A detail from the cover of Salzmann's book "Liquid Capital: Making the Chicago Waterfront"

Monday, November 27, 2017

Northeastern Illinois University Associate Professor of History Joshua Salzmann has published his first book, “Liquid Capital: Making the Chicago Waterfront.” The book, which will be released Dec. 4, is published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

“Liquid Capital” explores how politicians transformed the southwest shore of Lake Michigan into a waterscape that supports the life and economy of Chicago. Salzmann’s book details how, through a combination of entrepreneurship, civic spirit and bareknuckle politics, the Chicago waterfront became a hub of economic and cultural activity while also the site of many of the nation's precedent-setting decisions about public land use and environmental protection.

“Chicago’s history presents a perfect case study to think about what causes economic growth,” Salzmann said. “The waterfront was the site of the world’s most astounding industrial growth. The city rose from a muddy fur trading post of 350 in 1833 to a modern metropolis over 3 million by the early 20th century. I researched and wrote this book because I wanted to understand why and how that radical transformation happened.”

Through the political saga of waterfront development, Salzmann illuminates Chicago's seemingly paradoxical position as both a paragon of buccaneering capitalism and assertive state power.

The list of actions undertaken by local politicians and boosters to facilitate the waterfront's success is long: officials reversed a river, built a canal to fuse the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, decorated the lakeshore with parks and monuments, and enacted regulations governing the use of air, land and water. With these feats of engineering and statecraft, they created a waterscape conducive to commodity exchange, leisure tourism and class harmony—in sum, an invaluable resource for making money.

These actions made the city's growth possible. “Liquid Capital” sheds light on these precedent-making policies, their effect on Chicago's development as a major economic and cultural force, and the ways in which they continue to shape legislation regarding the use of air and water.

“Salzmann's study of the Chicago waterfront is informative and insightful,” Carnegie Mellon University Professor of History and Policy Joel Tarr said. “His use of detailed archival and published sources to argue for the importance of the state in promoting economic development and creating space for recreation and tourism illuminates the various interests and forces that influence policy.”

Joshua Salzmann