Book review: "Plan of Chicago"

TechNews Writer
Mon Mar 06, 2023

Notably, the "Plan of Chicago", prepared under the Direction of the Commercial Club, was edited by Charles Moore, representing the American Institute of Architects (AIA). The author, Daniel Burnham, was a former AIA president. In the years leading up to this 1909 publication (also referred to as the "Burnham Plan"), societies such as the AIA sought to standardize the profession of architecture.

The Burnham Plan was published in this same vein. Charles Moore, Edward Bennett, and Daniel Burnham had vast experience planning several urbanities, including New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and the Philippines. Yet their plan for Chicago would be their opus magnum. With only a thousand six hundred and fifty copies printed in a large format, the Burnham Plan embodied the top-down approach to planning, where the influential members of the Commercial Club would shape the built environment at an abstract level.

Improving the lakefront and reclaiming it for the public was one of the main recommendations. "The Lakefront by right belongs to the people," wrote Burnham. A new regional highway system considering the automobile age can be thoughtfully included. The plan recommended the improvement of railway terminals. It detailed the consolidation of Chicago's 6 intercity railroad passenger terminals into new complexes west of the Loop and south of Roosevelt Road.

The need for new outer parks was one primary recommendation in the document and resulted in the purchase and preservation of natural areas that became the Cook County Forest Preserves. Also, the need to expand the city's parks and boulevards were well described. Further, to relieve traffic congestion and beautify the fast-growing town, new wider roads and a network of diagonal streets were prescribed.

As a master plan, the "Burnham Plan" was painted with broad brushstrokes, synthesizing plans with more granular data and details such as the "Report to the Special Commission". The "Burnham Plan" would distill its research into six key recommendations: to keep the lakefront free from development and open to the public, to create an organized grid of streets that would make travel and navigation more accessible and more efficient, to organize a complete public and industrial transportation system, to develop culturally important buildings that would give a uniform character to civic life, to create a highway system outside of the city that routed travelers to, from, and around the city, and to collect a system of outer parkways and forest preserves.

It is striking to compare the "Burnham Plan" to the present day and, over one hundred years later, observe that much of its realization is mainly intact.





Appears in
2023 - Spring - Issue 7