Part 2 of Martha’s Children begins, and on city boundaries

Martha’s Children takes a sharp turn as part 2 begins with chapter 13, “He sleeps by day, more than the wildcat.” And like a wildcat, Sherlock Kammen dislikes being bothered, unless it’s for a darned good reason. Being turned into a vampire by Martha didn’t qualify. What will Sherlock make of Ned’s proposal for vampire cops?

As you can see, I’m behind in the redesign of the blog, which is a pity, since I wanted it to coincide with the beginning of part 2. The header will definitely change soon. As for the new background, it will be explained next week.

I’ve been talking so much about Chicago in the 1960s and about Chicago’s Bronzeville. With chapter 13, we’ve switched to Chicago’s North Side. And here we need a bit of history and politics to explain just what Sherlock Kammen was doing in a North Side suburb.

One of the key features about local governments in the United States is that they are all creatures of the states, which can create them, change them, and abolish them as they like. In Illinois, like many Midwestern states, its territory was originally divided up into counties, which provided a more local level of government. (There are currently 102 counties in Illinois, most a few hundred square miles (or about 1,000 square kilometers) in size.) And counties may be subdivided into various smaller districts, called townships, villages, towns, and cities. The exact distinction between all these types of municipalities doesn’t matter much to us here. Suffice it to say that cities are generally the largest in population and most powerful in terms of what their governments can do.

Chicago city seal

Chicago city seal

Chicago is a city, has been since 1837. Like many cities in the United States, it began as a relatively small place in terms of area, a mere 10 square miles. But starting in 1851, Chicago started annexing neighboring lands, sometimes including entire townships. Again, this was not unusual for American cities of that era. The rising industrial age made cities richer and more populous and caused them to spread out. The communities at the edge of the cities were composed of farmers and poorer city folk who couldn’t afford to live in the central part of the city. Consequently, major cities had a bigger tax base and could offer better services than the surrounding suburban communities. Sometimes the inhabitants of outlying areas would vote to be annexed to the city to get those better services. Other times the cities would use their political clout to get the state legislature to pass a law annexing adjacent territory to the city. By 1890, after annexing three townships the previous year, Chicago had grown to 169 square miles. (See map of annexations here.)

And then the pace of annexation slowed, again as it did for many other cities in the East and Midwest. What had changed? The development of streetcars, trains, and eventually the automobile made it possible to work in the city without living there. Rich people, and even people who just had high-paying jobs, began moving out to the countryside and living there. The suburbs became wealthier on average than the central city. They became able to provide better services than the central city. They developed more clout in the state legislature. They no longer wanted to be annexed to the central city, and had enough political pull to prevent it. After 1915, it was extraordinary when Chicago could annex any adjacent land.

The City of Chicago and other communities in Cook County.

The City of Chicago and other communities in Cook County.

In the legal sense, Chicago is a city that hasn’t expanded much since 1915. But there’s another meaning to the term “city:” land that’s built up, that has a high population density, the urban area. In that sense, Chicago expanded as a city in 1889 way beyond its urban area. But since 1915, the urban area has spread far beyond the legal boundaries of the City of Chicago. Chicago’s not unique in this. New York City reached its current legal limits in 1898, Boston in 1911, Philadelphia as far back as 1854.

As a result, most major metropolitan areas in the East and Midwest consist of a central city, which includes what is often a decaying industrial district and slums, surrounded by an urban belt which may or may not be legally part of the central city. Beyond the urban zone are suburban communities, which are almost certainly not part of the central city. In terms of their economies and population, the central city, surrounding urban belt, and suburbs are all one metropolitan area. But legally, the metropolitan area is made up of many jurisdictions, which need not and often do not work together. This is one of the reasons why there was a busing controversy in the North in the 1970s: the city/suburb divide had become not just one of class, but also one of race, with the suburbs being whiter and richer than the cities. Courts mandated busing to exchange students between the cities and suburbs to achieve racial integration for the metropolitan regions as a whole, regardless of legal boundaries. The suburban communities resented having to send their kids into the city, when one of the major advantages of living in the suburbs was supposed to be better schools there.

Why this matters to Sherlock Kammen comes down to one point: the Chicago Police Department has jurisdiction over the legal City of Chicago, but not over the suburban communities beyond Chicago’s city limits. In settling down in a North Side suburb, Kammen hasn’t just picked a rich suburb. He has also put himself legally out of reach of the Chicago Police Department, making it harder for them to find and kill him.


About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
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10 Responses to Part 2 of Martha’s Children begins, and on city boundaries

  1. L. Palmer says:

    That’s some interesting background on city development. Los Angeles seems to have developed differently, because most of the sprawling area is part of Los Angeles the city, with sub-sections to differentiate where you are. Every so often, a section tries to become its own city.
    Also, plaid is always an exciting background.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Los Angeles kept expanding longer than cities in the East because of one critical resource: water. The city developed water resources in the Sierras (Mono Lake ring a bell?) beyond its existing needs, and then used those resources to bludgeon other communities into joining the city. (This is a central part of the plot of the movie “Chinatown.”) LA was helped by state laws which made it easy to annex territory from other communities. The port of San Pedro is an exception; it was annexed simply to give the city a port.

      Not every community within the region was susceptible to “water bribery.” Most of the cities which survived as independent entities had other sources of money, whether from Hollywood or oil, that they did not want to share with LA.

  2. danagpeleg1 says:

    The division between North and South always fascinates me. It’s on the globe itself – the Northern hemisphere seems generally richer that the Southern one. It is the case in many cities too, including my own beloved Tel Aviv, where the relatively new (1950s to this day, some parts were built in the last decade) Northern neighborhoods comprise the upper middle class (around the university) to filthy rich parts (the most expensive real estate in Israel, fancy skyscrapers and such) of town. The Southern part is an eyesore, although it has its own neglected, soot-covered beauty. It has lower class Jewish Mizrahi population, Palestinians (Israeli citizens) in Jaffa, and Sudanese and Aretrean refugees, as well as immigrant workers from almost anywhere in the third world. Some places in it were comapred to Gaza city. Then there’s the buzzing city center, which is becoming more and more expensive to live in. But this is a different story… or maybe not.
    This is a typical look of a street in Southern tel Aviv:
    And a typical look of a street in the Northern part:

    • Brian Bixby says:

      There’s often a historical reason why wealth divided along north/south lines, though I acknowledge the reasons can sometimes be obscure, or seem insignificant compared to the results. In American cities, it is usually the result of a chain migration: someone rich moves out of the city to a suburb, and other rich people followed. The poor have their own chain migrations, but they’re usually driven by job availability. I’d have to do some digging to figure out exactly what happened in Chicago, but I strongly suspect that the location of the stockyards and slaughterhouses in the southern parts of the city drove the wealthy northward.

  3. danagpeleg1 says:

    Stockyards and slaughterhouses seem like a pretty good reason to move away, if you can… In Tel Aviv I suspect it could be the proximity to Palestinian Jaffa.

  4. crimsonprose says:

    I had wondered by what criteria a city is a city in America. So I thank you for explaining that, and the comment of Los Angeles. To we anachronistic Brits, a city is a city because it has a cathedral. No cathedral, no city. As the bishop tried to tell the actress, size doesn’t matter. From the centre of Wells (smallest city in England) one can hear – and smell – the cows in the adjacent pastures, while post-war development has turned many a borough into super-city size. Well. And I like the piccie at the top. 🙂 Will you at some point explain the symbols, other than ‘magic’?

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Larger population size and stronger form of local government are the normal marks of a city, CP, but states vary greatly in the details. Most Americans probably couldn’t explain the details in their own home state, let alone any other. And we all tend to use “city” in the legal sense and as a general description of an urban area without making it clear which we mean, unless it specifically matters and isn’t clear from context to another native.

      I’d heard of St. David’s in Wales, but missed Wells, for some reason. I’m more familiar with rotten boroughs, having visited Dunwich back in 1993.

      Oh, the picture at the top? Since the new banner isn’t ready, had to recycle the original banner I used. The design is a rendition of the Haitian voodoo veve for Legba, the loa of crossroads/gateways. It was used in a Halloween ceremony by members of the Intergalactic House of Fruitcakes, an Otisian group, held in the main cemetery in the town of Otis, Massachusetts back around 1998 or so. The two people you can barely see are St. What’s-Her-Face and the Pope Jephe I.

      • crimsonprose says:

        I’d like to think you were kidding me: House of Fruitcakes, and St. What’s-Her-Face, but I’ve a feeling you’re dead serious. Yea, we Brits are too serious. 🙂

        Hmm, Dunwich. Yea, I visited said place when in my teens. I picked up a human thigh-bone from the beach, had a deep unhealed sword or axe cut. Where the low sandy cliff was eroding the graveyard above was not-so-slowly emptying its contents. Day of Judgement come early for them. I added the bone to my collection of skulls. And no, I’m not kidding.

        • Brian Bixby says:

          I’ll have to ask the saint and pope if I can reproduce the whole of the photograph here. I was never officially an Otisian, though I was granted the title of “Brian the Navigator” for finding Brow’s Beach, Brow being the Otisian god of mindless violence and destruction.

          Your visit to Dunwich was more exciting than mine. Mine just led to having to call for a repair truck when my rental car broke down not long after I left.

          And I’d like to read a blog account of the skull collection, just so long as you don’t reveal anything to get yourself charged as a modern-day Burke and Hare.

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