can be stretched to fit over an unwieldy geographic pile but it lacks poetry and conciseness.

“Chicagoland” is preferred by media and marketers, who thus perpetuate a term popularized by Col. Robert McCormick, the late publisher of the Tribune, who with characteristic arrogance defined it as the territory within reach of his newspaper’s delivery system. “Chicagoland” has enough of the taste of theme park in it that it curdles in the mouths of many people as they say it. However, the term now enjoys an academic imprimatur. Historian Ann Durkin Keating needed a title for her book about the region’s development history, and by adopting it made it respectable in polite company. 

Note: Unlike many Chicagoans, I consider inner-ring suburbs to be a part of the city, which is why you will find here a few pieces about Oak Park and other western suburbs.   

 

To make things easier to find, I moved links to pieces on a few recurring topics to their own pages.

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This Space Available
Public spaces in Chicago and cities around the world

Reader  January 29, 1993

Edifice Complex for Architecture

Designing buildings for fun and not much profit

Crain's Chicago Business  June 14, 1993

Chicago Resurrection

The city's late 20th century rebirth explained

Illinois Issues November 1995

Arcadia at the End of the El Lines

Chicagoland’s parks and green spaces

See Illinois (unpublished)  2008

Remembering Harold
The life and career of Chicago's first black mayor

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  December 3, 1992

Green Streets

Chicago tries to learn to love trees

Reader  January 19, 1990

Family feud: Chicago vs. Downstate

Pots and Kettles

Downstate-Chicago enmity explained

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  June 5, 1981

Chicagoland, Chicagoland 
The rise of the Chicago city-state
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  March 17, 2011

Making Noises in Civic Class
Splitting Cook County from Illinois is an old bad idea 
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  ​December 15, 2011

Kumabaya Around the Campfire

Jim Edgar tries to bridge the Chicago-Downstate divide

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times July 5, 2012

Introduction

A guide to Illinois history, and Illinois, described

See Illinois (unpublished)  June 2003

Feeling Like a Foreigner

Taking the anthropological view in Chicago

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  May 3, 1990

In Illinois But Not of It

Chicago, meet Illinois

See Illinois (unpublished)  2006

The Boys in the Pits

Bare-knuckled capitalism on LaSalle Street

Reader  July 5, 1985

Nature's Metropolis

Chicago's economic and environmental past, synthesized

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  December 11, 1991

Where Has All the Flora Gone?
Cataloging and protecting Illinois's endangered plants

Reader April 15, 1988

Cosmopolites

The nature of city living explored

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  January 12, 1991

Chicago's Women Take Charge of Change

The female new dawn has been breaking in Illinois for a century

Chicago Enterprise  May 1992

Homage to the Barons Who Built Chicago

Great buildings need great developers

Chicago Enterprise  November 1992

Who's Afraid of Paula Wolff?
The University of Illinois Chicago plays find the leader

Reader  May 17, 1991

How Chicago Became the Gateway to the West

A review of Cronon’s Nature's Metropolis

Chicago Enterprise  October 1991

The Pleasures of Walking

Getting around in Chicago’s Loop

Chicago Enterprise  October 1989

Local Boys Make Good
Why Sears became America’s corner store

Reader  November 13, 1987

Making a More Perfect City

Utopianism in Chicago

See Illinois (unpublished) 2003

World Class

Can Chicago become a global city—again?

Illinois Issues  February 1997

Education Outside the Classroom

Cultural institutions in Chicago

See Illinois (unpublished) 2004

House Hunting
Meditations on the suburban dream, Chicago-style

Reader March 29, 1991

Flood of Memories
Reflections on Chicago’s Great Leak of 1992

Reader  April 9, 1993

Politics of Necessity
Mayor Richard J. Daley reconsidered

Reader  January 16, 1998

13 Mayors of Chicago
What a show. What a cast.

Reader  July 17, 1987

Brick By Brick

Lake Michigan mugs the well-off, who complain

“Prejudices” Illinois Times  March 19, 1987

A Pedestrian Argument

Chicagoans should walk. Why don’t they?

Chicago Times  July/August 1989

Cafe au Lait

Marshal Field’s fading glory

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  December 7, 1990

Feeling Like a Foreigner

Taking the anthropological view in Chicago

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  May 3, 1990

Managing the Glob

City-ness comes unbidden to DuPage County

Chicago Enterprise  January 1989

Beyond Parochialism in Economic Planning

It's every town for itself in this fight

“Politics & Policy”  Chicago Enterprise  June 1991

A Global Welcome Mat

Chicago merges tourism with economic development

Chicago Enterprise  May 1990

Bunker Metropolis

Private government can deliver good service—for a price

Chicago Enterprise  September/October 1993

What Chicago Would Look Like

Union Station dresses up for company

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 23, 1993

Singing True

Chicago, Mike Royko, and Henry Mencken

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  March 4, 1982

How High Can You Go?
The bidding is underway for Amazon’s new headquarters

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times November 16, 2017

Still Not Detroit

Chicago, considered

See Illinois (unpublished) 2008

Ready for Reform

Innovative social action in Chicago

See Illinois (unpublished) 2004

Spiritual Endeavors

The godly struggles for Chicago’s soul

See Illinois (unpublished) 2008

Urbs in Horto

Chicagoland’s natural landscapes

See Illinois (unpublished) 2004

Big City of Small Towns

The saga of Chicago’s neighborhoods

See Illinois  (unpublished)  2008

“Marseille of our Mediterranean”

The Chicago ethnic, considered

See Illinois  (unpublished)  2008

Exiles

Are we not all immigrants from our pasts?

“Prejudices” Illinois Times  April 16, 1987

Putting the Fix in for Reform

Improving politics and government in Chicago

See Illinois (unpublished) 2007

That Toddlin' Town

Second city, maybe, but it's the only Chicago

See Illinois (unpublished)  2006

A Rich Pageant of Chicanery

Government and politics in Chicagoland

See Illinois (unpublished) 2007

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SITES

OF

INTEREST

John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago

 

The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois

 

Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives

 

Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum

 

The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

Chicagology

I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)

BOOKS

 OF INTEREST

Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 

Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.

Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 

Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at CornLatitudes@outlook.com

All material copyright © by James Krohe Jr. unless otherwise indicated