Jeramey Jannene

The Plan of Chicago – Book Review

By - Apr 19th, 2010 07:19 pm
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The Plan of Chicago is a quick and easy read that’s perhaps best described as a launchpad. Carl Smith breaks down key aspects of Burnham‘s plan in his book and details how they came to be, who influenced them, and how they turned out. For someone who hasn’t actually read the actual plan (not required or expected for reading this book), author Carl Smith uses just the right amount of detail to illustrate the concepts.  At 167 pages, it’s easy to digest in just a few hours of reading, and includes just the right number of photos and illustrations to illuminate key concepts of Burnham’s plan.

The most informative part of the book is not the part that deals with the details of the actual plan and what was implemented, but rather the part that details how the plan originated, what wasn’t included, and what ideas failed to be implemented. It’s enlightening to know that Burnham’s drafts included sections on social policy for everyday citizens including school locations and hospital quality, something that critics often chide Burnham for overlooking. Knowing historic Chicago figures only by the businesses they left behind or roads that utilize their name, it was eye-opening to learn that Montgomery Ward was the leader in the fight to keep the lakefront a public space, who Wacker Drive is named after (and why), and how John Shedd and Marshall Field played into the plan’s development and implementation.

Having known only a limited amount about the plan in advance of reading the book I found reading the book certainly more valuable than I would have found reading the plan itself.   Smith concludes the book by introducing other books readers might find valuable on the topic, and I’m certainly convinced to check out at least one or two more. It’s also apparent to me that by the time I finished reading the book I was never going to look at Chicago in quite the same way. Despite having spent a lot of time in The Loop, for a resident of Milwaukee, I now have a completely new appreciation for the city and a much greater sense of place.

The fact that it’s a quick read with plenty of photos certainly makes it much more consumable for those only loosely familiar with Chicago. If you’re at all interested in urban planning, the history and formation of cities, or Chicago you’ll find this book enjoyable.

Categories: Book Reviews

2 thoughts on “The Plan of Chicago – Book Review”

  1. I have read the whole plan of Chicago, it has great illustrations and Burnham’s ideas of creating vistas in the city of Chicago would have improved the aesthetics of the city. While Burnham is a great manager of talent, his designs rely heavily on the past work of others. Sullivan was much more original in his thinking, if you happen to read his books (more related to architecture). However, if someone would really like to learn more about vistas they should read Camillo Sitte. If they would like to learn more about city planning read John Nolen. I find these two are more knowledgeable than Burnham on these subjects.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Matt sure now more that I need to read! The list just gets longer:)

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