Politics and City Life
How Chicago Invented the Suburbs
May 20, 2014
In a Q&A, author Elaine Lewinnek tells how Chicago developed in the wake of the Great Fire—and the way its growth influenced ideas on geography, racial divisions, and everything else that makes an American city what it is.
Cal-State Fullerton American Studies Professor Elaine Lewinnek began charting this history of early suburbia with an ad for a turn-of-the-century suburb, a subdivision at 47th and Ashland, and the title of her new Oxford University Press book shares the ad’s title: "The Working Man’s Reward: Chicago’s Early Suburbs and the Roots of American Sprawl."
"Where all was darkness, now is light: A home at $10 a month,” it read. But 47th was the southern boundary of the stockyards—a famously fetid part of the city suggesting neither reward nor light, nor the quiet existence we typically associate with suburbia.
From that ad, Lewinnek follows the complex development of the metropolis that invented real estate as we know it—and the development of the Chicago School of sociology, which sought in vain to apply schematic models of city growth to the sprawling region. That desire to simplify, codify, and divide shaped Chicagoland as it grew. And this way of thinking spread to other cities. Continue reading the story in Chicago magazine.