The Plan Of Chicago
28 February 2019
If you compare other city layouts to that of Chicago’s, the Second City seems remarkably well organized. Well, that’s because it was –– co-authored by historically important architects Edward H. Bennett and Daniel Burnham, the 1909 document Plan of Chicago was a series of integrated recommendations to make Chicago a more functional, but also more beautiful urban landscape. Commonly referred to as The Burnham Plan, this document was not only hugely influential to the development of Chicagoland, it was a significant historic document, laying the groundwork for the then-new concept of thoughtful urban planning.
Burnham was inspired to create an all-encompassing city plan after overseeing the design and construction of the World’s Columbian Exposition, which took place in Chicago in 1983. As the Director of Works for the fair he emphasized architecture and sculpture as central to the experience, and assembled the period’s top talent to design the buildings. The temporary buildings were designed in an ornate Neoclassical style and painted white, resulting in the fair site being referred to as “White City”. White City’s development is credited for inspiring the City Beautiful movement, which centered around the idea that the aesthetics and functionality of an urban area could create a moral and civic virtue among the population and enhance the quality of life of its inhabitants. The integrated design of the landscapes, promenades, and structures provided a vision of what is possible when planners, landscapers, and architects work together on a cohesive design scheme.
The Plan of Chicago was composed of 6 major ideas; improving the lakefront, a highway system that connected the city to outside regions, improvement of railway terminals, an expansion of the existing outer park system, a systematic arrangement of streets and avenues, and the creation of civic and cultural centers.
Burnham saw Chicago as the center of a region that expanded 75 miles from downtown, so he wanted to create a series of interconnected regional highways that would help to unite the landscape. This idea highly influenced the creation of Chicago’s current highway system, thought they did not follow Burnham’s specific design. Burnham wanted to consolidate many of the railroad tracks used for freight handling, as well as the six passenger rail tracks, which inspired the relocation of Union Station in 1925. Improving the streets was necessary due to the fast growth of the city, which was causing extreme traffic congestion. Improvements inspired by this idea were the extension of Ogden Avenue, the widening of Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road, and the creation of Wacker Drive and Congress Parkway. Burnham desired for cultural centers such as the Field Museum and Art Institute to be the centerpiece of Grant Park, but the state supreme court forbade any new buildings to be constructed in the park. The Art Institute was allowed to be an exception to this rule, and the Field Museum found its home on Lake Shore Drive just south of Roosevelt Road.
The most notably implemented part of the plan was improvement of the lakefront. “The Lakefront by right belongs to the people… not a foot of its shores should be appropriated to the exclusion of the people” wrote Burnham. The plan desired to expand the parkland along Lake Michigan. At the time of its writing, only a quarter of the city’s shoreline was publicly accessible. Today all but 4 miles of the lake’s 29 miles of shoreline are occupied by public parks.
The Plan of Chicago is responsible for the 1000M neighborhood as it is today. Residents will have the plan to thank for their stunning, unobstructed view and access to cultural richness.