Civic-minded businessmen, planners, and government officials planned the new town of Park Forest as a model suburb to help address Chicago’s housing shortage after World War II. Returning veterans and wartime workers clamored for new communities, and affordable mortgage loans subsidized by the federal government fueled demand. In response, former federal housing official Philip M. Klutznick and Chicago developer Nathan Manilow formed American Community Builders in 1946 to build Park Forest thirty miles south of Chicago. Chicago architects Loebl and Schlossman designed the buildings, and landscape architect Elbert Peets conceived the town plan, drawing upon several traditions, ranging from the curvilinear streets of Riverside, to the Garden City movement in England, to the modernism of the New Deal’s Greenbelt communities.
Proximity to commuter rail lines and highways made Park Forest accessible to Chicago’s Loop, but the planned aspect of the community also attracted young families. Schools, churches, clubs, playgrounds and parks, along with a central shopping plaza, enhanced Park Forest’s appeal. A range of housing, including row houses and modest single-family homes, made the community affordable. The town’s planners also believed that residents should take on positions of community leadership, in part to hone managerial skills that would pay off in the workplace.
Park Forest can be seen as a legacy of The Plan of Chicago in several ways. As a planned community with large amounts of green space, Park Forest embraced the Plan’s goal of enhancing nature in the city. Most broadly, Park Forest modeled the Burnham and Bennett’s convictions that good planning could be good business, and its developers learned from the skillful promotion of The Plan of Chicago. A laudatory article in the popular Collier’s Magazine in 1948 drew the earliest residents to Park Forest. However, in 1953, journalist William H. Whyte, Jr. featured the community in a series of more critical articles about the middle-class conformity of the residents of suburbia in Fortune magazine that later served as the partial basis for his widely-read book, The Organization Man.
Comprehensive Plan, Park Forest, Illinois. Wilmette, IL: Tech-Search, 1967.
Henderson, Harry, & Sam Shaw. “City to Order,” Collier’s Magazine (Feb. 14, 1948): 16-17.
Monahan, Anthony. “Park Forest at 20,” Midwest Magazine, Chicago Sunday Sun-Times, May 11, 1969.
“Plan Home Colony in Chicago Suburb,” New York Times, October 29, 1946.
Randall, Gregory. America’s Original GI Town: Park Forest, Illinois. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.
Whyte, William H. The Organization Man. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956.
Wright, Gwendolyn. Building the Dream: A Social History of Housing in America. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981.
“Plan of town, in Cook and Will Counties, Illinois, drawn for American Community Builders, Inc. Redrawn from a plan by Peets and Loebl and Schlossman, November 12, 1946,” in Gregory C. Randall, America’s Original GI Town: Park Forest, Illinois, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), p. 72