“Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding” (Chicago/Carl Sandburg)
Carl Sandburg published his poem Chicago in 1914. It was a perfect description of the city at that point in history. He would write several similar poems about his adopted city. The city has not changed much. Chicago is still Sandburg’s “City of big shoulders.”
Most of the smokestacks are gone, as well as most of the famed stockyards. There is no longer a haze over the city from industrial pollution. Various strides in technology and science changed how we produce and build. We can build faster and safer than in the past. Even in winter, as long as the weather is not arctic, construction goes on. Buildings go up.
If you live in Chicago, you cannot be nostalgic about places. Chicago is always razing, building, rebuilding, and repurposing structures.
Some jobs still require brawn and sweat. That will never change unless or until robots replace people doing dirty work. Construction, destruction, and new construction are cyclic in Chicago. Chicago is still a city of hard work and hard workers. They build, raze, and toil in grit and dust. Some jobs still create the grit and dust of the past. That will never change.
There is still a sign Chicago is a blue-collar construction city. Look at all the cranes reaching to the sky being used to erect tall buildings. Construction sites are all over the city, from small projects to high-rise skyscrapers. People with hard hats and tools abound.
There is noise. Clanging, crashing, causing, banging, whirring, sawing, and engines running, to name some. Those noises are the sound of money. Money for landowners, developers, architects, designers, construction material companies, tradesmen, and laborers.
Living in Chicago is living with change. We learn to shrug our shoulders and get used to it. Things change so fast that there is no time for nostalgia. Fortunately, there are photographs, leaving a historical record of the past. Preservationists fight many losing battles to keep buildings, small and large, from the wrecker’s ball.
Residential neighborhoods change on a smaller scale. Where single-family homes or small apartment buildings once stood, McMansions replace them. This is ongoing across the city. Neighborhoods gentrify and lose their personality to new inhabitants. Destruction, hole digging, foundation laying, and construction of multimillion-dollar homes are the norm in some neighborhoods. Sometimes life long residents are forced to move out because of economic changes, including higher and sometimes unaffordable property taxes.
Some call all this destruction and construction progress. Others call it greed. Yet, it is an ongoing fact of life in Chicago. Since the city was a trading post on a muddy swamp, people built, destroyed, and rebuilt. It was and is a never-ending process. Most of us shrug our shoulders and get used to it, except for road construction. That is something we never get used to it. It is more infuriating than unplowed streets in the winter.