Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Who will write suburban history, and how? I was walking, lost, through a far West Chicago suburb last night. The place, the aura of it, the quietness of it, not only lacks the city's noise and density, but its sense of place, its sense of past. Walk down State Street, Halsted, Washington in downtown Chicago, and history swipes you over the head. All the settlers and wokers, politicians and professionals and poor who have shared those streets over the years. And the history is well-documented, or at least within reach of a researcher. But how to write about a place that exists for its lack of past, its newness, its remoteness from everything, which looks exactly like any other suburb across the nation? Covering the city this semester I've learned some of the stories behind buildings, what they used to be and who used to live and work in them. And I've learned why Chicago is distinct from other places. But in the burbs, there is no history, no distinctiveness, no So-and-so Slept Here, no ghosts walking the streets. And with its cookie cutter architecture and temporary feel, none likely will ever walk, no buildings are likely to stand for decades and be re-used more readily than wiped out. I am interested in Unexpected Chicagoland, but beyond that, I wonder how history will change when its subject has no soul.

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