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Chicago: The Hydraulic City and - page 9 / 12

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This might seem a little overwrought, or it might be a way of inducing Federal expenditures by shifting from commercial concerns which the United States government at that time felt was the responsibility of the states, to the needs of defense which was a Federal obligation. However, whatever the motives, the argument is based upon a hydraulic view of Chicago, the Midwest and the Great Lakes, and land defenses are not sufficient to protect this fluid frontier.

In 1900 George Stone, the Secretary of the Chicago Board of Trade, wrote the Secretary of War pleading for Federal assistance in constructing a deep waterway from Chicago to the Mississippi.

“A ship waterway, free from foreign control, from the Gulf of Mexico to the chain of Great Lakes, and hence to the Atlantic Ocean was the plan for the internal transportation and national defense foreshadowed by the genius of Albert Gallatin....The National Government should without delay enter upon this great work, the commercial and military importance of which could hardly be exaggerated.”32

This plea again emphasizes the defense needs in inland water transportation development. The deep waterway on the Illinois Waterway would be built, started by the State of Illinois in the 1920s, and finished in 1933 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The only tangible connection to defense needs was its use during World War II to ship boats and submarines made on Lake Michigan down to New Orleans.

Andre Guillerme in his work The Age of Water traces the cycle of urban development and decline in Northern France. Development reached a peak in the Middle Ages with the use of water technology for power, sanitation and defense. However, in the 17th and 18th centuries this system was viewed as basically polluted and a threat to health. As a result, the water networks were buried, water went underground as underground sewers were built and canals were filled. All of this was designed to make the water invisible. 33

Currently in Chicago, the hydraulic city is expending billions to build a Deep Tunnel project. These tunnels, 150-300 feet below ground, will carry off storm water runoff. In addition, old quarries will be used to store water until it can be treated.

Guillerme in his work says the burying of the water networks was the result of urban decay, particularly of the cloth-producing northern hydraulic cities. But, of course, Chicago was never a purely hydraulic city, even though its hydraulic development required and still requires constant environmental modifications as a result of the City’s relationship to Lake Michigan and the inland waterways to the west and south of its corporate limits.

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