Urbs in Horto: Sidewalk Symposia

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #8 in May 2009]

In this moment of financial crisis, it is curious to look back on the responses of earlier Chicagoans to debacles of their time. Our city motto, Urbs in Horto, rather than alluding to the grand landscape of the city, stems from a call to action toward a self-sufficient food supply.

Chicago officially became a city on March 4, 1837 in the Saloon Building. And then the bubble burst. No sooner had Ogden been elected Chicago’s first mayor shortly thereafter than financial panic, already sweeping through the East, hit the new city. Chicago went bankrupt. Work on the canal stopped. But Ogden … refused to be daunted. ‘Bankruptcy is a disgrace!’ he cried, and borrowed money from sound banks on his personal credit and used it to pay the city’s bills. He urged every citizen caught in the debacle to grow their own gardens and soon the city had its steadfast motto: Urbs in Horto—City in a Garden.

—From Yesterday’s Chicago,
Kogan and Kogan

  • But who is responsible for debacles?
  • Who should fix them?
  • Are we responsible as individuals?
  • Who drives collective responses?

With these questions in mind, Amber Ginsburg and Lia Rousset have been holding a series of sidewalk symposia talking to people about the financial crisis. The stories and opinions have been compiled to providing a diversity of viewpoints on crisis and to give voice to experts in lived experience. We provide situations for people to express their views. Some participants chose to write responses, other did not. This project re-purposes the sidewalk as a site of public debate.

Below are a selection of responses:

The only way out of depression is action.

People these days look to experts to solve their problems.

I was planning on growing food in my house. Getting rid of those potted plants and growing food there. Those window boxes would be a great place to grow also. I could use a corner of my patio.

The greening of this city doesn’t make any sense to me if we are going to spend money on bombs.

To have any re-kindling of our relationship to Nature would have an amazing effect on the spirit.

This implies you have to save the problem. Here in America, everyone wants the government to do it. It would be political death to place the burden on the people. Why can’t a political agenda embrace this? It is anti-American.

People have a different relationship to making than they did even thirty years ago, and especially 100-150 years ago. Now it’s cheaper to buy the made/finished product than the materials to make it yourself. This arrangement benefits the large corporations but not the individuals.

I don’t think we are feeling it yet. There is going to be a major delay.

For more information: sitewarechicago@gmail.com www.amberginsburg.com

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