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Chicago: 180 years of land occupation

October 02, 2009

 Chicago: 180 years of land occupation

When in 1830 the land of present-day Chicago was only made up of woods, prairies, marshland and rivers, nobody could have imagined that in the year 2010 lack of space would already be an important issue. This city, which owes its name to the Potowatami word Checaugau (wild onion), is divided into two neighbourhoods clearly differentiated by their density of land use: the financial centre or Loop and the residential neighbourhoods.

The first of these is characterized by high-rise skyscrapers which have a high population density during normal working hours and which become practically deserted when the city's business activity comes to an end. This land use means that despite the large number of high-rise buildings existing the average population density in the financial centre is no greater than 4,680 inhabitants per square kilometre.

The residential neighbourhoods, on the other hand, are made up of single-family detached homes. However the population density is practically the same as that which can be found in the Loop (an average of 5,000 inhabitants per square kilometre). The land is divided into plots occupied by single families and the distance between buildings is minimal, such that the land saturation, as far as building is concerned, is very high.

This division of the city according to use means that its inhabitants have to travel long distances every day to get to work, mainly using their private vehicles, which has led to Chicago having the most congested traffic in the country. The different social groups state that some of the causes of this saturation are the lack of a plan for land use promoting open spaces and taking greater advantage of roads and railroad tracks; apart from the incentives received by local authorities to concentrate the business centres and move them away from the residential neighbourhoods.

What is in no doubt is that the present situation is the clear consequence of a process which has lasted nearly 180 years, as can be seen in the following graphics taken from the exhibition  Revealing Chicago: An Aerial Portrait, by Terry Evans.

Photos taken by Javier Mozas y Pablo Mozas, available under request.

Before the expansion towards the West: In 1830, the land occupied by Chicago at present was made up mainly of prairies and woods. Human land occupation was reduced to native and settler colonies

A changing landscape: 70 years later, the prairies have become fields for farming crops for food and the city (in red) already had 1,700,000 inhabitants. This is the fastest development in history

Suburban explosion: Chicago begins to grow upwards, in the form of skyscrapers, and widthways, through residential neighbourhoods made up of single-family detached homes

Land under pressure: It took 50 years for the city to increase its extension by 165%. However, the population grew by 48%. For the first time the creation of open urban spaces (in light green) can be observed

The imminent threat: This is the aspect which Chicago will have in the year 2030, if it continues to develop along the same lines

View from Downtown towards the North of Chicago

View from Downtown towards the North-East

View from Downtown towards the North-East, with the John Hancock Center towards the North

View from Downtown towards the South, with the Chicago River

Aerial view towards the West, with one of the city's many motorway junctions



 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Lake Shore Drive Apartments. Chicago
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Lake Shore Drive Apartments. Chicago
 Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (S.O.M.). John Hancock Center. Chicago
Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (S.O.M.). John Hancock Center. Chicago
Studio Gang Architects. Aqua Tower. Chicago
Studio Gang Architects. Aqua Tower. Chicago


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