• 304 pages
  • 6 x 9
  • 7 figures, 13 maps
  • Price: $32.95
  • EAN: 9781439915493
  • Publication: Mar 2018
  • Price: $99.50
  • EAN: 9781439915486
  • Publication: Mar 2018
  • Price: $32.95
  • EAN: 9781439915509
  • Publication: Mar 2018

Sinking Chicago

Climate Change and the Remaking of a Flood-Prone Environment

Harold L. Platt

In Sinking Chicago, Harold Platt shows how people responded to climate change in one American city over a hundred-and-fifty-year period. During a long dry spell before 1945, city residents lost sight of the connections between land use, flood control, and water quality. Then, a combination of suburban sprawl and a wet period of extreme weather events created damaging runoff surges that sank Chicago and contaminated drinking supplies with raw sewage.

Chicagoans had to learn how to remake a city built on a prairie wetland. They organized a grassroots movement to protect the six river watersheds in the semi-sacred forest preserves from being turned into open sewers, like the Chicago River. The politics of outdoor recreation clashed with the politics of water management. Platt charts a growing constituency of citizens who fought a corrupt political machine to reclaim the region’s waterways and Lake Michigan as a single eco-system. Environmentalists contested policymakers’ heroic, big-technology approaches with small-scale solutions for a flood-prone environment. Sinking Chicago lays out a roadmap to future planning outcomes.


"Sinking Chicago is a wonderful book by a master historian. It is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the relationship between the problematic history of Chicago's river and lake and the public officials whose dubious and ethically challenged choices throughout the city's history have determined—sometimes for better but often for worse—the conditions in which so many people live. Deeply researched, full of revelatory detail and compelling characters and stories, the book is powerfully argued and clearly written. It reaffirms and deepens Harold Platt's reputation as a preeminent analyst of the fundamental conditions of urban modernity."
Carl Smith, Franklyn Bliss Snyder Professor of English and American Studies and Professor of History Emeritus, Northwestern University, and author of City Water, City Life: Water and the Infrastructure of Ideas in Urbanizing Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago

"Harold Platt's Sinking Chicago traces the city's environmental impact across more than a century of change. It is a monumental analysis that places Chicago in the middle of the vast industrial and postindustrial transformation of American life. This book describes the significance of both water and climate in the life of the capital of America's heartland. The maps and graphs alone make this an important study. Platt's interpretation of Chicago's ecology is a vital contribution to the history of Chicago and the American city."
Dominic A. Pacyga, Professor of History Emeritus, Columbia College Chicago, and author of Chicago: A Biography

"Platt has written the first study of the effects of long-term climate change on the American city of Chicago. It is an important undertaking, and the author is fit for the task.... Platt’s fine study, then, is a model for how other historians might write the history of ongoing climate change—with a critical eye toward crafting policies that will help people weather the storm."
— American Historical Review

"In Sinking Chicago , Harold Platt provides an authoritative guide to the history of Chicago’s complex relationship with its local environment as a metropolis built on land subject to flooding.... This authoritative study draws on extensive research that shows the author’s mastery of his subject.... Platt has written a masterful guide to the history of Chicago’s engagement with its flood-prone setting, a problem that will continue to attract attention in the future."
— Environmental History

"A chronological survey from the late nineteenth century to the present day, Sinking Chicago examines the political, technological, and environmental trends that guided the city’s tangled and toxic relationship with water.... But climate change is more often background than foreground; in many ways, Sinking Chicago offers the reader a more powerful case study of the effects of long-term political corruption on an urban environment."
— Pacific Historical Review

"This book traces Chicago's urban development and its relationship to water over a 150-year period. In doing so, Harold L. Platt accounts for the political, technical and social factors that gave rise to Chicago's flooding and water quality problems.... (It) offers timely lessons as policy-makers continue to grapple with the demands of implementing new infrastructural projects in a climate that is known to be changing rapidly."
— Urban History

"Harold Platt’s ability to tell the story of how and why infrastructure develops in American cities, who it serves, and who it neglects has made him one of our greatest urban environmental historians. Sinking Chicago, based on one hundred thirty years of weather records, provides...a model for applying urban history to contemporary sustainable planning concerns."
— Journal of Urban History

" If Platt’s history is a window onto future urban efforts to adapt to climate change, the prognosis is not good.... Platt calls for better intergovernmental coordination, green infrastructure, and ecologically sensitive environmental management.... (His) approach is novel and he makes important points."
— The Journal of American History

About the Author(s)

Harold L. Platt is Professor of History Emeritus at Loyola University Chicago. He is the author or editor of several books, including The Electric City: Energy and the Growth of the Chicago Area, 1880–1930, Shock Cities: The Environmental Transformation and Reform of Manchester and Chicago; and Building the Urban Environment: Visions of the Organic City in the United States, Europe, and Latin America (Temple). He has twice won the book-of-the-year award from the American Public Works Association.

In the Series

Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy

The Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy series, edited by David Stradling, Larry Bennett, Davarian Baldwin, and Yue Zhang, was founded by the late Zane L. Miller to publish books that examine past and contemporary cities. While preserving the series’ foundational focus on the policy, planning, and environmental issues so central to metropolitan life, we also join scholarly efforts to push the boundaries of urban studies. We are committed to publishing work at the shifting intersections of cultural production, community formation, and political economy that shape cities at all scales, from the neighborhood to the transnational. Proposals may be submitted to Temple University Press Editor-in-Chief Aaron Javsicas or the series editors at the email addresses linked above. 

In honor of Zane Miller, the late founding editor of our series, Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy, we invite first-time authors to apply for a grant of up to $2,500 to help advance the careers of scholars from underrepresented communities with limited financial resources.  For more information, Zane L. Miller Book Development Award