Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Chicago, the World Stage, and the Origins of Land Use Planning, Part II

Chicago has been in the news for its unsuccessful bid to host the world's most prominent international event, the Olympic Games.  In Part I of this post I discussed the first time that Chicago played host to the world: the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, and in particular the indelible impression on American culture made by Daniel Burnham's White City.  Again, see the pictures for yourself, and read Devil in the White City if you haven't yet.  Now, for the impact of Burnham and the Exposition on the city planning movement. 

Not only did the White City make a deep impression on many visitors to the Exposition, it is also credited with launching the City Beautiful movement in the U.S.  Indeed, Burnham is seen by many as the father of the City Beautiful movement, with help from Olmstead.  If you look at the National Mall (designed in part by Burnham and Olmstead) it looks something quite reminiscent of the White City.  The City Beautiful movement certainly had a lot to do with specific architectural preferences, but it had more to do with the larger design elements—the overall grandeur of the buildings’ arrangement; the sweeping public spaces with elaborate landscape architecture; and the overall moral impression that the design was supposed to have on the citizenry.  In other words, the White City represented an early attempt going into the 20th Century to do comprehensive land use planning.  Burnham’s famous quote from the Exposition sums it up: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

Burnham himself went on to become the early face of the city planning movement.  While even many contemporary planners and architects, such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, disagreed with Burnham’s particular plans and preferences, his influence on the rise of land use planning is undeniable (The APA named its national award for comprehensive planning after Burnham).  He advised cities around the world on designing their plans.  The bookend to the Columbian Exposition for his legendary career was the 1909 Plan of Chicago (also known as the Burnham Plan), largely acknowledged as the first comprehensive plan for a city. 

The Plan, coauthored with Edward Bennett, promoted City Beautiful principles and provided a master design for Chicago including transportation, infrastructure, parks, street design, and civic and cultural centers.  The Plan was monumental in Chicago and was highly influential across America.  Within the next decade many U.S. cities began adopting the comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances that brought the early planning movement to fruition, and remain the basis of land use planning today.  The story of the Plan is told in a great book by Northwestern historian Carl Smith, The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City

So while Chicago may be feeling bad about missing out on the Olympics, it can look with pride on the tremendous impact that its first global event had on the development of city planning and land use.  Tomorrow, October 9, is the anniversary of Chicago Day, when 761,942 people attended the Exposition, obliterating the previous single-day attendance record held by Paris.  And perhaps the city can console itself in 2009 by celebrating the centennial of the Plan of Chicago.

- Matt Festa

Link to Part I is here.

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