Encyclopedia ofChicago
MAPS : MAPS CREATED BY ENCYCLOPEDIA STAFF
MAPS : MAPS CREATED BY ENCYCLOPEDIA STAFF
C
Chicago's Evolving Economic Geography

 

 

 

Chicago's Evolving Economic Geography

Chicago has experienced three fundamental phases of economic development, reflected in the geography of its changing land use. Before the Civil War Chicago sprung up as a highly successful merchants' town at the base of Lake Michigan, its future assured by the opening of the Illinois & Michigan Canal and the first railroad tracks laid westward. The commercial heart of the town developed along the Chicago River, which offered easy transshipment between lake vessels, canal boats, and train cars. Wholesale and shipping businesses crowded South Water Street, financial services located on Lake, Dearborn and Randolph streets, and lumber dealers lined the North and South Branches of the river. Between the Civil War and the Second World War Chicago developed into a manufacturing city of staggering proportions, and industry of all types spread across the urban area. Most plants clung to the waterways and the proliferating railroads which crisscrossed the city without hindrance. By the turn of the twentieth century, the cheap, marshy, and lakeshore lands of the South Side attracted a disproportionate amount of heavy industry. For all its diversity, Chicago's manufacturing pattern was dense, urban-oriented, and tied firmly to the central city. In the last half of the twentieth century, as the region experienced significant amounts of industrial decentralization and outright loss, Chicago's metropolitan economy turned markedly to service provision and restructuring for the Information Age. This is aptly reflected by 1990 in the highly bifurcated pattern of office space: a vast concentration of commercial offices in the Loop business district, and a widespread scatter of office parks and commercial space in the suburbs, tied closely to the expressway network as it had evolved by then. The geography of office development is the obverse of the old industrial pattern.