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Suburban Planning

The suburban idea evolved throughout the nineteenth century as the affluent sought to create idyllic communities that were both distant from, yet connected to, a central city. Those with means sought to balance suburbia’s green space and single-family housing with reasonable access to the city’s commercial and cultural opportunities, while avoiding the city’s noxious industrial and overcrowded tenement districts. The railroad, streetcar, and eventually the automobile made this balance possible.

Even in the nineteenth century, suburbs were sharply divided along class lines, and would eventually divide by race. Planners of affluent suburbs like Lake Forest and Riverside composed generous park spaces, curved streets, large lot sizes, and small shopping districts, all surrounding a train station. Each amenity added to the appeal and cost of living in the community. Developers of suburbs like Cicero laid out small lots and limited park space to attract the working-class. The 1909 Plan of Chicago critiqued these developments, whether within city boundaries or in outlying towns. “Too often,” the Plan notes, “the suburb is laid out by the speculative real estate agent who exerts himself to make every dollar invested turn into as many dollars as possible.”  From Burnham’s perspective, the profit motive resulted in crowded subdivisions, poor quality buildings, and the destruction of natural features. Citing Britain’s Town-Planning movement, the Plan recommended stronger land-use laws that gave greater power to municipalities over their built environment. As the twentieth century advanced, however, suburban planning became even more market-driven and less influenced by the ideas of planners.

Still, the Plan of Chicago spurred new interest in planning beyond the city itself. Lake Forest’s Market Square emerged only a few years after the Plan to create a coherent commercial center. Joliet, an industrial satellite city thirty miles southwest of Chicago, hired Edward H. Bennett and William E. Parsons to produce a City Beautiful plan. And Park Forest, a post-World War II planned community intended for veterans, blended an extensive park network, new street designs, and shopping amenities in innovative ways. In many respects, the plans for each of these communities shared the Plan of Chicago’s concern for the careful arrangement of public and private spaces to improve the livability of the built environment.



Bennett, Edward and William E. Parsons. Plan of Joliet. Illinois: Joliet City Plan Commission, 1921.

Comprehensive Plan, Park Forest, Illinois. Wilmette, IL: Tech-Search, 1967.

Conzen, Michael P., and Arthur Curtis. Time and Place in Joliet: Essays on the Geographical Evolution of the City. Chicago: Committee on Geographical Studies, University of Chicago, 1988.

Dart, Susan. Market Square. Illinois: Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society, 1984.

Ebner, Michael. Creating Chicago’s North Shore: A Suburban History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Henderson, Harry, & Sam Shaw, “City to Order,” Collier’s Magazine (Feb. 14, 1948): 16-17.

Keating, Ann Durkin, Building Chicago: Suburban Developers & The Creation of a Divided Metropolis. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1988.

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

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.