September 22, 2023

Put up by Henry Smith

I’ve simply learn and vastly loved this wonderful new book by Joe Kearney and Tom Merrill concerning the shaping of the Chicago Lakefront. Typically this shaping is literal (or littoral?), as a result of Kearney and Merrill embed a extremely skilled and engagingly written historical past of the authorized controversies surrounding the Lakefront with a social and even geographical account. Human exercise impacted the precise Lakefront not simply by way of landfill, over which some controversies, generally even violent ones, have been fought, however even by way of efforts by numerous landowners to advertise accretion. Because the title displays, a central a part of the story is occupied by the general public belief doctrine and the well-known Illinois Central case of 1892, and Kearney and Merrill have completed an unbelievable detective job to root out the story of how the Lakefront Act of 1869 (granting submerged lakefront land to the railroad) was handed. They examine how a lot corruption was there, all the way down to who ate dinner with whom on the night time earlier than passage!

What is particularly spectacular is how the varied authorized controversies interacted with one another in a semi-contingent method. Whereas the authors keep a large lens—the characters concerned vary from Cap Streeter, to the Catholic Potawatomis, to Montgomery Ward and the well-heeled enterprise elite on Michigan Avenue—the story, from railroad yards to museums to parks, is finally one in all elites getting their method over different elites. Additionally they draw measured classes from this sweeping historical past about how the legislation is and isn’t essential and the way its final results on the frequent good are semi-predictable at greatest. It is a richly-textured historical past that can enchantment to authorized specialists and laypeople alike. And for anybody who has lived in Chicago, it should make one respect the town in new methods. That is excellent summer time studying, even when one can’t discover one’s technique to the attractive seashores on the Chicago Lakefront to do it.