Urban Green

Urban Green: Nature, Recreation, and the Working Class in Industrial Chicago

Colin Fisher
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Urban Green
    Book Description:

    In early twentieth-century America, affluent city-dwellers made a habit of venturing out of doors and vacationing in resorts and national parks. Yet the rich and the privileged were not the only ones who sought respite in nature. In this pathbreaking book, historian Colin Fisher demonstrates that working-class white immigrants and African Americans in rapidly industrializing Chicago also fled the urban environment during their scarce leisure time. If they had the means, they traveled to wilderness parks just past the city limits as well as to rural resorts in Wisconsin and Michigan. But lacking time and money, they most often sought out nature within the city itself--at urban parks and commercial groves, along the Lake Michigan shore, even in vacant lots. Chicagoans enjoyed a variety of outdoor recreational activities in these green spaces, and they used them to forge ethnic and working-class community. While narrating a crucial era in the history of Chicago's urban development, Fisher makes important interventions in debates about working-class leisure, the history of urban parks, environmental justice, the African American experience, immigration history, and the cultural history of nature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1997-2
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction The Lithuanian Worker and the Lake Michigan Dunes
    (pp. 1-6)

    On October 30, 1916, Stephen T. Mather, head of the just-created U.S. National Park Service, convened a hearing at the Chicago Federal Building on a proposal to create a new national park forty miles southeast of the city. The proposed reserve, the Sand Dunes National Park, featured massive wind-blown mounds of sand along the southern Lake Michigan shore. The Indiana dune area also included forests, marshes, oak savannas, prairies, and an extraordinarily rich diversity of plant life, so much so that the area became the outdoor laboratory of Henry Cowles, the American founder of plant ecology.¹

    Speakers at the hearing...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Where Chicagoans Found Nature An Expedition with Leonard Dubkin, Urban Ranger
    (pp. 7-37)

    During their summer vacations, tens of thousands of turn-of-the-century Chicagoans left their “artificial” city and traveled into what William Cronon calls the recreational hinterland: scenic areas of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan; and national parks, such as Yellowstone. In such faraway places, many felt that they could escape the work, exhaustion, illness, and artifice they associated with Chicago and come into contact with the restorative power of nature.¹

    Marginalized Chicagoans—Germans, Irish, Poles, African Americans, groups of working-class neighborhood youth, and trade unionists—also made this leisure-time exodus out of the city and back to nature, especially as transportation costs...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Immigrants in Nature’s Nation
    (pp. 38-63)

    U.S. environmental historians have largely ignored the American immigrant experience. In contrast, U.S. immigration historians have long been preoccupied with nature. This interest can clearly be seen in Oscar’s Handlin’s 1951 classic,The Uprooted, a seminal book that gave birth to the subfield of immigration history and established the centrality of immigration in America’s past. Handlin argued that European peasants regarded the natural world as magical and animate, and they included the land itself in their sense of community. But migration uprooted them from the soil that had long sustained them, breaking “the ties with nature.” Peasants formerly rooted in...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Turf Working-Class Ethnic Youth and Green Space
    (pp. 64-88)

    Studs Lonigan, the young Irish American protagonist of James T. Farrell’sStuds Lonigantrilogy, spends his leisure in a variety of South Side locations. He and his friends in the Fifty-eighth Street Gang visit Bathcellar’s Billard Parlor and Barber Shop, the Palm Theater (where Studs saw Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, and Mary Pickford), and Joseph’s Ice Cream Parlor. The gang gathers around the fireplug in front of the drug store on the corner of Fifty-eighth Street and Prairie. And once the boys are older, they visit speakeasies such as the Cannonball Inn, jazz clubs such as the Sunrise Café in...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Negro Speaks of Rivers Nature and Leisure in the Black Metropolis
    (pp. 89-113)

    In his weekly “Keep Healthy” column for theChicago Defender(the black paper of note for Chicago and much of the nation), health editor Dr. Wilber-force Williams frequently urged his African American readers to venture to the countryside surrounding Chicago and also to the city’s parks and beaches. For Dr. Williams, these landscapes were not just mere public spaces. They were places where one could escape exhausting work, pollution, and overly stimulating amusements in the seemingly artificial city and retreat back to nature. Take the family for a ten-cent trolley ride out to the woods and fields at the city...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Nature of May Day Green Space and Working-Class Chicago
    (pp. 114-143)

    On Saturday May 1, 1886, nearly one hundred thousand Chicago workers went on strike. They came from a variety of national backgrounds, industries, and skill levels, and their strike was so effective it paralyzed the rapidly industrializing city. As one reporter noted, “no smoke curled up from the tall chimneys of the factories and mills, and things had assumed a Sabbath-like appearance.” While soldiers, Pinkerton private police, and deputized citizens stationed on rooftops trained their Winchester rifles on the streets below and hundreds of National Guardsmen mustered in nearby armories, eighty thousand working-class people paraded through Chicago and attended numerous...

  10. Conclusion What We Can Learn from Chicago’s Cultures of Nature
    (pp. 144-150)

    The social history of nature in industrial Chicago offers several lessons. First, I hope my scholarship speaks to sociobiologists. As we have seen, nature was an object of desire for not just affluent Anglo Americans, but immigrants, minorities, and working-class people. Some might conclude that this amounts to further confirmation of the so-called biophilia hypothesis, the idea that yearning for nature is a hardwired product of human evolution. But just because desire for nature can cut across nation, ethnicity, race, sex, and class in interesting and surprising ways does not mean that biology was the fundamental driver in Chicago. Not...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 151-186)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-220)
  13. Index
    (pp. 221-232)