(Im)possible Chicagos

June 3, 2013

Hallucinatory joyrides through one hundred and twenty-five asynchronous Chicagos envisioned by Alexander Trevi


(Im)possible Chicagos #1

After scientists had perfected the technique of splicing human DNA into the DNA of a tree, the Bureau of Forestry entered into a business partnership with the multi-billion dollar funeral industry to turn the city’s urban forest into a living necropolis.

In previous revenue-generating schemes, the perennially cash-strapped city had privatized its airports, toll roads and parking meters—much of its public infrastructure, in fact—which proved disastrous. Not so with this arboreal venture.

The number of trees increased exponentially, even the types of species used. Every tree is lush and vigorous, since not only are they well-maintained by caretakers with an eternally flowing revenue stream but also by the bereaved, who in their grief come daily to tend lovingly to the trees and the surrounding planting beds. Tear-drenched anguish has been appropriated into the city’s beautification program,
in other words.

Sidewalks, too, look immaculate. Not a single stray candy wrapper can be found, and no one dares urinate on the botanically re-encoded dead. The pavement, after all, is now hallowed ground.

On the Day of the Dead, the streets in the city’s many Hispanic neighborhoods become the site of deliriously exuberant block parties. Arbor Day is moved to coincide with Memorial Day.

Google inevitably came along and networked the data from all the trees onto its suite of web mapping service applications. Now gravesite visits needn’t be performed exclusively in real space: the pilgrimage can now be undertaken virtually. You can check up on how the tree is faring, see it grow from a seedling, mature and finally bear transgenic fruits. From anywhere and anytime, you can watch as your loved ones unconsciously experience a sort of after life.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #1. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #4

The Chicago whose subterranean infrastructure is classified as a state secret. Anyone looking to work for the Public Works Department must undergo extensive background checks and sign non-disclosure agreements when hired. Those who break their contract, Guantanamo awaits. Similarly, urban adventurers are charged with espionage if found hiking down in the sewers and subway tunnels. If they try to evade capture, security forces have orders to shoot to kill.

Digging is banned, so among other things, this means that gardening is all done on walls and rooftops. Neighborhood parks are mere concrete prosceniums on which plants-on-wheels and fountains-on-wheels and benches-on-wheels—everything is on wheels—are rearranged in countless configurations by parkgoers and passing storms. Any remaining exposed ground is carpeted with prairie grasslands that once grew thick in the region, or whatever the wind brings in.

Fearing they might sprout DIY tunnels that will brush up against or puncture the network, a lunatic Rachel Whiteread was let loose in all the city’s basements. Open any door that once led to those lower levels, and you’ll be greeted with bare concrete.

New structures, from houses to streetlights to skyscrapers, must use non-geologically invasive support systems. You cannot break ground. As a result, the city’s famed skyline is beginning to look like Tatlin towers wrapped inside a jungle gym with buttresses sloping down towards the periphery.

A boy went missing once when he fell down a hole that mysteriously opened up on the ground, but not a single search party was organized. There were no prayer vigils, no strapping firemen, no television vans camped for days on end in front of the boy’s home to provide 24-hour news coverage of a local melodrama for international consumption. There was no prolonged national hysteria over his fate and definitely no photogenic hero confected by the whims of the masses.

The missing kid was simply censored from the day’s news.

If only his parents knew the existence of anarchist cartographers, those shadowy spiritual descendants of Harry Lime. At night they infiltrate in secret these dark geographies to map them anew, to reclaim a lost cultural heritage, and ultimately to solve the mystery of why these rhizomatic contours were erased from the records in the first place. But the grief stricken parents didn’t and so couldn’t seek out their help. Eventually they were plainly and firmly told that they never had a son in the first place.

The boy, like all the maps of the underground, was redacted.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #4. The Chicago whose subterranean infrastructure is classified as a state secret. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #9

The United Great Lakes is a hydrostate encompassing the entire drainage basin of the Great Lakes plus a chunk of the St. Lawrence River Basin. These territories ceded from Canadian provinces and American states are organized into administrative cantons coterminous with the sub-basins of each individual lake. The capital city is Chicago.

The choice of Chicago as the capital was controversial at first, because for decades it had allowed the Illinois and Michigan Canal to wastefully drain water out of the lakes. But no one vetoed in the end, as the infrastructure to service the parched city-states of Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix, their main hydro-export markets, was already in place.

Indeed, freshwater is their main commodity. It is also their only major industry. Gone are the Boeings, the GMs and the Dow Chemicals: they’ve all either moved to the low-tax pastures of Texas or gone bankrupt. But with unquenchable demand not only from their Southwestern clients but also from the petrostate of New Alberta and assorted frackstates, the economic impact of their desertion and erasure were minimally negative.

Below the city and following its grid are the cavernous reservoirs of thousands of Mega-Notre-Dames, ribbed with flying buttresses and aisled with service passages and emergency tunnels. Jutting out from each one and puncturing the surface are Neo-Gothic spires housing pumping stations, pressure release valves and permanent crew quarters, with the grander ones additionally housing the federal government of the water cartel. Some are quite tall, even reaching the height of the once standing Sears Towers. Not for anything is Chicago now nicknamed The City of Spires.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #9. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #10

Every ten years the fires come.

Ignited on the outskirts of the city, they come howling, coronal, as though the prairies have sprouted solar prominences arcing and looping eastward towards the lake. They stream through the fire avenues of the Emerald Necklace, re-landscaped with dead vegetation and flammable pavilions. Once a neighborhood is surrounded, the fiery noose contracts and gorges on the trapped kindling.

Some residents take this time to go on vacation, but most decide to just ride out the firestorm holed up in neighborhood bunkers. Except for the clothes on their backs, they bring nothing else. There is no such thing as sentimentality. The city, in any case, provides them with scrubs to change into, along with food and water to last a week and, most importantly, breathable air pumped in from an underground network of oxygen tunnels.

To pass the time, they tune in to The Burn Channel, watching Anderson Cooper survey the ongoing conflagration inside his Nomex suit. A solitary astronaut on the surface of Mercury.

They check when the nearest firefront will singe through their street, scorch their gardens and evaporate the past decade’s urban fads. The sights of skyscrapers collapsing are eagerly anticipated.

They also participate in online public forums to design the next city. All aspects of the city-in-waiting are decided by popular vote, a participatory form of urban planning that in the past had equally produced carbon copies of the White City and wildly experimental urban forms.

But whatever city they end up with, it will be yet another fleeting thing, turning fugitive in ten years’ time.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #10. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #24

The Chicago which is an artificial island on the Straits of Singapore.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #24. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #25

The Chicago which is an artificial island in Dubai.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #25. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #26

The Chicago which is an artificial island in the South China Sea.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #26. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #27

The Chicago which is an artificial island on the Bering Strait.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #27. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #43

The Chicago which was turned into the largest wind farm in the world—for who was left in this radioactive no man’s land, the Chernobyl of the Midwest, to protest hysterically, “Not in my backyard!”

Jason lives in Bunker Pullman, directly below its eponymous neighborhood. There are seventy-six other bunkers, each one also named for the neighborhood they lay directly under. They were originally excavated to house the massive army of workers hired to manufacture and install the thousands of turbines on the surface, but now accommodate just a skeleton crew for maintenance. Jason is part of this crew.

Every morning, he makes his way past empty hollows to the staging area, where he puts on his NBC suit and runs through a long checklist of safety protocols, first on his own gears and then, as in a buddy system, on a co-worker. The elevator ride up to the surface takes about half an hour. No one utters a word the entire time, for this job, carried out mostly in solitary, always attracts hermits.

Jason is assigned to look after a hundred towers. It takes him about a month to finish one inspection cycle, longer if something breaks down. Climbing up and down these towers is not what makes the job take so long, or even the repair work. It’s the radiation that severely limits the amount of time he can stay on the surface.

The same elevator ride brackets the end of his short shift, followed by the same monastic rituals observed in the morning, except in reverse and with the addition of a shower protocol, when even through the noisy, scouring jets in the decontamination room, the melodic plainchant of the crew spills out into the subterranean city, echoing from one desolate vastness to another.

Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea: et a peccato meo munda me.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #43. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #44

The city-state of Chicago which is at war with the city-state of St. Louis. It’s largely a naval conflict in which ironclad navies battle in the Mississippi, Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio Rivers.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #44. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #46

The Chicago which, condensed into the modest acreage of Chinatown, rises above the sprawling expanse of the Great Swamp, with only a dozen concrete pillars supporting its cybercafés where the local branch of Triad farm for bitcoins and WoW gold, its McDonald’s franchises outfitted with hot pot dining tables, its ping pong halls, its mobile phone repair shops, its capsule hotels, its transient hotels, its brothels inside its International Youth Hostels, its pieds-à-terre, its student dormitories crammed high into the ceiling with bunk beds, its nuclear power stations, its apothecaries, its antique shops selling Ming vases of questionable provenance, its IMAX movie palaces built in the Art Deco Chinoiserie style, its chapels for Westernstyle white weddings, its acupuncture centers, its discothèques, its Dance Dance Revolution arcades, its coin-operated pissoirs, its shadow puppet theaters, its landscape architecture offices, its mausoleums with the embalmed bodies of Richard M. Daley and all the mayors who ruled after him, its topiary gardens, its haberdasheries where tourists can order custom made Mao suits to be picked up in just an hour, its Michelin 3-star restaurants, its noodle shops, its pig roasters and Grant Achatz takeaways, its cloud servers, zombie botnet servers and forward operating server farms of the P.L.A. Unit 61398, its CIA safe houses, its DARPA offices, its Freemason lodges, its exoplanet radio observatories, neutrino detectors and proton shower arrays, its aviaries and apiaries, its abattoirs, its laundromats, its nail salons, its self-storage units holding the collections of the Art Institute, its slave labor camps, POW camps and re-education camps, its mahjong parlors, its tattoo parlors, its Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum, its fake Apple Stores selling dim sums at the Genius Bar, its miniature golf courses and miniature soccer pitches, its batting cages, its CCTV foreign news bureau, its petting zoos, its payday loan bodegas, its Buddhist temples on the grounds of its Protestant cemeteries on the grounds of Holy Name Cathedral, which rents out one of its towers as a Falun Gong meditation center, the other as a synagogue, its fog water catching stations, its algae farms, its zeppelin loading docks, its convention centers, its Starbucks, its emergency AC cooling centers, its bôiteries, its karaoke bars, its oxygen bars that fill up during high methane alert, its venues for Postopolis! Chicago, its AM radio stations, its numbers stations, its fabulous fabulous ballrooms hosting drag shows, hot-body contests, mock same-sex weddings, Chinese opera performances and the Miss Transgender USA beauty pageant, its fishmongers, cordwainers, cobblers, clockmakers and fortune tellers cheek by jowl inside its 7-Elevenses, its startup hubs, its Tower Records stores, its secret supper clubs, its tea houses, its opium dens, its bingo halls, its night schools, culinary schools and calligraphy schools, its ballroom dancing schools and lion taming schools, its English language schools, its elite boys-only boarding schools, its charm schools, its finishing schools, its Gaokao preparation midnight schools where students get hooked up to oxygen tanks to increase their concentration, its leper houses, its fleet of execution vans parked in the parking garages of its Wal-Mart Express stores, its outdoor escalators, its sky elevators, its Great Swamp safari travel agencies, its fireworks factories, its cockfighting rings, its banana ripening rooms, its hutongs, its fully immersive Cave Automatic Virtual Environments (or CAVEs), its H&Ms, its Zen-inspired spas, its hipster boutiques, its white guy rental agencies, its expat watering holes, its consulates, its organ harvesting clinics, its sanitariums, orphanages and missionaries, its global branches of the Louvre, the Guggenheim and the Tate, its heliports, its satellite campuses of the world’s leading universities, its recording studios in which guests for A Date with Luyu are interviewed by “China’s Oprah” via satellite, its metal fabrication shops, its crematoriums, its windmills, its grottos, its giochi d’acqua, its moon gates, its betting shops, its bakeries, its Biosafety Level 4 labs stockpiled with Ebola viruses and its science laboratories prototyping the Internet of Animals, its abortion clinics, its cheap sex-change clinics, its comic book shops, its planetariums, its drone emplacements, and its nickelodeons playing nothing but the films of Jia Zhangke all the time.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #46. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #51

The Chicago which is swarming with biker gangs wearing helmets filled with soil and planted with trees.

They start gathering just before noon, on alleyways, underpasses and parking lots. Some of the young men tend to their motorbikes, checking the air pressure on their tires or polishing the chrome with yet another coat of wax, while others water and prune their saplings. Soon they’ll be spilling out into the city amid a sonic cloud of revving engines and rustlings leaves. It’s orchards on parade.

Depending on the day of the week, they pack one of the city’s oblique avenues, Milwaukee on Mondays, Ogden on Tuesdays, Archer on Wednesdays, and so on, turning the street for an afternoon into the most densely tree-lined in the world. They are there for a bit of drag racing.

Two bikers from rival orchards weave through the narrow, vacillating spaces in the traffic, slowly but with enough velocity to generate a steady airflow to show off the lushness of their preening canopies. Along the route, other bikers sound their horns in appreciation or disapproval: it’s not who crosses the finish line first that matters, rather how well one presents his organic coiffure to the city. When they’ve done a couple of blocks, another pair start their race.

When these competitions began, just your garden variety houseplants were used. But as with all young men in other parts of the world, they sought out ever increasing thrills, that bigger adrenaline rush. So they started using larger and larger plants, making the races even more dangerous. And deadly. It seems like everyday you hear of a biker snapping his neck and killing motorists and spectators in the ensuing crash.

However deadly these races may have become, the young men are still drawn to them. In a city blanketed by smoke produced by slash-and-burn agriculture, a permanent haze that before trapped them in mind-numbing indoor lifestyles, these reckless botanical races are their collective scream of environmental frustration, an outlet for green activism amid the suffocating smog.

Perhaps not surprisingly, many will become eco-terrorists, transforming their restless behaviors on the streets into acts of sabotage carried out on industrial plantations throughout the Midwest. They will polish their guerrilla skills out in the quadrangles and quarter-sections, and when they’ve turned Chicago into a haven for green militancy, they will import their eco-jihadism to the rest of the world.

(Im)possible Chicagos #53

The Chicago which is inhabited by three million Fred Astaires.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #53. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #54

The Chicago which is inhabited by three million Ethel Mermans.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #54. © Alexander Trevi.

(Im)possible Chicagos #58

The Chicago which roamed the earth on the backs of continents and supercontinents, migrating to the tropics and both poles, aggregating layers only to loose them to the corrosive flows of countless storms and oceans, until emerging a bit fossilized by design for use by our many-times great grandchildren as an observatory for the intergalactic collision between the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #58. © Alexander Trevi.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #58. © Alexander Trevi.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #58. © Alexander Trevi.

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(Im)possible Chicagos #58. © Alexander Trevi.