When John Wright suggested in 1849 that the city of Chicago try to better live up to its motto “Urbs in Horto”–“City in a Garden”–he offered a plan. Instead of letting speculators gobble up the land piece by piece, the city should develop park land and build “pleasure drives” that connected these green spaces. In Wright’s vision, the boulevards would encircle the city with a rich strip of green. Chicagoans would find respite there from the noise, chaos, and pollution of the city.
Politics, legal issues, and the fire of the century kept Chicago from enacting Wright’s precise vision, but ultimately a horseshoe of boulevards connected the many beautiful parks that became known as the “Emerald Necklace.” Beautiful homes, the city’s showpieces, sprang up along these thoroughfares and many of the remain today, cared for like precious family heirlooms.
As the city’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the years, the preservation of boulevards and parks has not always remained a high priority. But starting in the 1990s, the flight to the suburbs began to slow as middle and upper-class residents realized the many benefits the city had to offer. Parks and the boulevards that connect them again became a priority. In fact, they may be the key to surviving an ever-warming century. Commuting by bike on the boulevards is more popular than ever, and anything we can do to cut down on traffic is a win for everyone! One planning firm has even proposed a system that would use greener boulevards to treat wastewater and protect the Great Lakes, which contains 95% of the fresh water used by the United States.
So next time you get rear-ended on Lake Shore Drive, take heart–you are part of history!