Preliminary Comprehensive City Plan of Chicago (1946)

After the 1909 Plan of Chicago, city planning turned increasingly data-driven and policy-oriented rather than project-centric. The Chicago Plan Commission, folded into city government in 1939, used data collected by the federal Works Progress Administration to produce exhaustive land-use maps, unlike any available to Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett. The resulting 1946 Comprehensive City Plan of Chicago presented copious maps to show widespread “blight” dominating the central area of the city. It concluded that nine square miles – including most areas occupied by African Americans – needed to be cleared and rebuilt in the near term. But the plan lacked clarity on exactly how to accomplish this goal, hoping that federal resources would be made available. Eventually, the U.S. Housing Act of 1949 provided funds for urban renewal and public housing, but the two programs made only modest strides towards clearing nine square miles, at considerable pain to those displaced.

Despite working proposed expressways into a map otherwise in many ways resembling Burnham's of 1909, the 1946 Comprehensive City Plan sought to preserve a locally stable and viable neighborhood and community structure throughout the city, emphasizing an algorithmic balance of residential areas, in yellow, commercial districts, in purple, and industrial areas, in brown. Each "community area" of 45,000 to 90,000 residents was to be "set apart from the others by industrial belts, railroads, waterways, expressways, or similar physical barriers and is proposed as the service area for a high school."  Each such area would retain an established central business district (such as those already existing at 63rd and Halsted Streets on the South Side and "Six Corners" on the Northwest Side), and would constitute “a well-balanced small city" within the context of Chicago’s established rail and streetcar infrastructure. In this way, the Plan Commission proposed pursuing two incompatible goals: the high-speed mobility and residential sprawl of the automobile-suburb era as well as the dense, urban life of the streetcar-neighborhood era. In the decades to follow, the incompatibility would become increasingly evident as Metropolitan Chicago grew and sprawled, while the city proper’s municipal population peaked and began to decline for the first time.



Chicago Plan Commission. Chicago Tomorrow: An Interpretation of the Preliminary Comprehensive City Plan. Chicago: Chicago Plan Commission, 1946.

Keating, Ann Durkin, Chicagoland: City and Suburbs in the Railroad Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Schwieterman, Joseph P. and Alan P. Mammoser. Beyond Burnham: An Illustrated History of Planning for the Chicago Region. Lake Forest, IL: Lake Forest College Press, 2009.

Whitehead, Helen, The Chicago Plan Commission, A Historical Sketch, 1909-1960. Chicago: Chicago Plan Commission, 1960.

Preliminary Comprehensive City Plan of Chicago: A Generalized Presentation of the Physical Elements of the City Plan Designed For a Population of 3,800,000 by 1965 (Chicago: Chicago Plan Commission, 1946). The Newberry Library, map G 10896 .165