THE BIRTH OF MODERN CITY PLANNING
The single most important offshoot of the City Beautiful movement, as far as the development of an American planning tradition is concerned, was the Plan of Chicago. Interest in city wide planning, particularly within the business community, had been growing since the exposition. In 1906 the Merchants Club, essentially a chamber of commerce, commissioned Daniel Burnham to develop a plan. The work of planning was funded by the Commercial Club, another business organization, with $85,000, and the finished plan was presented to the city as a gift in 1909. The plan was remarkable for its scope. It laid out a system of radial and circumferential highways, some extending as far as 60 miles from the city center. Thus in its transportation elements it was a regional as well as a city plan. It laid out an integrated public transportation system and suggested the unification of rail freight terminals. Chicago's
Union Station is one outgrowth of the plan. Extensive plans for street widening and overpasses at critical points were made. A system of parks and wildlife preserves both within and proximate to the city was also suggested.
In a remarkable act of foresight, the plan's sponsors appreciated that the political and public relations side of planning was just as important as the technical side and set about fostering the public will to accomplish the plan. The original plan was a lavishly printed and expensive document that could have only a limited circulation. To make the concept of the plan known to the populace at large, a summary version was printed with private funds and given to every property owner in the city and to every renter who paid more than $25 per month. Shortly thereafter a version of the plan was published as a textbook and widely used in the eighth grade of the city schools. Not only did this reach many students as they were about to leave school—for many students ended their education with primary school at that time—but the plan also found its way into many households by this route. The plan was also promoted by means of illustrated lectures, a popular form of entertainment in that pre-electronic age, and also by a short motion picture, A Tale of One City.
The city responded with the creation of a planning commission charged with the responsibility for carrying out the plan. As a strategy, the planners decided that one concrete accomplishment was needed to demonstrate that the plan was not simply an idle dream. The particular project chosen was to carry Twelfth Street across the railroad yards south of the Loop on a viaduct and thus facilitate the flow of traffic within the city's downtown. When this was accomplished, skepticism about the practicality of the plan was greatly reduced, and one project after another was funded by bond issues. By 1931 close to $300 million had been raised by bond issues and special assessments to finance various elements of the plan.
The double decked Wacker Drive and several large bridges were major improvements along the main stem of the Chicago River. . . . The South Branch of the Chicago River was straightened, and harbor facilities were enlarged in the downtown area and at Lake Calumet. The famous Navy Pier was built far out into Lake Michigan. Now land was slowly built up as the Lake was pushed back and over 20 miles of lake-front park and beaches resulted. . . . And within these lake-front parks notable museums and other institutions were developed, much as Burnham and his associates had suggested. The outlying forest preserves were vastly extended until by 1933 they included 32,400 acres.12
By its very impressiveness, both as a document and as a real accomplishment, the Plan of Chicago defined for a long time the planner's and perhaps also the informed citizen's view of what a plan should be. In particular, a plan should be comprehensive, and it should have a relatively long time horizon. The plan should be effectuated largely through public capital investment on publicly owned land. Support by the citizenry would be essential to provide the political will for making the necessary investment.
The Columbian Fountain at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Some modern concepts of planning were absent from the Plan of Chicago. Among these were a concern with social issues, the notion of frequent plan revision and updating, and the view that the public should participate in the making of the plan rather than just receive and approve it as a finished document. The plan has sometimes been criticized for its emphasis on land and structures and its slighting of social issues. But judging the plan by the standards of a later day is not entirely fair. As a product of its time, it is a remarkable accomplishment.