March 27, 2009
On Chicago: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Yes, Chicago. First in violence, deepest in dirt, lawless, unlovely, ill-smelling, irreverent, new; an overgrown gawk of a - village, the "tough" among cities, a spectacle for the nation. I give Chicago no quarter and Chicago asks for none.
"Good," they cheer, when you find fault; "give us the gaff. We deserve it and it does us good." They do deserve it. Lying low beside a great lake of pure, cold water, the city has neither enough nor good enough water. With the ingenuity and will to turn their sewer, the Chicago River, and make it run backwards and upwards out of the Lake, the city cannot solve the smoke nuisance. With resources for a magnificent system of public parking, it is too poor to pave and clean the streets. They can balance high buildings on rafts floating in mud, but they can't quench the stench of the stockyards. The enterprise which carried through a World's Fair to a world's triumph is satisfied with two thousand five hundred policemen for two million inhabitants and one hundred and ninety-six square miles of territory, a force so insufficient (and inefficient) that it cannot protect itself, to say
nothing of handling mobs, riotous strikers, and the rest of that lawlessness which disgraces Chicago.
Lincoln Steffens (1866-1936)
The Shame of the Cities, 1904
"Chicago: Half Free and Fighting On"
The Shame of the Cities: Steffens on Urban Blight
Plunkitt’s Plain Talk: Satirizing Steffens
Photo Credit: Wikipedia (Lincoln Steffens)