Urban Forestry/Evolution of the City

Evolution of the City and its Forests


During the hunter/gatherer phase of the development of man, there was no one place that was called home. There was only a home range. Trees were part of this range, providing fuel, tools and shelter. When people learned to grow and harvest crops, there was no need to spend hours searching for the next meal. It made sense to live near the fields and orchards. The first permanent shelters were built. We find that people sited these shelters on high points of land to maintain a lookout for danger, on the edge of a forest for shade and shelter from wind, and near water, a staple of life. Does this description sound like a realtor's advertisement -- great view, wooded, lake front property. As food production increased to a level that could support several families, villages formed, where people traded skills for the necessities of life.

These early villages were often built in a manner which shared walls. This reduced the amount of building materials, mitigated some local temperature extremes and the narrow passageways between houses were easily defended. [Kahun, Egypt][1] is an example of such a city. You will notice that this design left little room for gardens and landscaping.

The walls of the medieval city-states, provided protection for the homes, shops and other necessities that were crowded into them. Vegetation was removed for a distance around the cities so that attackers had less places to hide and fire upon the defenses. This strategy worked well until the advent of gunpowder and long range weapons made the walls themselves obsolete. As the photo in the [accompanying link][2] point out this was the start of urban sprawl.

It was no longer beneficial to live in a crowded city that could easily be targeted by an enemy. The more spread out people were, the better. With this move to the "suburbs", room became available for gardens and trees. The communion with nature which had existed in the early days, was not available again.

Cities such as Paris, France are good examples of this newer style city. [Streets became wider, park and recreational areas appeared.][3] This change was brought on for several reasons, besides just aesthetics. The wide streets, laid out like spokes of a wheel allowed for rapid deployment of troops to any part of the city. The promenades along the sides of the boulevards were the place for the Sunday driver, who wanted to slow down to better see the world and be seen, without tying up the through traffic of the city's commerce. There are still people who think that the big city, sprawl and all, is a better idea than having the valuable open spaces of our land cut up into individual lots and hobby farms. Their idea would be more closely modeled to part of Europe, where public lands are available for the people of the city just outside the city limits.

As the world had become flattened and shrunk by technology and the interaction of nations, the ability of a person to work from any place that has a phone line has lead to people bringing their influence into more remote regions of our country. Thomas L. Friedman in his book "The World is Flat"[4] documents the changes that have taken place over the past 50 years to level the playing field for all nations of the world. It also points out ways in which the best is yet to come for the people who are adaptable, like the forests of the world have been for centuries. The cities of the world are changing, the living habits of the population is changing and the challenges placed on all of our forests, by the people of the world, will change too.

Chicago: A Case Study


If we look at the development of the City of Chicago, through a selection of bibliographical materials collected by the Chicago Public Library[5], we see how this development happened in an American city. Following this description, we will look at what the various issues were that lead to its founding, placement and ultimate development into a large center of population and commerce.

In 1673, the French explorers, Marquette and Joliet first explored the area that would later become the city of Chicago. It was described as an area of swamps and streams. The area was occupied at that time by various Indian tribes. In 1696, Father Francois Pinet, a Jesuit missionary founded the Mission of the Guardian Angel on the site. The mission was abandoned in 1700 when the missionary efforts proved fruitless.

1718 map with Chicagou marked.

"Little is known about the Chicago area from 1700 until about 1779 when the pioneer settler of Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, an African American from Sainte-Domingue (Haiti), built the first permanent settlement at the mouth of the river just east of the present Michigan Avenue Bridge on the north bank."

"General Anthony Wayne had defeated the Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794, and the ensuing treaty, concluded August 10, 1795, opened most of the present State of Ohio for settlement and named certain tracts in the Indian country to the westward to be used by the United States for forts and portages. One of these was described as 'one piece of land six miles square, at the mouth of the Chicago River, emptying into the southwest end of Lake Michigan.'"

Chicago in 1820.

"It was not until 1803 that the War Department ordered the construction of a fort at the mouth of the river. Troops arrived in the area on August 17 and began building shelters and a stockade. A year later, Fort Dearborn, named in honor of the Secretary of War, was completed.

For some years the garrison was peaceful and traders flourished. However, the outbreak of the War of 1812 with Great Britain moved the government to order the evacuation of the fort. The threatening attitude of the Indians led the entire population of the settlement to follow the garrison. After leaving the fort, the evacuees were attacked by Indians and many of the party were massacred and the fort was destroyed. In 1816 the fort was rebuilt and was thereafter occupied by United States troops for twenty-one years. In 1837 it was abandoned but the fort stood until 1856."

"In 1829 the State Legislature appointed a commission to dig a canal connecting Chicago with the Mississippi River by way of the DesPlaines and Illinois rivers and to lay out towns, to sell lots, and to apply the proceeds to the construction of the canal. The canal commissioners employed James Thompson, a civil engineer, to lay out the original town.

1830 map of Chicago.

"On August 4, 1830, Thompson filed his survey and plat of the town of Chicago in Section 9, Township 39, Range 14, and thus Chicago received its first legal geographic location although the town was not incorporated until three years later."

"On August 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was incorporated with a population of 350. Incorporation was enabled by an act of the legislature, passed February 12, 1831, which provided that any community of over 150 inhabitants was authorized to incorporate as a town, with limits not to exceed one square mile in extent."

" The name "Chicago" derived from the Indians but it is not known which tribe named the town and many theories have been advanced to explain the origin of the name. One generally accepted is that the name comes from the Indian words for either wild onion or skunk, but some historians believe that the word Chicago denoted 'strong' or 'great.'"

"In 1822, by a grant from Congress, Illinois acquired the right of way across about one hundred miles of public lands from the head of Lake Michigan to LaSalle for canal purposes.

In 1827 Congress donated to the state a quantity of land "equal to one-half of five sections in width (about ninety feet), on each side of the canal, reserving each alternate section to the United States from one end of the canal to the other." The state legislature passed the canal bill in 1823.

On July 4, 1836, ground was broken at Lockport and at Bridgeport and construction was finished in April, 1848, at an entire expense of $6,170,226. The city council of Chicago donated $2,500,000 in 1865 to deepen the canal to increase the current and dispose of city sewage. Deepening was completed in 1871 and after the great fire of that same year the state legislature refunded the money to the city." The canal, the last great canal constructed in the US, ceased to be used in 1933. Much of it lies under the current Stevenson Expressway.[6]

"The first railroad constructed out of Chicago, the Galena and Chicago Union, was chartered January 16, 1836, to connect Chicago with the lead mines at Galena." " The railroad and the canal were vital in the development of Chicago and the population of the city tripled in the six years after the opening of the canal. Eventually other railroads were built and Chicago became the largest railroad center in the world."

"Structures in early Chicago were built directly upon the swampy ground a few feet above the lake level. Neither cellars nor sewers were possible. Vehicles were constantly mired in the muddy and unhealthful streets.

Chicago in 1853.

In 1852 a Drainage Commission was incorporated by the legislature. The city council in 1855 and 1856 adopted resolutions ordering that the grades throughout the city be raised to a height which would insure proper drainage. The new grade ordered the street levels and buildings lifted bodily to heights varying from four feet to seven feet above the low water level of the river as adopted by canal trustees in 1847. For street grading, mud and sand from the river bed, as well as any other materials that could be had, were used and the streets began to rise above the level of the country like levees along a river.

George M. Pullman, who had solved similar problems along the Erie Canal, engineered much of the lifting of early Chicago buildings. Buildings were jacked up and a foundation built under them without interrupting the occupancy of the building. By 1858 the city had succeeded in raising itself out of the mud. Early paving on the newly raised streets consisted first of planking; later macadam, wooden blocks, and paving stones were used."

Chicago in 1898.

" The Plan of Chicago was a work formally undertaken by the Merchants Club in 1906 and continued by the merged Commercial and Merchants Clubs, known as the Commercial Club of Chicago.

The Plan of Chicago proposed the moral up-building and physical beautification of Chicago, which included better living conditions for all people, reclaiming the lake front for the public, increasing the park areas and public playgrounds, and a scientific development of the arteries between the different sections of the city." " Daniel Hudson Burnham, world renowned architect and resident of Chicago, took charge of the details of the plan." "...the public accepted Burnham's proposals for the reclamation of the lake front and park lands, the creation of the green belt of forest preserves, and the straightening of the Chicago River."

In 1900, the Sanitary and Ship canal was completed to reverse the flow of the Chicago river and carry sewage to the Illinois river rather than Lake Michigan. This was the first of several canals constructed for this purpose.[7]

The above information contains quotes from a Chicago Public Library website.[8]

Chicago from space in 2018.

Looking back at this information on the development of Chicago, what do you notice as trends that lead to its current makeup? How did things like location, transportation, and commerce affect both Chicago and your hometown? What do you know about the town that you grew up in or are currently working in? How was it named? Who founded it? Why is it where it is? How do these factors affect our attitudes toward the city and nature? We will find that each of these questions will play a part in the formulation of your urban forestry management plan in the future.