Monday, July 27, 2009

Sense of the City: History

(My bu-weekly column and Urban Coaster Article. Enjoy.)

History is liquid. It's always changing and, like air, tires to fill up the space surrounding it. On July 4th, I went to the Edgewater Historical society. Edgewater is the neighborhood north of Uptown, where I live. I love history. It's my minor in school. I think it's that adaptability that draws me in. You can look at the change over time, sure, but History itself also changes. I was taught in grade school that Christopher Columbus discovered America only to find out later that's not entirely true. He might have found it for Spain, but many other cultures knew about it long before, including the people who have been calling it home for thousands of years.

When it comes down to it everything is liquid. Given enough time, everything ebbs and flows like the lunar tide. Solid things we normally think of as unmovable change too. The earth moves. Land evolves, sometimes slowly sometimes very quick and violently. Erosion made the Grand Canyon, Volcanoes made the Hawaiian islands and If I stood outside my apartment before the 60's Lake Michigan would be about waist high.

That last example was man made. The north end of Lake Shore Drive was built up out of the Lake. Lake fill made the beaches and the foundations for the Sheridan Ave. condos. Before that houses were built right up on the beach. The beach made their backyard.

That all changed because the city wanted to continue the ideas started by the famous urban planer, Daniel Burnham. He is a bit of a hero in Chicago and we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the publication of his Plan of Chicago on July 4th. (A lot of history on that day.) He wanted the entire lake front to be free and open to the public. Burnham has been named in many a debate over the years and his goal is still not fully realized. There are about 4 miles of lake front that still is not public land and a group of people are trying to change that. A noble plan but probably not the best economically sound idea right now. (But that's just my middle of the road opinion.)

I recently went home to the farm to visit family. Things are changing there, too. Family came in from out of town and I showed them around Monticello. I was surprised to see so many different stores around the square. Even in small towns, which always feel slower, change. The slight changes aren't obvious until you are absent for a while.

People have always been afraid of change. It's something that has been passed down through the generations from our prehistoric mothers and fathers. Anything new for them was a gamble. A new fruit could be delicious or it could be poison, so it's best not to mess with it. Now it's much less dangerous and going against chance has brought us so many good things. It's time we brushed off the fear and nostalgia that is at the heart of our inability to change.

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