Prof. John Mark Hansen has called Hyde Park home for more than 30 years. In a new book, Hansen, one of the nation’s leading scholars of American politics, traces the origins of the Hyde Park-Kenwood neighborhoods from 1853.
The City in a Garden takes its title from a translation of the city of Chicago’s motto, Urbs in horto, and hearkens back to Hyde Park’s roots as a retreat from city life. It also delves into the history of the major parks that surround the neighborhoods: Jackson Park, Washington Park and the Midway Plaisance. Hansen seeks to inspect the “place-ness” of the area by taking inspiration from the individuals who lived there during its development.
An avid cyclist who hosts two annual bike tours with Dean John W. Boyer, Hansen values the block-by-block details of these communities and hopes to inspire a similar appreciation in others. The Charles L. Hutchinson Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science and the College, Hansen recently sat down to discuss the new book and his favorite local gems.
How did you get started on this project?
I’m a cyclist, which means I’ve been all over the South Side, and I became curious about the places I was going through.
I gathered a lot of information about the areas north and south of here, and I realized four or five years ago that I had not looked into Hyde Park-Kenwood itself, and that became the beginning of this book.
You are a political scientist, so this is a different space for you to be working in. How did you get interested in the historical approach?
I’ve long been interested in history and the history of this part of the city in particular, so it wasn’t that long of a stretch. Of course, there’s some politics in this book, because in Chicago it’s very difficult to avoid that, and Hyde Park had its own distinctive politics. But I wanted it to be broader than that, in part because I’m also interested in the economic, cultural and social histories and all these different aspects of Hyde Park. I wanted to capture all of the varieties of experiences of people who lived in Hyde Park and Kenwood.