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See How Chicago Has Grown Since 1830 — And What It Could Look Like in 2030

CHICAGO — In about five seconds, you can see how Chicago's landscape has changed — and might continue to evolve — since 1830.

Downtown-based conservation group Openlands in 2005 unveiled a series of maps showing how the area's topography has been impacted by urban development. The maps — from 1830, 1900, 1950, 2000 and a hypothetical 2030 — feature a sea of red humanity spreading from Downtown to the suburbs and beyond.

"We have the challenge and opportunity in those red areas to bring nature back and bring habitat back, and connect people to community gardens are parks," said Jerry Adelmann, Openlands' president and CEO. "We can improve life in urban and suburban areas, but we have changed the land dramatically."

The 1830 map shows an area of mostly prairie, forests and wetlands with a small red dot near Chicago's current Downtown with the city's pioneer settlement. By 1900, almost all of the prairie had been turned into farmland, and "red" development had formed around the railroad lines throughout the area.

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In 1950, suburban expansion occurred in part through the GI Bill, which gave incentives for veterans to buy homes in the suburbs, and the Federal Highway Act, which enabled people to drive and live farther from the city. By 2000, most of the farmland had turned residential, with islands of green representing forest preserves.

The 2030 map is a "snapshot view of what the Chicago area could be like," Adelmann said.

"It's meant to trigger an interesting conversation and discussion and the challenges we face," Adelmann said.

The maps were created in 2005 as part of the "Revealing Chicago" exhibit that debuted in Millennium Park. Landscape photographer Terry Evans hovered over the area via airplane, helicopter and hot air balloon to snap pictures for the exhibit.

The Field Museum has used the maps in several presentations over the years to illustrate the expansion of human settlement in the region, according to Field conservation ecologist Erika Hasle.

Hasle noted the urban environment was not a "red scourge marching across the landscape."

"Cities provide habitats to many species both permanently and as they migrate across the landscape," she said.

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