Urban Green: Nature, Recreation, and the Working Class in Industrial Chicago

By Colin Fisher | Go to book overview

Conclusion
What We Can Learn from Chicago’s
Cultures of Nature

We the people will work out our own destiny.
—Motto of Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, 1939

The social history of nature in industrial Chicago offers several lessons. First, I hope my scholarship speaks to sociobiologists. As we have seen, nature was an object of desire for not just affluent Anglo Americans, but immigrants, minorities, and working-class people. Some might conclude that this amounts to further confirmation of the so-called biophilia hypothesis, the idea that yearning for nature is a hardwired product of human evolution. But just because desire for nature can cut across nation, ethnicity, race, sex, and class in interesting and surprising ways does not mean that biology was the fundamental driver in Chicago. Not everyone in Chicago was in love with nature, but more to the point, history offers us a far more compelling explanation for subaltern nature romanticism than does genetics. As I hope I have made clear, my subjects’ desire for contact with nature was not innate but rather a reaction to unique historical circumstances: sudden immersion in a harsh, fast-paced, seemingly artificial urban environment, subjugation to new “unnatural” industrial work regimes, feelings of dislocation and homesickness born of migration, and exposure to transnational variants of romantic nationalism.1

Second, I hope Urban Green informs the work of social historians of leisure. As we have seen, immigrants, minorities, and working-class people did not see public parks as mere public or recreational spaces, as extensions of the city rather than its antipode. On the contrary, during their scarce leisure, large numbers of Chicagoans actually sought to escape the industrial city. They did this most often by venturing into urban parks, but when they had the means, they left the physical confines of the city and eagerly visited the Cook County Forest Preserves, the Indiana Dunes, and the lakes, prairies, and forests of Wisconsin and Michigan. They also vacationed at Turner Camp, Camp Sokol, Camp Chi, Idlewild, and the Chicago Federation of Labor’s Valmar Resort. In addition, they sent their

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