Our last post talked about how we’ve been cheating on lead tests in much of the city, and it is the poor who suffer the most, which has startling implications for Chicago’s violent criminality. But water has always been a political tool.
As outlined in Royko’s Boss, still required reading for anyone interested in how cities work, or just in great writing, in the hot summer of 1966, firemen started turning off hydrants in poor black neighborhoods on the south and west sides, while letting children play in them in white areas. This led to rioting, and old man Daley reacted, as he did, with programs that missed the point entirely. He started bussing in giant moving pools to all the poor areas. As Royko said:
Now there was a program, and Daley liked it. Give them water. He had a whole lake right outside the door. Even before the riots ended a few days later, City Hall had embarked on a crusade to make Chicago’s blacks the wettest in the country.
This was a perfect encapsulation of the problem: quick fixes which ignore the systemic injustice, as if shutting off the fire hydrants was the first provocation, and not the last straw.
I think we’ll see the same thing here. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chicago does an orgy of quick spending to give every family a filter. It’s ignoring of the underclass until the problem becomes untenable, and then offering quick-hit solutions and hoping it’ll go away. Like lead leeching from antique pipes, though, it never actually does.