Make New Plans


Next year is the 100th anniversary of the Burnham Plan for Chicago, created by Daniel
Burnham with help from Edward Bennett, who couldn’t up with a snappy slogan like Burnham’s "Make no small plans,"so he’s largely been forgotten. Bennett was probably a "devil in the details" kind of guy.

Anyway, next month the city will announce a big celebration for the plan, which, as every kid who grew up in the Chicago area knows, saved Chicago from becoming Gary, Indiana. According to Blair Kamin, rumors are the city will announce that two Pritzker Prize-winning architects will design buildings commemorating the plan. The buildings will be erected, for a while, in Grant Park, one of Burnham’s legacies. But with Grant Park being readied for a new children’s museum to be built underground, City of Lost Children style, the lakefront is getting pretty crowded.

But the Plan of Chicago of 1909 was supposed to create a Paris on the Prairies, not Miami Beach on Lake Michigan. Burnham envisioned a Chicago of broad boulevards connecting parks strategically placed throughout the city. Burnham had an eye for natural beauty and a firm belief in architecture as a vehicle for moral uplift. I wonder what he would think about the often discrepant state of some of the outlying parks, while Grant Park increasingly becomes a gleaming space reserved for corporate sponsorship. (Grant Park, incidentally, was as much Montgomery Ward’s idea as it was Burnham’s.) As a commenter on Kamin’s blog points out,  Burnham’s plan was for the entire city, not just the lakefront, and we’re long overdue for a new plan for the city.

So here’s a brief wish list for the June 24 announcement of the Burnham Plan anniversary.

  1. If we have to have starchitects design some building sponsored by corporations not even based in Chicago, then place them in Garfield Park or Washington Park or some other neglected point in Burnham’s plan.
  2. Sponsor a contest to come up with a plan for the next 100 years. Or better yet, line up the appropriate people to implement a plan that has already been drawn up, such as UrbanLab’s update of Burnham’s plan for the green era, even going to so far to banish cars, just as Burnham ignored them.

Forget the 2016 Olympics–Mayor Daley prides himself on getting big projects done, but he needs to show that he can do something besides round up corporate donors for some short-term publicity event.  For their part, private industry needs to show some more civic leadership, just as the Progressive Era moguls did when they hired Burnham to redesign the city. But with more and more Chicago companies being bought out by out-of-town interests (bye bye Wrigley Gum Company), that seems unlikely.

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