Blair Kamin’s collection of columns (see related story) nicely timed Daley’s exit with an analysis of Chicago’s architecture in the context of the city’s financial, cultural and political climate. But what drove those influences that affected the architecture of the last decade?
That’s the question DePaul political science professor Larry Bennett answers in a similarly well-timed summing-up of the city, “The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism.” Bennett places Daley, and the city as a whole, into a narrative of a “self-conscious” city whose populace constantly looks back on its history in constructing its image of its present identity. Bennett whizzes through the history of the first, second and third cities—and he’s not talking about New York or Los Angeles. Bennett argues that Chicago can be defined by three distinct eras: from the Civil War to the Depression, from 1950 to 1990, and today.
The analysis of the city’s three stages happens to align nicely with Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. Think of the infant, whose predominating psychosocial crisis is trust versus mistrust—the natives versus the immigrants during the city’s industrialization. Then the toddler, who struggles to find autonomy amongst feelings of shame and doubt—Richard J. Daley versus declining populations and race problems. If we’re the third city now, we’re preschool-aged, struggling with the question, “Am I good or am I bad?”
Bennett confronts this question by drilling into the city’s history from a literary perspective, a political perspective, a neighborhood perspective and an urban-design perspective. The text whizzes in and out of history, with each section heading back to the first city and bringing us up to speed before we change lenses and repeat the process. Although the lack of an overarching chronology is somewhat disorienting, it ultimately results in a multi-dimensional image of the city and a balanced portrait of Richard M. Daley.
Applauded for successes like the revitalization of the Loop and criticized for his neglect of most of the city beyond the downtown area, Bennett describes Mayor Daley’s role in the latest iteration of Chicago as “more nimbly reactive than revolutionary.” Daley, he argues, seized upon worldwide trends, like the return of the privileged to the city center and the increased interest in global cities, rather than commandeering the changes himself. Regardless of Daley’s role in those transformations, they were mostly positive, yielding a more appealing downtown for everyone and an interest in ensuring that public housing doesn’t once again become a blight on the city. But Bennett also argues that the unique value Chicago puts on its many neighborhoods is an easy way of recasting inequity as diversity, and delves into the issues of the new crop of public housing, arguing they substitute too-dense for not-dense-enough and will prevent the development of bustling neighborhood streetscapes.
Bennett’s analysis of the third city and the mayor that shepherded it is even-keeled and well-defended because it draws upon many perspectives and a long history. While the diversity of approaches and the wide chronology the text spans can make it feel rushed, his argument is carefully crafted and lands us at the perfect place to consider which mayoral candidate can best answer the question Bennett asks in his final chapter—“whether an organic creativity… or a variant of Chicagoans’ longstanding proclivity for self-consciousness will be the principal grounding for efforts to fill in the details of the Third City in-the-making.” (Ella Christoph)
“The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism”
By Larry Bennett
University of Chicago Press, 248 pages, $22.50