Gray's Map of Chicago is a detailed portrait of the City of Chicago in 1873 when it was a rail hub for the United States and a burgeoning commercial center serving the entire United States. The Fire of Chicago in 1871 was catastrophic in terms of how much of the city burned, by some estimates a quarter of Chicago's residences and most of the business district. Nonetheless, the city rebuilt and rebounded quickly more experienced in the need for city planning and the laying out of a boulevard system of streets and public parks. But the most ambitious park design that was submitted to the competition organized by the Chicago Sanitary Commission was submitted by Frederick Law Olmsted just before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Tragically for the City of Chicago and its residents, this grand scheme to introduce to Chicago what Olmsted believed was the important positive effect of nature on human behaviour and well being that a well thought out, expansive park afforded, as was accomplished in Central Park, New York City, was set aside by city government. These plans were not taken off the shelf until Chicago's hosting of the World Columbian Exposition of 1893. That site is now know as Jackson Park, Washington Park and the Midway Plaisance. Finally in 1893, Chicago achieved in its new central park what Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux had in 1853 introduced into New York City, to allieve what was a heavily industrialized city with no public spaces and even less natural landscape.
This map reminds us of the long term benefits of visionary land use and open space planning in heavily industrialized cities and the wisdom of protecting that protected land from intrusions of new deelopment regardless of the putative benefits because access to public, natural open space and places for city residents to mingle are essential to health and to a healthy democracy.
The map of Chicago is both informative and decorative.