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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I just started a thread on the US subforum where are asked what NYC would have been like without its Manhattan island location. I'd like to ask a similiar, albeit less dramatic, question about Chicago.

WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE IMPLICATIONS FOR CHICAGO IF THE CHICAGO RIVER HAD NOT WORKED WITH LAKE MICHIGAN TO CREATE A PHYSICALLY DEFINED CITY CORE?

In other words, what would Chicago been like without the peninsula-like Loop? No, I'm not suggesting the Chicago River would have gone away; I'm only saying it would not have set off the downtown area the way it does.

Without a "set apart" Loop, would Chicago have needed to reach for the sky the way it did, developing the first skyscraper...and many more afterwards? Would our Loop streets be the canyons they are today? Would streets from Wacker to Congress and from Michigan to Wacker have the importance they do today if the downtown region was allowed to spread out?

How much did georgraphy and topography contribute to Chicago's incredible centralization?
 

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edsg25 said:
I just started a thread on the US subforum where are asked what NYC would have been like without its Manhattan island location. I'd like to ask a similiar, albeit less dramatic, question about Chicago.

WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE IMPLICATIONS FOR CHICAGO IF THE CHICAGO RIVER HAD NOT WORKED WITH LAKE MICHIGAN TO CREATE A PHYSICALLY DEFINED CITY CORE?

In other words, what would Chicago been like without the peninsula-like Loop? No, I'm not suggesting the Chicago River would have gone away; I'm only saying it would not have set off the downtown area the way it does.

Without a "set apart" Loop, would Chicago have needed to reach for the sky the way it did, developing the first skyscraper...and many more afterwards? Would our Loop streets be the canyons they are today? Would streets from Wacker to Congress and from Michigan to Wacker have the importance they do today if the downtown region was allowed to spread out?

How much did georgraphy and topography contribute to Chicago's incredible centralization?
Without the lake, Chicago would probably be a little bitty agriculture centered burg not that much different from Bloomington or Decater. The location on the Lake made Chicago a natural center for the shipping of materials from the midwest to the east by way of the great lakes and the Erie canal. This made it a logical railroad hub later. Chicago's sucess is due in large part to its geography. I really doubt the alpha city could have developed without access to water transportation.
 

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The dif. would have been either very minor if at all or it would have meant that the city wouldn’t have existed at all!

The river only gave the downtown area a sense of place. It wouldn’t have in any strong enough way provided enough of a separation to really influence the growth or lack there of "outside" it. Any growth that we see today "outside" of it, for the most part, would have been their either way, it was a matter of expansion. There were many bridges built from the get go providing nearly seamless connectivity. The only difference we might notice would have been the level of density in the loop itself. If there were no rivers, and as a result no sense of location(a need to feel centralized within the river boundaries), the developers would have spread the "loop" area out a lot more leaving us with a less dense loop today spread over a larger landscape while still being central.

Another thing you might want to factor is that the city might not have even been located here in the first place if there was no river and Milwaukee or St. Louis would have been the largest metropolitan area in the Midwest. The river was a key determinant in the downtowns and actually the entire cities location.
 

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Back when they were first building the Loop, to the south was industrial land, north of the river was warehouses, and to the west more warehouses, I believe. If the river had not been there, or at least the way it was, then perhaps the original downtown would have been spread out more, and thus there would have been little need for skyscrapers (except for ego, of course). Back before we had the seemingly eternal bridges we now have, crossing the river must have been a much bigger deal. So then, the river served as a logical boundary for downtown. (that is, until the bridges improved. then the river became more of a "cute" thing for boat cruises and such, than anything else.)
 

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UrbanSophist said:
Back when they were first building the Loop, to the south was industrial land, north of the river was warehouses, and to the west more warehouses, I believe. If the river had not been there, or at least the way it was, then perhaps the original downtown would have been spread out more, and thus there would have been little need for skyscrapers (except for ego, of course). Back before we had the seemingly eternal bridges we now have, crossing the river must have been a much bigger deal. So then, the river served as a logical boundary for downtown. (that is, until the bridges improved. then the river became more of a "cute" thing for boat cruises and such, than anything else.)
While I agree that the downtown area would have been a little more spread out, I don’t think the river would have influenced height. The city, in my opinion, would have still had its height but it would have been a tad less dense. The bridges were built almost immediately leaving the area as well connected as if the river were not even there. It only influenced the central area minorly. (Assuming Chicago would even be around had there not been a river.) And to prove my theory all you need to do is look at any major city that does not have a river going thought its central business district, they all built skyscrapers! So it wasn’t the river that caused them to build taller. So why does any city build taller in its central business district? Well since taller means more workspace in a smaller area, that = to more available resources closer by helping businesses to grow by feeding off one another. By clustering as much of the available resources as close together as possible, businessmen, businesses, consumers, and the city as a whole benefit.
 

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svs said:
Without the lake, Chicago would probably be a little bitty agriculture centered burg not that much different from Bloomington or Decater. The location on the Lake made Chicago a natural center for the shipping of materials from the midwest to the east by way of the great lakes and the Erie canal. This made it a logical railroad hub later. Chicago's sucess is due in large part to its geography. I really doubt the alpha city could have developed without access to water transportation.
The Economist published a splendid piece on Chicago's growth; its thrust, if memory serves, was that it was developed by highly civic minded and even ruthless entrepreneurs little influenced by this place's geography or topography; instead of location, location, location its rise is credited more to ambition, ambition, ambtion.
 

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Frumie said:
The Economist published a splendid piece on Chicago's growth; its thrust, if memory serves, was that it was developed by highly civic minded and even ruthless entrepreneurs little influenced by this place's geography or topography; instead of location, location, location its rise is credited more to ambition, ambition, ambtion.
\
There is a reason the ruthless entrepreneurs picked the Chicago area to develop. It didn't happen randomly. Otherwise the biggest city in the midwest could have been Cairo.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
personally i think the configuration of lake and river downtown had a huge effect on chicago's growth and development. the core of the city was set apart from the rest of it. all of us realize that the chicago river is narrow, but that did not make it easy to functionally bridge it. it took until the 1920's for the michigan avenue bridge to open and, with it, the conversion of Pine St. to N. Michigan Avenue and all the growth and development that followed on the mag mile afterwards.

The Loop was (is) surrounded on three sides by water; on the south was r.r. tracks and yards. it may not have been manhattan, but it certainly was island like.

there is no question in my mind that the development of streets like state, clark, lasalle, randolph, madison, and jackson within the Loop was based on its set-apart loction.
 

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I'm wondering if there wasn't some type of psychological aspect to this as well. That is, wanting to build in the Loop because it is on the same side of the river. People feel less isolated and more connected.

Also, there is the convenience factor. How difficult was it really to cross the river in the late 1800's? If it was a pain in the ass, this would further encourage people to centralize in the Loop.
 

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Well, for one thing, the Loop wouldn't be as dense and have as much skyscraper as today... and Chicago will be unknown in the world...
 
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