Chicago Urbanology | Newberry

Chicago Urbanology

Cities are constantly changing. And they evade our best efforts to make complete portraits out of them. To understand cities, sometimes you need to hunt down traces of the past that are as fragmentary as our daily urban experiences.

Max Grinnell, aka the Urbanologist, is just the person to piece these fragments together. We shadowed Max as he researched Chicago’s Dill Pickle Club in our Special Collections Reading Room. Leafing through photos, handbills, and brochures, Max discusses the “unsanctioned space” that the bohemian group carved out for itself, and how the fate of the Dill Pickle and other urban vestiges speaks to a complicated cycle of rebirth and renewal in Chicago.

Chicago Urbanology by Shelf Life, from the Newberry Library

Show Notes

1:45 – Max discusses what urban studies means, and how we can understand cities through their many layers.

3:30 – How archived documents help us understand the history of a city, how it changes over time, and how we can flesh out different stories.

5:20 – Max discusses items from the Newberry’s Dill Pickle Archive, and how the club brought poets, bohemians, and professors together in buildings that had been repurposed for radical events.

8:40 – How did the Dill Pickle Club contribute to civil life in Chicago? It gave the city an informal, fringe, unsanctioned place for conversation about arts and culture.

10:30 – What records remain of the club? What types of activities do these records document?

12:40 – Since the club shut down, how has it been remembered?

16:30 –How did the Dill Pickle Club, and regular citizens, interact with and impact the infrastructure of the city around them? How is the infrastructure of a city ephemeral and subject to change?

18:55 – Cities change through “creative destruction.” The Illinois Central train station offers a case in point. What did it mean to the city and how was it used and seen? Proposals to demolish the station begged the question “What do you do with this hulking monstrosity?” [See Illinois Central Railroad Company Archives: IC:A 3.4]

22:35 – What do you do with the materials once you’ve demolished something like the Illinois Central train station? What is the afterlife of a demolition?

26:20 – How are structures remembered or repurposed?

30:20 – What is the connection between a group like the Dill Pickle Club and the way a city’s infrastructure changes over time? How do people repurpose the city through “creative destruction”?