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(Im)possible Chicago #4

All records of the city's subterranean infrastructures are no longer in the public domain, their maps classified by the federal government as state secrets.

Public works employees have to undergo extensive background checks and sign non-disclosure agreements. 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 done with containers, hydroponics, roofs, walls and zeppelins. Exposed ground is carpeted with feral turf or, more likely, prairie grasslands that once grew thick in the region. Parks are mere prosceniums on which plants-on-wheels and fountains-on-wheels are rearranged in countless configurations by parkgoers and passing storms, until of course they've all been wheeled away and there are no more planters to play with. This botanical piracy is but one outward manifestation of strange pathologies brewing in a city now geologically oppressed.

Lest they were to sprout DIY tunnels that might accidentally brush up against or puncture the network, a lunatic Rachel Whiteread was let loose on all the city's basements. Open any door that once led to those lower floors, and you'll be greeted with bare concrete.

Meanwhile, all post-blackout structures, from houses to street lights to skyscrapers, must use non-geologically invasive support systems. You can't plant anything. As a result, the city's famed skyline is beginning to look like Tatlin towers wrapped inside a jungle gym designed by Superstudio with buttresses sloping down towards the periphery. Hanging jewel-like within are the Millennium and Grant Parks re-landscaped as a cubic shrub and a parterred cylinder.

A boy went missing once when he fell down a blank spot on the map, but no search party was ever organized. There were no prayer vigils, no strapping firemen, and 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 heros 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 those anarchist cartographers. They could have helped. Armed with GPS-equipped mobile laser scanners, these spiritual descendants of Harry Lime and Trevor Paglen nightly infiltrate in secret these dark geographies to map them anew, to reclaim their lost cultural heritage. Their ultimate goal, however, is to solve the mystery of why these rhyzomatic contours were redacted in the first place, hopefully before the last cell member is caught or gets lost permanently in the interdimensional knotted terrain the city had constructed to deter and imprison aberrant surveyors.

But the grief stricken parents didn't and eventually were plainly informed that they never had that child. The boy, like the maps, was redacted.


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