Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Despite All Their Planning, the Cubs Never Could Win

Carl Smith. The Plan of Chicago: David Burnham and the Remaking of the American City. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Daniel Burnham was the main force behind developing Chicago’s plan for urban development in 1909. It was advanced with support including Progressives and business leaders who desired planning order. Prior to this, Chicago had quick yet haphazardly with no overall plan. Developers were noted for creating some buildings were notable architectural features. Yet concerns over poor sanitation and other problems associated with rapid urban growth made people demand foresight in future growth.

Daniel Burnham had led the City Beautiful campaign that sought well connected and landscaped roads. There was public support for making the city more visually attractive, and they liked shade trees, beautiful buildings, and open squares that offered statutes and fountains. Some, such as Jane Addams, wanted more done to correct the social disorders that existed.

The Chicago Plan had its critics. Louis Sullivan, an architect, felt the plan gave too much favoritism to business interests. He also disagreed with the modern architecture it advanced.

Burnham had supported creating a six mile park along Chicago’s waterfront. This became part of the Plan of Chicago. The Plan looked ahead at what it thought Chicago should become. It looked little at what Chicago was like. The plan worried about speculation and unregulated growth. It was believed the quality of life of city residents was at stake.

The Plan called for more parks, wider streets, and more diagonal streets. It did not focus more on living and employment standards. Roads and transit lines were planning. Houses and businesses were left to locate according to market forces.

Daniel Burnham was hired by associations of business leaders to direct the creation of the Plan of Chicago. They saw the plan as a means to protect their interests. The Commercial Club was supportive of a proposal to expand Michigan Avenue and create two layers in that section of the city.

The Plan called for better schools, parks, and playgrounds to improve the lives of people in poverty and in slums.

Parts of the Plan were implemented. Michigan Avenue was developed, parkland increased along the lake side, and formal landscaping occurred in Grant Park, Wacker Drive was partially developed to plan, several streets were widened, and Union Station was constructed. Parts were not implemented, such as constructing a civic center at a recommended location. A Chicago Plan Commission plan in 1939 became the subsequent working Chicago planning document.

The Plan had its critics in retrospect. Lewis Mumford, a historian, believed the Plan was too favorable towards business interests that wanted real estate prices to increase. Jane Jacobs, an urban affairs critic, argued the Plan hurt neighborhoods when it should have been improving them.


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