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Urban LowlandsA History of Neighborhoods, Poverty, and Planning$
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Steven T. Moga

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226710532

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226710679.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 28 September 2021

From Bottomlands to Bottom Neighborhoods

From Bottomlands to Bottom Neighborhoods

(p.11) 1 From Bottomlands to Bottom Neighborhoods
Urban Lowlands

Steven T. Moga

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 1 examines the geomorphology of lowlands in relation to patterns of urbanization and the platting of cities and towns in the United States. Rapidly growing American cities typically expanded through the accretion of new plats, tracts, and “additions.” A patchwork arrangement of separate street grids, often aligned in multiple directions, frequently developed around lowlands and highlands, skirting around urban creeks and stream valleys. Railroads, factories, and low-cost and self-built housing located in floodplains during the 1870s and 1880s to take advantage of gradual grade changes and flat land. Water and sanitation problems led urban Americans to associate lowlands with disease, drawing upon a disease etiology focused on dangerous emanations from the ground and foul odors. Public health officials and civil engineers embraced landfilling as sanitary reform. Massive sewer building projects redirected polluted creeks and streams underground. Imported freshwater supplies flowed in cities. Bottomlands became bottom neighborhoods. Heterogeneous, mixed-ethnicity neighborhoods that included African Americans became racialized spaces labeled as “black bottoms.” Lowland place names reflect how spatial metaphors communicate status and social hierarchies. In the late nineteenth century, these development patterns inscribed class into the urban landscape.

Keywords:   railroads, grids, disease etiology, bottomlands, urban creeks, African Americans, racialized space, landfilling, sewer building, spatial metaphors

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